Thanksgiving Day has historically been one of the biggest days for Instagram, and for good reason: It includes all of the hallmarks of a meaningful photographic memory, from beautiful food to fall tabletop vignettes to happy times with loved ones. If you’re on the social media network, chances are high you’ll be posting this on the Big Day. We asked Williams Sonoma Social Media Manager Jenn Yee to offer her insights for your best Thanksgiving yet on Instagram. Here are some of her tips.
Tip #1: Use natural light.
“I take advantage of natural light as much as possible, preferably in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is not as harsh,” Jenn tells us. Instagram is all about natural light, so it goes without saying that you’re much more likely to snap an Instagram-worthy picture if you take it before 4 p.m., or whenever the sun starts to go down. If you’re in a dark place, make it easy on yourself: Simply take your sheet pan, casserole dish or plate outside and shoot it there. Avoid the high sun, as it means harsh light; go into the shade if you need to. If it’s an overcast day where you live, you’re in luck: It’s optimal food-photoshoot lighting.
If your Thanksgiving dinner is a nighttime affair, take daytime photos of the cooking process instead (see below). If you must take a photo of your meal at nighttime, turn your phone camera’s HDR setting on to offset the low light. You can also make minor adjustments in the Instagram app. “I like to keep the photo looking realistic and natural, but make a few edits to so the photo pops.” Play around with the brightness, add a bit of contrast to reduce fuzziness, adjust saturation if colors are dull, and sharpen the photo to make it look more crisp.
Tip #2: Show the world your kitchen prep.
“The finished shot is what everyone goes for, but don’t forget that the process can be just as beautiful,” Jenn says. While shots of plated Thanksgiving dishes are the most popular way to go, don’t forget to step in the kitchen beforehand to to capture a few prep shots. If you’re bringing food to a potluck or cooking with a crowd, take a moment to hit “click” on your phone camera to capture a shot of multi-colored carrots before they go in the oven, or an “after” shot of roasted vegetables. While building your pie, snap a shot with the filling before covering it with a top crust. Garnishes help add a focal point here, too: think a rosemary twig on diced potatoes, cinnamon sticks atop cranberries, or a clove of garlic and some thyme with roasted brussels sprouts.
Tip #3: Embrace holiday heirlooms.
Thanksgiving is a sentimental time to celebrate togetherness with family. Don’t feel like you need to shy away from vintage plates, passed-down place card holders, heirloom serving dishes or your family’s centerpieces—that’s what makes your dinner unique and interesting. Says Jenn: “I used my mom’s Pyrex plates from the ’80s last Thanksgiving, and everyone chimed in via the comments to say, ‘I have those plates, too!’ It’s nice to take something from the past and use it in a new way.”
Tip #4: Pick a dish that tells a story.
Maybe your Minnesota-born mom makes glorified rice every year, or it’s tradition for your uncle to arrive with a traditional relish tray. Or perhaps your family offers an Italian, Chinese, or Indian take on Thanksgiving. If that’s the case, highlight what speaks to your heritage and what you eat every year; between equally delicious and beautiful buttery mashed potatoes and a sticky rice stuffing, people are going to be more interested in the unusual sticky rice stuffing.
Tip #5: Bring in something unexpected.
A punch of color can bring interest to a photograph. “This is especially important for Thanksgiving, because at the table there are a lot of brown foods: roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, that can appear one-note,” Jenn points out. The trick here is to emphasize both colorful dishes or vividly-colored ingredients that went into the dish. For instance, if your turkey was flavored using a rosemary brine, garnish it with sprigs of the herb for contrast.
If you’re going to for the mixed-plate shot, vary your plate with a range of colors and textures. “Add gravy on top of slices of turkey to give it more of a sheen, so it doesn’t look dry,” Jenn suggests. Sprinkle chives on top of mashed potatoes. Plate stuffing next to roasted sweet potatoes, which add a burst of orange, or cranberry relish, which adds a pop of garnet. A raw dish like a green salad adds freshness and a different texture to the plate.
An unexpected garnish or other creative treatment of standard Thanksgiving classics can make any dish memorable. Consider a beautiful arrangement of fresh or dried fruits on a turkey platter or a pie employing a noteworthy pastry technique (see video below) to add interest to a recipe.
Tip #6: Don’t overlook the caption.
Instagram isn’t just about the photo; the caption is just as important, especially on a day filled with such rich memories. Says Jenn: “Share your experience in that day. Yes, we want to know what you made but consider answering these: what makes the dish special? What’s the secret ingredient/technique? I find people engage more with the photo when you tell a bit of the story behind it.”
And last but not least, don’t feel like you need to do any fancy food styling. Your Thanksgiving feast doesn’t need to be perfect or fussy in any way—at the end of the day, it’s more about capturing the spirit of togetherness in the moment.