Thanksgiving Photography Tips

Stephanie M. Kelley
Thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving is usually a time of delicious meals and friendly family gatherings. It also provides a perfect opportunity for staged and candid family photos that will capture the warmth of the day and the love of the family.

Capture Special Candid Moments

Thanksgiving provides some unique moments that should be captured on film.

Get in on the Action

Thanksgiving scene

Many families celebrate Thanksgiving with a lively flag football game or at least enthusiastically cheer on their favorite teams as they watch a game on TV. Capture this spirit in images by taking photos of the backyard game or the fans gathered around the tube. Other activities are also opportunities to capture great shots such as spontaneous rough housing with the kids and the young at heart, children running around the backyard or around the house, or even jumping into piles of fall leaves. Family members playing board games and kids doing crafts should all be recorded.

Intimate moments

Thanksgiving is about making special memories. Quiet talks in the corner, family members looking through old photo albums together, and hugs of greeting and goodbyes. It's nice to be able to capture these special moments in pictures. Keep the camera handy at all times because these quiet and special moments can't be recreated, but have to be captured as they happen. Use soft lighting for these quiet moments whenever possible. Candles and fire light are the perfect light sources for these special moments.

Lighthearted scenes

Any time a group of loved-ones get together there are likely to be some humorous and memorable moments that should be captured. Snap a picture of Uncle John rubbing his full tummy or the dog who is chasing the cat around the room. The expressions on the subjects' faces as they react to a situation will tell a lot about what is happening in the scene and will create a great photo. Look for these special moments throughout the day as children play or as older family members talk about funny stories from years gone by.

Document Traditions

Thanksgiving table

Almost every family has one or more traditions that they cherish and do every Thanksgiving. These traditions should be documented on film. Take photos of the traditional dishes, the special centerpiece that makes an appearance on the Thanksgiving table every year, or the fireplace mantle that houses family photos. Some families have the head of the family carve the turkey and others give this honor to someone else each year. These moments should be recorded.

Backgrounds and Props for Family Portraits

Natural backgrounds are always nice, but if it is raining or too cold outside, as it often is during this time of the year, it might be best to have some other background options.

Backgrounds for Indoor Photos

Choose a space to take your family photos and prepare it ahead of time so you will be ready when guests arrive. Here are some ideas to choose and prepare your photo area.

  • Buy fabric by the yard to hang on the wall as a background. Solid colored, earth toned fabric works well, or choose one with fall leaves or Thanksgiving images on it. Buy at least 4 yards of fabric and take the width into consideration so there is enough to cover the entire space
  • A decorative display at home or even at a local restaurant or hotel could also do the trick, just make sure they will be open on Thanksgiving
  • Hang a garland of fall leaves along the top of the backdrop or use some tasteful fall decorations such a scarecrow to create a scene
  • A fireplace is often a good spot to stage photos which will give a warm, holiday feel
  • Consider light sources when choosing the right spot and add candles to create a warm glow
Fall Photo

Outdoor Photos

Taking photos outside often provide a nice background and good lighting, but there are some things that should be considered.

  • Take outdoor photos in the late afternoon or early evening when the sun provides a nice glow that is often associated with fall, and will cast long shadows
  • Remove all distractions from the background such as toys, barbecues and trash cans
  • Make use of the fall leaves and consider posing in front of a colorful tree or a pile of leaves
  • Advise subjects that the photo will be taken outdoors so they can dress accordingly and not be cold during the shoot. Consider wearing fall colored clothing or plan your wardrobe ahead of time with the rest of the family.

Props

Family with Santa Hats

One or two well placed and appropriate props can enhance a picture, but use them sparingly as they can sometimes make a scene too campy or "cheesy." Try some of these prop ideas for a tasteful photo.

  • A framed photograph of a loved-one who is not able to be in the portrait is a nice way to include them
  • A few pumpkins for small children to hold or to set on the floor will add a seasonal and festive look
  • Display the year by printing it off on a computer and putting the paper into a frame for a family member to hold
  • Create an area designated for photos, which can simply be a corner of a room equipped with a camera on a tripod. Provide Thanksgiving themed props such as pilgrim hats, rubber turkeys or general props like large bow ties that guests can wear and take pictures of one another throughout the festivities.
  • Consider using Christmas themed props such as a Christmas tree to sit next to, Santa hats, or gifts to hold so the photo can be used as the family Christmas card

Portrait Tips

Many families use their Thanksgiving family portraits on Christmas cards or holiday newsletters, while others like to keep a collection of Thanksgiving photos to view how the family has changed and grown over the years. To get the best possible images keep these tips in mind.

  • Take the photos as soon as all the guests have arrived so children are in a good mood and no one has Thanksgiving food stains on their clothes
  • Arrange subjects with the matriarchs in the center, surrounded by their children and grandchildren
  • Have taller family members in the back and children sitting on the floor or standing in front
  • Group a large extended family into their smaller nuclear families
Family photo

Ways to Distribute and Use Photos

After the photos have been taken and edited with photo editing software, it is time to display, distribute and enjoy the images. Be sure to make backup copies of all of your favorite digital images so that you don't lose them.

How to Send Files

It's important to share the digital files with all members of the family so they can use them on social media sites, their Christmas letters or cards or to create gifts.

  • Be sure to send full size digital images, as reduced images are not likely to print well
  • Use a file sharing service in order to send large files or distribute to a large list of recipients
  • Consider burning all images to CDs or DVDs to distribute to family members and use photo editing software to create a Thanksgiving themed cover
  • Upload photos to a secure website and send each member an email containing the password and download instructions

Using the Photos

A family photo is a treasure that should be displayed and used.

  • Use a family photo taken on Thanksgiving as a Christmas card
  • Print the photo on canvas paper and give as a gift to a grandparent at the next Thanksgiving family celebration
  • Create a small album or scrapbook for each member of the family to help them recall the special day
  • Frame a particularly nice pose to give to each part of the family or for those who were not able to join the Thanksgiving festivities

Enjoy the Day

Be sure to capture the special moments of Thanksgiving and the whole season with family, but don't forget to enjoy the day yourself. Don't get so distracted with documenting the activities that it becomes a chore. Share the photography duties with other family members so that you can relax, and to ensure that you appear in some of the photos too!

Thanksgiving Photography Tips