A Recipe for Great Thanksgiving Photos


Thanksgiving is so close you can smell the pumpkin pie! If you’re like me, too many times the special days of the year have the very least (or worst!) photos.  This year, I am trying to plan for my memory keeping ahead of the big day- and wanted to share a few ideas with you:

Instead of trying to get a few photos of the day- it may be better to approach your photos as a means of storytelling. What is the story you hope to tell today?  This is how we celebrate Thanksgiving? This is what we are thankful for? This is how kooky my family is? These are my favorite foods? Each can be a terrific chapter in your Holiday tale.

Take a moment to document the setting before the company arrives- or if you are a guest, get a wide shot of the various scenes where the day will play out.  Then zoom in on the details.  These shots are more about the mode and location than the people.  They will help give context to the story you want to tell. Also as the day begins, keep in mind that this may be the best time to take family portraits- the more formal photos- now is when makeup, blowouts and spirits are at their best! 😉

Pay attention to lighting.  Flash should always be a last resort.  Are there areas where natural lighting is at its best? Can blinds and curtains be opened a bit more? Try bumping up your ISO to 400 or more- and don’t discount outdoor shots for group photos.

retro_man_cooking1Be sure to get shots of the meal prep.  Let’s face it- this is what makes the meal so memorable.  The hustle and bustle, the side conversations and smiles, all the “backstage” excitement.  Don’t worry about the mess- that will be a sweet memory one day.  I promise.  If you are the host- hand the camera over and let the candid  shots begin!

Set up the tripod for your table shots. If you can. Get a remote photo camera trigger.  For most holidays, I bring my big girl camera for the formal shots, but rely on my phone for most of my life-in-progress photos. The benefit of using my phone is that its small, and I can put it on silent mode.  These two things combined let me take loads of candids and casual shots where the good time vibe isn’t lost in the pressure to “say cheese”.

cbfd8751edf883353a04ab72bcd817eaBe sure to get at least one beauty  shot of the table set before the food is placed.  It may be hard to get one once the food is laid out because that’s when everything kicks into high speed- but try if you can. It will be terrific to see all your favorite recipes in one place.

When taking these photos, mix up your perspective.  Get low on the table, or stand up high on a step stool.  Look, these people already know you are a memory keeping diva- they aren’t going to judge you.

Other photo ops you won’t want to miss are those capturing traditions: Is there a special china that is always used? Zoom in on it. Breaking the wishbone? Saying Grace? A traditional gathering around the football game? Get a shot of that. How about that one person who always naps? Exchanging Christmas lists? Tag Football? Online shopping? Capture all those little moments!

Now may also be a terrific time to plan a surprise Holiday gift.  You can take photos to collect into a book to give at Christmas- focused around a specific person, or just family shots in general.  You can collect videos into a montage and include a QR code to put on the back of a framed family photo.

Two important notes: Don’t forget to get into a few shots yourself.  Use that selfie stick if you must- but get in there! And don’t get so caught up in the photos that you forget to enjoy the gifts of the day.  It’s not a photo op- it’s a day to remember.  And that won’t happen unless you are part of making the magic.

awkward-family-photo-vintage-19502-woman-drunk-1Finally- a real life footnote.  Let’s say you are visiting a place you’d rather not be at the holidays? Maybe you are an outlaw? Then focus in on your own little bits of joy. Take photos of your happy family getting ready for the visit.  Focus on those you love- and ways you make the day special with them.  Don’t worry about “having” to take photos of things that will make you feel bummed when you print them out.  One big family group shot should be sufficient penance to capture the day- and odds are- not everyone in the photo will make you cringe.  And if you are forced to take photos of people who bum you out for the sake of family peace- no one says they have to be the most flattering… there’s always the warp tool in Photoshop.  I hear it can add 10 pounds- and widen hips and noses without anyone being the wiser!

what joy will you create today?


  1. […] Take a family photo– we never seem to get a good one at Christmas- but the lighting and colors of the fall make it a sure fire way to snap a good shot with a terrific background. (to read some tips on taking great photos on the BIG day- you can check out my post here)  […]

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