Turkey Day is fast approaching – well, at least here in the US where we indulge in this shameless tribute to gluttony. For many of us, this is a time for family, which I think is by far one of the nicer aspects of the holiday. I’d gladly give up the cranberry sauce, and even the turkey, just for the chance to have the house full of relatives and good cheer.

Whatever form your celebration takes, here’s a few tips to help you capture the spirit of the day:

#1 Use a wide aperture – most homes aren’t very brightly lit, especially during the holidays, when candles may be more common than light bulbs during dinner. f/4 is about as closed-down as you’ll want to go, and expect at least ISO 1600. If you’re able to shoot at f/2.8 or faster, all the better.

#2 Use different perspectives – simply put, shoot from the level of your subject. If you’re shooting details of the feast, get down at table-top level and shoot among the dishes; if you’re shooting the kids playing on the living room floor, try lying down so you can see the world at their level.

#3 Gel your flash – light from a bare strobe will be very cool compared to the warm light of most homes (especially if there are candles). Using a 1/2 CTO gel will make the strobe’s light warmer, so that it blends better with the ambient light. If you are going to use flash, try to bounce it off a wall or ceiling, or use a diffuser – direct flash from on-camera is not flattering. You’ll have best results it you can gently blend the flash and ambient light, instead of using the flash to overpower it.

#4 Shoot black & white – this one is simple, and could really apply to almost any situation, but I’ve always found that photos of people at parties and events look good in B&W. Especially in a busy, or cluttered environment, removing the color helps simplify the image and draw attention to the subject, especially when used with a wide aperture.

#5 Use “fun” lenses – the holidays are a great time to play with “fun” lenses, like a fisheye or LensBaby. While it’s normally best to avoid these lenses least the images look cliche, they’re perfectly suited to parties and family gatherings. It makes sense, using fun lenses for fun events!

#6 Trade the DSLR for a P&S – despite our inherent desire to make photos, sometimes it’s just as important to set the camera down and take part in the fun. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by an SLR and bag of lenses; try leaving the big kit in the closet and grabbing a P&S for some quick snaps. You may feel that the photos are “less creative,” but chances are you’ll have more fun, without worrying about getting the shot.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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