Holiday Food and Drink

Eight Tips for Improving Your Christmas Dinner Photos

Christmas dinner can be a wonderful experience, sitting around a big table with family and friends laughing and enjoying each other's company. It can also be a horrible disaster complete with inappropriate admissions and the brandishing of weaponry.

Whatever the case, you'll want to document as much of it as possible and we're here to help. You might recall we gave you tips on how to shoot better food photos and even pointed out the reasons some of your photos really suck. We're back with some helpful holiday hints on how to improve your Christmas dinner photography.

We can't guarantee this will bring peace to your family this holiday, but it is guaranteed to improve the photographic memories of your two brothers' drunken front yard brawl.

8. Don't shoot anyone with a mouth full of food or drink.

This is not just impolite, it's gross. If you do happen to get a shot of Uncle Tony cramming his pie hole with mashed potatoes and mulled wine, don't post it on Facebook and, God help us, tag him in it. Ask his permission. Some people don't like having their photos posted in public. At the very least, he may want to approve the photo. You may not care if naked drunk unflattering photos of you are leaked onto posted on the internet, but others do, so respect their privacy.

7. Use creative angles and focal points.

One of the best ways to improve boring, everyday things like table settings or trays of 20-year-old candy your great aunt is always trying to force you to eat is to tilt the camera to the side and frame the image diagonally. It can be a creative way to frame an awkwardly shaped place setting (or relative). Also, use the macro setting on your camera to create narrow depth of field focusing on a single close-up item in the foreground with a blurry background. It makes for a dynamic presentation of food items, a row of place settings or even some crappy candy that will probably make you sick later.

6. Use low light to your advantage.

One of the best things about Christmas is the lighting. Candles, twinkling lights and colorful light bulbs can be beautiful backdrops or unique ways to light an image. You'd be surprised by just how much light a group of white Christmas lights can emit. Mixed with candles on a table, you won't need a flash and it can lead to some dramatic shots. For a fun option, wrap a strand of lights around your father's head when he is napping and fire away! Using the macro setting and positioning small lights behind the subject of the photo can create amazing bokeh - a stunning and beautiful blur of background lights.

5. Don't bring your camera to the table.

Once the table has been set and you're done shooting, put the camera down and enjoy the meal and your company. It's tempting for food lovers to want to shoot every course as it is set in front of you, but resist the urge. Not only will busy decor and crowded tables make it difficult to get a good shot while everyone is eating, but, frankly, it's rude. Plus, if you are busy shooting pictures, you'll miss out on the heated discussion of how your brother chose to spend the holidays with his "roommate" Andre.

4. Go for candid photos instead of formals.

The most common amateur photos you see of families at the holidays are shot from one end of the table while everyone turns and smiles. These pictures nearly always suck. People are hungry and tired from fighting about how Sue and her boyfriend are living in sin. The last thing they need is some cheery Christmas elf in a reindeer sweater begging everyone to smile for a photo that will look bad anyway. Natural photos of your family casually interacting (or trying to stab one another with butter knives, if that's how you do) are always a better choice.

3. Side dishes almost always look better on a plate.

That casserole dish filled with sweet potatoes might taste delicious, but, in a photo, it will just look like a big dish full of orange mush. If you want to shoot your side dishes in their serving bowls, shoot them in a grouping so that you see the whole spread. Otherwise, plate them and get a shot in the kitchen before it goes on the table just like in a restaurant. The lighting is likely better in there anyway and it might even make Aunt Sally's bizarre jello salad look appetizing. Probably not though.

2. Slice the turkey or ham before taking a picture.

If you ever notice professional photos of turkey, ham or goose, they almost always have a slice or two peeled off the bone. It shows the juicy interior of the meat and it creates some texture. There's nothing inherently wrong with shooting the whole critter your uncle fried out back of the trailer when it emerges from the giant vat of boiling lard, but we bet you're shot will turn out better if you take our advice on this one.

1. Shoot food during preparation.

A great way to avoid shooting photos during the rush of trying to get food out to hungry guests and to have some control over your environment before everyone piles into your kitchen peeling off slices of Turducken with their fingers is to take them while you are preparing dinner. It also allows you to document the process, so when your family starts the shouting match over Obamacare, you can remind them of all the work you put into the meal with photo evidence and tell them to give you some damn peace and quiet already!

Merry Christmas!

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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke