On Assignment: Thanksgiving Dinner Table

by | Oct 6, 2023 | Assignments | 2 comments

Anyone from Canada?

You have an advantage this time around! The Shoot to Serve Photo Assignment for October is Thanksgiving Dinner Table. And with Canadian Thanksgiving just around the corner, you should be all set to get some incredible pictures!

Us Americans? It’s going to be a lot harder! Cynthia wants these photos before American Thanksgiving. So that means we have to make a Thanksgiving dinner before the end of October. But maybe we aren’t at as much a disadvantage as we think. Imagine, two Thanksgiving dinners in the same year?! This assignment is going to be great! But, it’s going to take a lot of work, as Julianna and I found out when just the two of us set out to fulfill the entire thing from beginning to end:

In the video, I said I was going to go for three different perspectives: the whole table with no food on the plates, an individual place setting with food on it, and then the whole table with food on all the plates. It made sense to me at the beginning to do it that way. I wanted to make the most of all the work we had put into making this meal. But when I actually pulled out the camera and started shooting, my plan completely changed. It’s ok if plans change!

230922_James Staddon_8915 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 20 mm, 1.0 sec at f - 11, ISO 100

This was basically my first shot. I realized very quickly that our dining room was not very good for wide angle photos. It’s small. And it’s not decorated ornately. So, I accepted what I had and started to shoot instead what I felt would actually make good photos for where I was. If you have a more ornate dining room, utilize it! If not, find out what you can capitalize on.

So, I zoomed in a little closer.

230922_James Staddon_8918 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 42 mm, 1.3 sec at f - 11, ISO 100

It’s interesting how the second candle flame disappears against the white window. So I changed my angle.

230922_James Staddon_8919 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 54 mm, 2.5 sec at f - 11, ISO 100

Even though the turkey is obviously the main subject, it feels sorta busy. So I stepped back again.

230922_James Staddon_8927 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 40 mm, 1-13 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

This time, I intentionally placed the candles on either side of the window. I also pulled out my light panel to get some directional lighting. I just wasn’t feeling the pure backlight.

230922_James Staddon_8931 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 60 mm, 1-6 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

I’m not always able to feel bright, light and airy looking photos. I prefer more dynamic lighting. More contrast. Darker scenes with strong highlights and prominent shadow. This is probably due to my background in landscape photography. I tend to gravitate toward side lighting. So, incorporating that with some backlight, now I felt like I have something I liked.

While I liked the closeup perspective, I also really liked the tall candles. So I went back to photographing the full table again, only this time from an angle that provided a more simple background.

230922_James Staddon_8944 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 25 mm, 1-10 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

This was a much  better vantage point for wide angle. At 25mm, I’m actually surprised that I was able to get a wide angle shot that looked good.

But the door on the right is distracting. So I stepped back and zoomed in to around 50mm. This is better:

230922_James Staddon_8946 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 42 mm, 1-10 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

But the chair is sticking in there, so I swiveled the camera to the left a bit.

230922_James Staddon_8947 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 35 mm, 1-15 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

But then that felt off balance somehow. So I stepped back even further, zoomed in, and got this:

230922_James Staddon_8948 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 65 mm, 1-15 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 100

There we go! I think this is my favorite angle of all the angles I tried that day. I like the window on the left only being half included. It feels like it could be a huge window, or even a glass doorway stepping out onto a sunlit porch. It feels simple and expansive. The elegant feel that I was having a hard time finding in that small room now exists. And there’s even room for text up around the tops of the candles.

I tried that same angle under a few different lighting conditions. For the following shot, I think I turned off my speedlight and light panel so window light was my only light source:

230922_James Staddon_8967 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70 mm, 2.0 sec at f - 11, ISO 100

And then I turned on the light panel:

230922_James Staddon_8968 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70 mm, 1.0 sec at f - 11, ISO 100

All the above photos were my attempts at getting the 1st of three perspectives. Obviously, it took a lot longer than I expected.

The 2nd perspective I wanted to get was not nearly as successful. Below is my first setup with the window light coming from the front, and my light panel flooding the background.

230922_James Staddon_8971 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 70 mm, 0.4 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 100

It’s ok, but there’s just nothing really to it. I played for a long time, and took a lot of photos. But I just wasn’t feeling it. I think my main problem was I was convinced that backlight was going to be the best lighting setup. And I just never really got that to work. My final shot, after lots of trial and error is the following, and it’s ok:

230922_James Staddon_9000 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 64 mm, 1.0 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 100

At that point, my time was up, so I invited the family in and just took candid shots from there. Since the window light was gone, I used my speedlight to get nice even light in my shots.

230922_James Staddon_9001 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 2.5, ISO 400

230922_James Staddon_9006 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 2.5, ISO 400

230922_James Staddon_9017 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 2.5, ISO 400

230922_James Staddon_9027 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 400

230922_James Staddon_9055 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 1-100 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 200

Of course, I’ll need to crop these more square before submitting them for the assignment so they’ll be the correct ratio, but that’s something I’ll do only just for the assignment.

Now It’s Your Turn!

At first, I thought it would be tough to even find a turkey so early before American Thanksgiving! But thankfully, they were available at Aldi. I may have paid an arm and and a leg for it, but I suppose that’s the cost of being a real photographer. If you can’t find a turkey, feel free to use something else like a chicken or ham (or even something fake!) that you could just use blurred out in the background.

This wasn’t an easy assignment, but it sure was a fun one! Give yourself a lot more time than you think to just photograph the food. Several hours! The food will be cold, so nuking the parts that need to look warm (over and over again) will help keep the food looking fresh. They say that most food in professional food photos is inedible anyway, due to all that they do to it to make it look good. But I don’t think it’s necessary to go that far. Be sure to enjoy your first of two Thanksgiving dinners of the year. Smile

Have fun photographing a Thanksgiving Dinner Table!

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  1. Jonathan and Esther Frazer

    Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!! You’ve really out is in the mood to go start cooking!! Beautiful pictures! 😋

  2. James Staddon

    It’s fun to cook with Julianna. 🙂


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