9 Ways to Take a Better Instagram Photo of Your Thanksgiving Dinner

updated May 30, 2019
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@thekitchn (Image credit: Ariel Knutson)

Did you know that there are more photos uploaded to Instagram on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year? It makes sense. You’ve got plates of beautiful food in front of you, and don’t you want to send your mom a proud photo of your first-ever Thanksgiving turkey?

In order to take the very best photos possible, I’ve asked a few of my favorite food Instagrammers –including Joy the Baker and Leela Cyd – what tips they have for taking better Instagram photos on Thanksgiving. Let’s brush up on our Instagram game.

There’s a lot that goes into taking a good Instagram photo. You’ve got things like angle, filters, and various editing apps to choose from. So where do you begin? Let this talented Instagrammers show you the way.

Joy the Baker (Image credit: Instagram)

Blogger and Author, Joy the Baker

Don’t be afraid to stand on a chair to get a great overhead shot of the entire table. Black and white filters can add contrast, reverence, and hide any unflattering fluorescent lighting. When in doubt, take a picture of pie… then eat it all.

Leela Cyd (Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Photographer (including for The Kitchn!)

I like images to look as close to reality as possible, so I don’t mess with too many filters — that being said, I always bump the contrast up a little, adjust exposure a bit to finetune, and occasionally crop to be a rectangle (instead of the usual square).

On apps: I like Afterlight for everything, as it’s a one stop shop and has detailed controls.

For angles, there’s the classic “overhead” food angle that everyone is a fan of. I like to always try to get this angle —with an abundant table it’s probably your best bet — but also try something else to manipulate that idea, perhaps get some life into the shot and asking everyone to clink glasses in a happy “cheers” or shoot the table after everyone’s done eating and it’s just the messy debris of a great meal — those two variations tell more of a story than a perfectly styled, perfect food set up.
Julie’s Kitchen (Image credit: Instagram)

Photographer, Stylist, Shop-Owner for Julie’s Kitchen

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday—to celebrate and shoot—because it’s all about the food and gratitude. Shooting from above gives the perfect vantage point to capture every festive detail of Thanksgiving, from mains, to endless sides (my favorite!), to the tablescape. I keep a folding step stool in the kitchen just for this reason.

I use VSCO for general edits and to give a cozier or more cheerful mood to the image, I might bump up the ambiance or selective adjust the contrast/saturation in Snapseed.

Molly Yeh (Image credit: Instagram)

Blogger behind My Name is Yeh

Don’t make your dining companions wait to eat so that you can take a photo. Sneak over to the food before mealtime to get your beauty shot, snap some photos of the cooking action, or embrace the energy of the feast while everyone is stuffing their faces and being merry.

If you ask your companions to do one thing in the name of a good Instagram, ask them not to mind while you turn off all of the lights so that you shoot using only the natural light that’s coming through the windows—assuming you’re dining during the day. If you’re not dining during the day and have some orangey household light invading your frame, edit the temperature in your photo to make it cooler, giving it more of a naturally lit feel.

Blogger behind A Brown Table

Whenever, I take photographs be it my phone camera or DSLR, I try to keep the image interesting and make sure the food is the center of attention. Other things to keep in mind are the ambient light temperature, sharpness of the image and the alignment.

Since Instagram requires a square format for sharing, I try to compose my image accordingly, though there are some apps that let you fit your entire image into the square. But by far the app that probably gets the most use on my phone is VSCO Cam, I love it because it comes loaded with a lot of great tools!

When it comes to Thanksgiving meal photographs, break some of the rules, avoid the clichés of large dinner table spreads, keep it different! I find shots of the dinner being prepared, drinks being served and pies being eaten intriguing and a lot more personal.

meatballssmama (Image credit: Instagram)

Photographer and Stylist, Meatballssmama

Find natural light (preferably by a large window) or even outside. Avoid overhead lights … turn off the lights in the room and use the natural light!

I shoot with a Samsung Galaxy 5 and professionally with a Canon and use VSCO to edit. For a richer look I enhance the shadows and dial down the warmth.

Lastly “view from the top” photos are my favorite and for the holidays incorporate china, linens, fresh fruit and any floral or plants, flatware, stemware, AND ALWAYS fresh herbs on finished dishes…it creates the loveliest effect.

The FauxMartha (Image credit: Instagram)

Blogger behind The FauxMartha

Getting a good shot of the Thanksgiving plate can be difficult, especially with 20 different sides, most similar in color, and harsh or dim overhead lighting. Keep your plate simple. You can always go back for more. Use greens and reds to break up all the beige and brown. While everyone is making their plate, step away to steal some natural light. Grab an overhead shot. Consider cropping into your plate and using a napkin, glass, or utensils to balance out the tight crop. Once you’ve got “the shot”, edit using Afterlight.

Local Haven (Image credit: Local Haven )

Blogger and Stylist, Local Haven

Natural light is really important, but don’t be afraid of the sunlight. It can create a beautiful depth to your photo.

I only use
VSCOcam, and am constantly impressed by their filters. Play around with the color (filters), shy away from always using the same filter. And if you cannot get the right color but are happy with the composition, layering presets works wonders! Or simply turn the photo black and white.

The object does not have to be perfectly centered.

Move the food around. Try it angled on the edge. A lot of my photos have negative space, this helps draw the focus to the star of the photo.

Add texture. Often times photos that are too flat are missing that element. Place a crinkled linen under your plate. Take a bite out of the cookie. Add the used citrus that’s already been squeezed. And when I am about to walk away from a photo that is just not working, I take the fork and mess up the food. It works every time.

Take a overhead photo of everyone sitting down at the table filling their plates. This helps tell the story.

Elena Brent (Image credit: Instagram)

Blogger behind Biscuits & Such

Seek out natural light! The best thing you can do to make your food look as appealing in photographs as it smells is to shoot it in natural light.

As you’re shooting, try different angles. For instance, if you’re aiming for the perfect shot of the dessert table shoot a close up, one from above, an action shot. Try walking around the table and moving your body. That way you have a lot of options to choose from!

After you find your perfect shot it’s time to edit! I’ve found with food that less is more. A sepia tone selfie from the Western theme park you went to is awesome, but a sepia tone plate of mashed potatoes has significantly less appeal. Adjust the brightness, contrast, rotation, and saturation as necessary, but don’t do too much more. A beautiful plate of food doesn’t need much editing, it will speak for itself!

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