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Five tips for great Thanksgiving photos

Dave Johnson | Nov. 8, 2011
It's that time of year again--the local pancake house has put pumpkin pancakes back on the menu, and my family is gearing up for the day when we'll have a turkey feast, a panoply of pies, and, yes, give thanks for another year. If Thanksgiving is a special day to get together with friends and family and share those things as well, then you probably want to capture moments throughout the day with your digital camera. In the past, I've given you some advice on how to get the best Thanksgiving photos--check out my past holiday photo shooting tips, for example.

It's that time of year again--the local pancake house has put pumpkin pancakes back on the menu, and my family is gearing up for the day when we'll have a turkey feast, a panoply of pies, and, yes, give thanks for another year. If Thanksgiving is a special day to get together with friends and family and share those things as well, then you probably want to capture moments throughout the day with your digital camera. In the past, I've given you some advice on how to get the best Thanksgiving photos--check out my past holiday photo shooting tips, for example. This year, I have a few additional suggestions to help you take some photos you can treasure for years to come.

1. Make a List

First and foremost, it's a great idea to write down a list of the photos you'd like to capture. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday activities, there's a good chance you'll simply forget to take some pictures until it's too late. Take the food, for example: You probably want to shoot the turkey and the pies before they're cut into. Make a list of the important scenes. I like to shoot the fully dressed table, laid out with the turkey and fixings, before the guests invade. I also like to get a few different perspectives of the pumpkin pie, such as from directly overhead and from the side. If there are any groups or combinations of guests you want to shoot, make a list of those as well. Tack the list somewhere you'll see it--like on the fridge--and cross the shots off as you go.

2. Work the Lighting

I know that you're busy entertaining guests, making the big meal, and keeping the family dog from stealing sweet potatoes off the kitchen counter. But amidst all that, you should also remember to optimize the lighting for your photos. As I've said many times before, the camera's flash is really a last resort--your camera will give much better results with ambient light. Turn on as many lights as possible and pull back curtains to let outdoor light flow into the house.

You can also try increasing your camera's ISO setting. This control--which affects how sensitive the camera is to light--is usually best left in its lowest position. But rather than use the flash, it's better to increase the camera's ISO to 400 or even higher so that you can take better advantage of the naturally available light. If it's an option, consider taking people outdoors for their portraits.

3. Use HDR Mode Instead of a Flash

You've probably seen lots of advice from me in years past about how to take better indoor photos, and most of those tips are, like the previous one, about lighting. This year, I've got a new suggestion for you: If your camera has a built-in high dynamic range mode, use it instead of the flash. Some cameras (especially camera phones like some iPhone and Windows Phone models) have an HDR mode that optimizes for light and dark areas to give you a better overall exposure without resorting to the flash. Even better, these built-in HDR modes tweak the exposure of a single photo instead of taking a series of shots and combining them, so the whole process is fairly fast (about the same as taking a normal shot).

 

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