Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Photographing Rooms: The Thanksgiving Table

First, I want to thank you all for your words of support about the two recent cancer diagnoses in my family.  So many people left nice comments and I got a lot of private emails too.  Your kindness is so appreciated!

So, I've been collecting photos of pretty table settings on my Pinterest board 'Table Top'.  I like to save  pretty ideas about how to set a table.  But I was also saving them for this post which has been brewing in my mind for several months.  I wanted to time it for Thanksgiving since so many people put a lot of effort into their "tablescapes" and because the table is so highly photographed.

Although a lot of these photos are not Thanksiving themed, we can still learn a lot from them about how to take a photo of a pretty table.

Let's start with the long shot:

This shot works for a rectangular table.

The camera angle is at 90 degrees to the table top and is taken from slightly above the table.

Notice too that the centerpieces or decorative items are staggered down the middle so that they don't make a straight line.  This helps to keep the eye moving from side to side.

 This shot includes a picture of the food and is taken from a slightly higher angle, but notice how the entire table top fills the photo.  There is also very little negative space, and by that I mean very little of the actual table showing. 

Another way to get a photo of a table is the side shot.

The side shot is taken from near the corner of the table.  (Notice staggered, multiple centerpieces here too.)  This one takes in the entire table, including the chairs. 

Whereas this one focuses mostly on the table top.  Very little negative space (white tablecloth) shows.   The flowers in the foreground are where the photographer has focused the camera.

Same with this photo.  Very little negative space and the flowers are in focus.

Notice how close the photographer is to the table in this photo.  And how low the camera is too.

Another way to take a photo of a table top is to shoot a single place setting.

For this shot, I would actually sit down in the chair and take the photo from there.  Notice that the place setting fills the entire shot from left to right.

Same is true here, though the photographer holds the camera even lower and closer to the plate.

Or you can get a shot of the place setting by standing directly above it and looking down onto it.

Again, there is very little negative space, and certain elements are left partially out of the photo so that we only get a glimpse of them.

You can even leave a portion of the plate out of the photo. 

If you haven't been reading my series about photographing interiors, I should also mention that every one of these photos is taken with the lights and flash turned off.  But notice that in some photos, candles are lit.

Above is a point-and-shoot photo I took of my Thanksgiving table last year.  I hadn't yet studied how to photograph tables, but I remember that when I looked into the view finder, there was too much negative space -- the table looked empty in the photo, though it didn't in person.  So I basically styled the shot by adding the candy dish, bowl, pitcher, and decanter to fill up the photo.   I do wish I had held the camera vertically instead of horizontally to crop out all of the negative space to the left and right of the plate.  (And I wish I had ironed everything, but no one's perfect!)

If you want to take good photos of your Thanksgiving table (or any special occasion table setting) remember these tips:

  • Experiment with different angles:  Straight-on, from the corner, directly above
  • Get close to your shot -- it's ok to leave some of the elements partially out of the photo
  • If you find that a lot of your tablecloth or tabletop shows, don't be afraid to add or move things around to reduce negative space.  What looks good in a photo doesn't always translate to what looks great in person.   
  • Hold your camera both horizontally and vertically to take your photos.
  • Be sure to include some kind of natural element for texture and color.  It doesn't always have to be flowers.  Use a clipping from your fern, an apple or tangerine from the fruit bowl, a leaf or some twigs brought in outside, etc.  Scroll back up to see examples of natural elements used on the table.  It adds that special, perfect touch.

Hope those of you in the U.S. have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  And for the rest of the world, I hope you've gained a few extra tips for photographing your table. 

*All sources for these photos can be found on here.


  1. Happy Thanksgiving to you too Camille! This was a beautiful post and I love how most of these tabletop images I have yet to see. I am smitten with the moodier ones...and I love the angle of the single place setting (like the photographer is sitting in the chair). So intimate. YOu can bet I'll be pinning a lot of these!!

  2. I'm not a tablescape person but shooting these scenes is something I would like to practice. I think you need a camera with a setting or lens that gives are a fairly shallow focal length. Notice most of the photos blur very quickly as you move out from the focal point. There are some real beauties here like I'd like to try to duplicate. It would be a shame if I needed a new camera.

    Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving.

  3. i wish you would have posted this yesterday! i took photos today and could have used this little tutorial. oh well there is always christmas right?

    and i also noticed the lens that blurs quickly. that is a v desirable shot.

    have a wonderful thanksgiving!

  4. Great tips! I plan to take some table photos today, in fact! I hope to post them today also. I have a lot to do. I'd better get off the computer and get busy : )

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family,

  5. I'll have to come back to read this post because I can't see the photos right now, but I wanted to let you know I was thinking of you last night. I was on the phone with a client and she was referring to a specific feature in a magazine. I didn't have the magazine to reference, so I asked her who the designer was so that I could look up the website. We're both looking at the website and the specific room comes right up in her portfolio, but my client is rattling off all of the differences between the magazine spread and the website. I talked a little bit about how magazine shoots can be very different from the actual room and how stylists bring in props, etc. Anyway, long story short, made me think of you and your great posts.

  6. Wow Camille...so many beautiful shots. Very helpful advice too. Always enjoy these posts from you.

    Have a nice Thanksgiving with your family.


  7. Great tips, as always! I'm so sorry about your family members, sending lots of warm, happy, healthy thoughts your way.


  8. Amazing shots and amazing tips. Thanks Camille. As always, you are teaching us how to be better bloggers. So sorry to hear about your family members.

  9. Perfect timing and beautiful pictures. Happy Thanksgiving my friend! xo

  10. Love these posts, Camille. I'm still hoping that your picture-taking wisdom will rub off on me.
    Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving despite dealing with some very bad news. Sending good thoughts your way.

  11. Great post again Camille! Love your constant tips, as they affect all of us bloggers! So you say lights off? What about in a living room shot? Are we to use natural light only? What say you master ?
    xo Nancy


I enjoy reading every comment.