Photographing Your Thanksgiving Feast

I’m excited to have another AWESOME post from Katrina Kennedy, be sure to read all the way for an extra treat! 😉 Here’s a little about Katrina:


image “I eat, breathe, write and teach Photography! My camera is my most often worn accessory. I am a mom with a camera who feels compelled to capture my son’s life. I was frustrated by my search to learn how to use my camera and knew I had to pass on the knowledge I gathered to help other moms capture their favorite subjects. I started out with a film SLR years ago,on auto. Moved to a dSLR in 2002 on auto and in 2005 finally decided I needed to know what TV actually stood for!”

Katrina teaches photography classes at Get It Scrapped. Writes photography tutorials for DesignerDigitals and blogs about her life through the lens at About A Boy.



I love food photography.

Food photographers spend hours arranging the perfect light, angle, and composition for a single dish. A stylist preps the food, sprays it with all sorts of inedible substances, and creates a beautiful setting.

Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t provide most of us the luxury of a stylist or time to capture the perfect photo. Balancing dinner preparation, entertaining family, and photographing Thanksgiving dinner is definitely tricky.

There is something about cooking all day and eating your creations in fifteen minutes or less that requires photos to be taken.

I started to stage the perfect dinner table for photos, but then decided that wasn’t realistic. Instead I’ve collected a few pointers for getting better food photos on the big day or any day for that matter. And my photos? They are the real deal. No staging or stylist or fancy lighting. Just me, my family, and a 50mm lens! I’ve included some secrets from my studio for you as well.

5 Steps for Capturing Your Thanksgiving Dinner:

1. Find the light.

2. Shoot at eye level or just above.

3. Give your photos context.

4. Adjust your white balance.

5. Focus on the front of the plate or one third in.


Find Or Create Good Light

Light comes into our camera to create a photo in a few ways:

§ External sources – window, overhead, flash

§ Aperture – the hole in the lens, the larger the hole the more light in

§ Shutter speed – the longer the curtain is open, the more light you get

§ ISO – sensitivity to light, the higher the number, the more light is collected

Look for the light when photographing Thanksgiving. Open your blinds and let the light poor in. If it is a dark overcast day or just dark by the time dinner is on the table, get the light through your camera settings.

Bump your ISO up. Yes, you’ve probably heard that the higher you go the grainer or more pixilated your image is. Sometimes I will take the tradeoff to capture the moment. Shoot with a wide aperture to get the most light in your camera, knowing you can back up from your subject if you want to get a bit more in focus. You can find more about aperture and focal distance in July’s Photography class.

If your food isn’t moving and your family can put it up with it, you can grab your tripod and use a long shutter speed to gather light for your table photos. My Thanksgiving is always a little too hectic for this approach!

Are you wondering why I’ve not mentioned using your flash here? You can. Definitely. I tend to avoid the flash at family events if possible. I have a few photo resistant family members and flashing bright lights near them intensify their resistance. I use a policy of fewer flashes to sneak opportunities to photograph them.

If I do use my flash, I bounce it off of the ceiling or the wall behind me, adjusting the flash compensation until I get light that I like. If you only have an onboard flash, adjust your flash compensation to the negative side to reduce its intensity.

Shoot At Eye Level Or Just Above

The angle we shoot from changes our food. When you adjust your viewpoint lower than where we would see food when seated, it looks a bit larger, taking on a bit more personality. Think about shooting it from a child’s level. Your family may look at you funny at first, but they’ll get used it!

If time and space allow, I like to shoot straight down on food. Cropping a portion of the plate out, giving it a bit of space.

Give Your Food Context

Food photographers sometimes isolate a single item on a plate or dish for great impact, but they also find props to compliment their subjects. Consider placing your plate in front of a centerpiece, glasses or including your place setting in the shot. I wish I had photographs of my childhood dinner plate with the nametags as context. The food is important, but it is the occasion I’m hoping to remember.

Adjust Your White Balance

Indoor fluorescent lighting can give your photos a yellow cast. Switch your white balance to fluorescent and consider shooting in RAW to get the best color tones. You can find more about white balance in August’s Photograph Class.

Focus on the Front or One Third In

If you are shooting with a wide aperture to get the most light on your subject, you are also going to get a shallow depth of field – that blurred background look. Focus on the front of your food so that more is in focus. If you are focusing on your dinner table, focus about a third into the frame to blur a bit of the foreground and background. Pick something visually strong on the table to focus on to get the most impact in your composition.

Ready for my super secret studio shots?

Many of you know I use my laundry room for many of my food shots. It has a great north-facing window with lots of natural light. To photograph my favorite dishes I place a white sheet of paper, dishtowels or a tablecloth over the washer and shoot away. Dish towels can add nice texture and white tablecloths can be propped up on the left hand side of the frame to act as a reflector, opening up any shadows on the right of my food.

If you are able to, practice shooting in the light and location where you’ll be having Thanksgiving. It will help get you ready for the big event. Pies and dishes prepared before Thanksgiving Day are great items to practice with.

What’s the most important part of capturing your Thanksgiving feast? Enjoy the day and don’t let the photos cause any added stress. If you need to shoot on P or use your point and shoot, the memories are still captured.

Oh, and by the way, if you are shooting with a point and shoot, check to see if you have a food setting! Seriously. It can help!

I almost forgot. Make sure you capture the aftermath of your Thanksgiving feast. It’s completely understandable if it’s a little out of focus!



P.S.I am happy to be able to offer a pass to  “Capture Your Holidays: Through The Lens” – a 14 day mini class at Get It Scrapped.  Please leave a comment in this post prior to Thursday 11pm ET for your chance to win!