Holiday feasts are an opportunity to gather loved ones around a beautifully set table. Use these tricks to get the best shots of this kind of get-together, which only happens once a year.
Use the daylight to your advantage.
If you have the pleasure of entertaining guests on the big night, save a moment during your hectic day to take a few shots of the table before the guests arrive. Unlike with a flash, in daylight, you can capture the colours of your table at their brightest. Take a photo of the table as a whole, but make sure you don’t neglect the smaller details, which you can capture in close-ups.
Afterwards, when using your image editing software, you’ll have everything you need to play with colour saturation. For example, you’ll be able to make the brightest colours stand out, and give the photo a happy, colourful feel, or else lower the saturation to give the photo a softer feel.
If the supper is taking place in the evening, prepare what you’ll need in advance so that you can take your pictures in a low-light setting. For this kind of photo shoot, it wouldn’t hurt to have two lenses. Start with an unobtrusive lens with a fixed focal length and a large aperture (50 mm). With it, you’ll be able to capture as much light as possible without intimidating your guests with a bigger lens. Arm yourself with a wide-angle lens to take group photos. You can also take fun shots using a fish-eye lens, which skews perspective and deforms faces, a bit like when you look through the bottom of a glass—appropriate for this time of year!
Take photos of the final preparations too.
If you’re the guest, notify your host that you’ll arrive a bit earlier to give them a hand and to capture the final phase of their preparations. Again, don’t shy away from taking close-ups. For example, you could photograph a hand laying down a place card next to a glass, or holding a spoon while stirring the soup or basting the poultry.
Try to capture the frenzy of the final hours of prepping, when time seems to fly by. A good way to do this is to place your camera on a tripod, and set your ISOs to 100 and the shutter speed to 1/30 of a second. Let the host bustle around the table. On the photo, you’ll see traces of her movements around the table, but the table will be perfectly still.
Move around during the meal.
Avoid asking your guests to assume rigid poses, which means people have to stop eating their meal so you can take a picture. For a more natural take, photographers should keep their distance! If you have a lens with a large aperture, it’s the time to use it. Set it on f/2.8 and ISOs of 800. This way, you can put the flash aside and use the candlelight to your advantage. During the meal, move between the guests and change your point-of-view (POV) often. Kneeling down, you’ll be able to capture the guests’ hands, which can become animated as the meal and conversation progress. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid of changing your POV. A high-angle shot of the table scene allows you to get the table setting and all the guests in the shot. To do so, climb up on a chair or a raised platform.