How to Take Great Thanksgiving Family Portraits

The Thanksgiving holiday is a great time to take advantage of rarely seen family members for a family photo portrait. Take a few extra steps to give those family Thanksgiving photos clean compositions with just enough details to signify the holiday and not be distracting. Follow these tips from a professional photographer to get frame-worthy Thanksgiving portraits.


Family Portrait

Step 1

Use the Thanksgiving dinner table as a backdrop for the large family portrait. After setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner (themed plates, centerpieces and candles look nice for this) arrange the family behind the table. Remove chairs on the front side of the table, leaving them on the sides and back.

Step 2

Choose the two, three or four people who will sit on the other side of the table. They usually end up being the center focus of the portrait, so it is best to place the matriarchs, patriarchs, oldest members of the family or family leaders in these positions. Invite them to sit in the chairs on the back side of the table.

Step 3

Begin filling in family units behind the seated people. Keep moms and dads together with their children whenever possible. For example, a mom and dad family unit may stand just behind a seated grandmother and grandfather. Place the children in the gap between the chairs directly in front of their mom and dad (instead of in front of their aunts and uncles in another spot in the photo.)

Step 4

Finish filling in each family unit until everyone is placed behind the Thanksgiving table. Make sure the shortest people, especially children, are closer to the front, seated people so they can be seen. Have mothers or fathers hold infants, older babies and toddlers for the best behavior and viewing results in the photograph.

Step 5

Attach the digital camera to a tripod and place it in front of the Thanksgiving table. Crank the tripod to raise the camera up to an angle above and looking slightly down on the table. This is usually a foot or two above the photographer's head when she is standing on the floor. Use a chair to look through the camera's viewfinder or in the LCD on the back and adjust the position. You should see the Thanksgiving table in the front, bottom of the screen, and the family filling the middle and top portions of the frame. By shooting slightly down, you will be able to see everyone's faces more than shooting directly on. Shooting down on a subject is also more flattering and slimming.

Step 6

Look at every detail in the viewfinder. Make sure the table is set the way you want. Make sure you can easily see everyone's face with plenty of breathing room. While you are checking things out, pick out a spot for you to be in the portrait. Make sure you can fit without moving anyone out of the photo.

Step 7

Set the camera's self-timer, push the shutter and walk to your spot in the frame. Take at least three photos before you check the photos in the LCD to limit people moving and messing up the composition.

Additional Thanksgiving Portraits

Step 1

Make a list of sub-groups of family members and Thanksgiving guests you would like photographed, in addition to the large, full family photo. Consider doing smaller portraits of each individual family as well as the extended family. You can also plan to take portraits of just the kids or certain sibling and cousin groups.

Step 2

Set up a kids only portrait similar to the full-family portrait in Section 1. Arrange the children behind the table and set up the tripod to get you a better angle by shooting down.

Step 3

Place a chair near a large, glass window. The side lighting from the window makes beautiful portraits. Place your subject in the chair, angled slightly toward the window. Place additional subjects standing behind the chair or kneeling on the side. Instruct the subjects to look out the window for a few photos as well as looking at the camera.

Step 4

Place very young children on the floor behind two or three large pumpkins. Shoot many frames to capture the best facial expressions.

Step 5

Keep the digital camera handy to capture the candid moments, such as people laughing and hugging. At first, your family will pose for your pictures, but eventually they will go back to being themselves and you will be able to capture their true personalities and expressions.

Tips and Warnings

Use a large capacity digital media card so you do not run out of space for images. Incorporate any fall themes, such as pretty trees out the window, nice table settings or decorations, into the background and foreground of your photos so they will look like Thanksgiving pictures. Do not try to delete photos from the camera during the day because you will miss moments that would make great photos. Any photos that do not turn out can be deleted later, before you make prints.

Things You'll Need

Digital camera with self-timer function, Tripod

About this Author

Amanda Herron is a photojournalist and writer whose credits include: "Georgia Realtor Magazine," "Jackson Parent Magazine," "Christian Guitarist and Bassist," and the "Jackson Sun/Associated Press." Herron has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Master of Education from Union University. She is a member of the National Press Photographers Association and has won photojournalism awards from the Tennessee Press Association and Baptist Press.

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