Nick’s Photography Tips: How to photograph the Thanksgiving dinner table

by Nick Kelsh

posted Wednesday, November 26, 2014 at 8:02 PM EST


If you are so inclined to shoot the Everyone Around the Thanksgiving Table photo this Thanksgiving, here are a few tips you may find helpful:

  1. Turn off your flash. This is mandatory. If you don’t, the folks close to you will be overexposed, and everyone at the far end of the table will be in relative darkness. Turn off the flash.

  2. Turn up your ISO. The room is probably going to be dimly lit, and turning up your ISO sensitivity will help you use a faster shutter speed. But faster is a relative term here. You may still end up with a slow shutter speed like a fifteenth of a second. That means you are going to have to hold very still. Please note: Turning up the ISO makes for noisy/grainy pictures. All cameras react differently to having their ISO turned up. Only experimenting with your camera will tell you what the results will look like. I’m hoping your camera will make you happy at ISO 800.

  3. Get yourself up high so you can see everyone's face. A ladder is probably the best thing, but ladders get a little clunky banging around the dinner table. A solid chair works fine.

  1. Brace yourself against the wall or door frame so that you can hold as still as possible. I can’t stress this enough. I have found that holding a glass of wine in one hand does not help. Set the glass of wine down before you get up on the ladder. Trust me on this one. There are a bunch of things that can go wrong in a hurry -- it’s all over in a split second. Trust me on this one.

  2. Shoot some practice pictures before dinner. It helps if you can get someone to model for you at the table. If there are any teenage girls around, teenage girls will model for you indefinitely. (And they will pay you ridiculous amounts of money for the pictures if they think they have even the slightest shot at a supermodel career.) Anyway, make sure all of your settings are right, so that when everyone is at the table you can push the button confidently.

  3. Use manual exposure. If there are candles in the middle of the table, auto-exposure can be fooled by those bright spots. Experiment with manual exposure before dinner.

  4. Shoot the pictures at the beginning of the meal. Half-eaten plates make people look a little piggy; gravy splashed all over people is disgusting. You don’t want those people in your photographs. Shoot the pictures at the beginning of the meal.

  5. Is your battery charged? I realize that “Is your battery charged?” isn’t actually a photo tip, but it’s always embarrassing when your battery isn’t charged. It can happen to anyone, but it seems to happen less to people who have had their battery die in front of large groups of people on multiple occasions. Fortunately, I don’t know anyone who that’s ever happened to.

  6. Love your family. I realize that yelling and screaming and doing permanent damage to relationships is as much a part of the Thanksgiving tradition as turkey and stuffing. (For those of you outside the United States, you may have trouble understanding that ritual. But for Americans, this perverse aspect of Thanksgiving is enjoyable and relaxing.)

Below is a video of my thoughts about how I photographed Thanksgiving in a previous year.

"How I Photographed Thanksgiving", by Nick Kelsh.

(An exceptional educator and a world-class photographer, Nick Kelsh is the founder of How To Photograph Your Life, an excellent source of affordable photography training and tips. Nick's courses can be conducted by yourself in your own time, or with feedback from Nick and your fellow students. If you appreciated this article and want to improve your photography, visit How to Photograph your Life and sign up for a course today!)