Deconstructing Thanksgiving Dinner

…or what I learned in 2 hours at Food Foto School.

In which I correct my own homework AND get to recycle my Second Thanksgiving dinner photos.

On the table:

Exhibit number 1.

I recently attended a seminar in Halifax called Blogjam – a convention for Bloggers. (I capitalize that because we Bloggers are so important) By far the most superior workshop was the one on plating and photographing food. I learned tons. Sadly it is not evident in my recent posting of Thanksgiving food pics so, being a fan of life-long learning and sharing, please indulge me in this autogenous critique of the above opening photograph.

  • There are too many round things. A picture needs a variety of shapes and sizes for balance.
  • The bird should be the biggest object in the pic but it is dwarfed by being next to the wine glass full of cran/raspberry jelly salad. That’s not an error in placement or scale; it is because that is the MOTHER of all big wineglasses. Also, it is a chicken, not a turkey. For you non-poultry eating folk, chickens are smaller than turkeys.
  • The gravy boat doesn’t match the plates. It is vintage, but not as vintage as the plate and it’s a different colour. Mmm, good reason to go Thrift store shopping there.
  • The focal point, or hero of the shot as it were, should be obvious or should have other objects creating a path towards it. Hmph. My hero, the chicken, is buried behind the doughboys, which is likely some kind of parapraxis on my part because doughboys ROCK.

Exhibit number 2

This is not much better even though they told me that food is best photographed from above unless the plate itself holds food in layers. I’m not so sure I agree. Also

  • It has too many plates.
  • The tablecloth doesn’t fit the table.
  • The plates are too small for the portions. I should have used smaller plates.
  • The jelly salad gets lost against the background.
  • The gravy boat still doesn’t work on that plate.
  • There is no clear focal point.

I should have used smaller plates. Or heaped the sprouts around the chicken. The jelly could have been in a small ivory dish to make it stand out against the cloth. The gravy boat should not be on a plate. Well, it should be for the sake of saving the tablecloth from gravy stains, but not for the photo. It’s hard to understand why I used a gigantic wine glass for the jelly. I vaguely recall it being because the gigantic martini glass wouldn’t fit in the fridge for it to set.

Here’s how our extraordinary and likable instructor, Michelle Doucette, did it:

Wonder how she’d treat a chicken dinner.

Now for the same dinner on the plate:

Exhibit number 3.

What works? The food is a nice variety of colours. What doesn’t:

  • The tablecloth is all wrong and doesn’t fill the frame.
  • There is no path for the eye to follow.
  • Everything is the same height.
  • Too many doughboys. One would have sufficed. (Once again the doughboys come first. You have to understand, I would have starved as a child if it weren’t for doughboys. Not because there wasn’t other food, just so few other things I considered worth eating)
  • It’s essentially just one big blob of food.
  • The blue pattern on the plate would have looked better over between the chicken leg and the jelly.
  • The pecans on the jellied salad look like some kind of growth. Should probably have flipped it so there was a cranberry or two showing.

On the other hand, the glistening on the gravy looks pretty good. Guaranteed natural, and unretouched that gravy is. No spray shellac in my food photos.

Here’s how the marvelous and likable chef from Gio, Halifax, presented his food. Sorry, don’t recall his name, I was too distracted by the culinary delights he was “plating” as he called it.




And now for dessert:


Exhibit number 4. Bad.

My first dessert photo earns a definite F grade. This is a slice of crustless key lime pie. It was delicious with the texture of a panna cotta and the zingy tang of fresh squeezed limes. Why does it look so terrible? Here’s a better shot but it still could use some improvement.

Exhibit number 5.

  • The plate is waaaay too big.
  • The plate colour and pattern do not compliment the food.
  • It is bland in colour. It would benefit from being placed on a nice dark sauce. Okay folks, get out your colour wheels here. I think a purply swirl of blackberry coulis would be just the ticket to bring out the green of the lime peel, don’t you?
  • The lime twist garnish I believe is nice, but it should have been a little smaller as it overwhelms the dessert. And add a single plump blackberry. Then again, why not just make the serving larger. Much larger with heaps more whipped cream. Bring it on. But hold the blackberry. I refuse to pay six dollars for a small package when I only need two berries. Maybe I should get some decorative glass ones. What’s the chance someone would try and eat one? Like those plastic safety pins I once put on the icing of some baby shower cupcakes that every second person thought was candy and tried to eat. Guess that’s why garnishes are usually real food. I digress.

So what I really learned from all of this is: if you want to photograph food don’t do it as you are serving it. Don’t break out the camera while your poor husband is already seated at the table with carving knife and fork poised and ready to strike. Or when he has licked the residual gravy off his fork and is holding it in his hand in anticipation of dessert. That is cruel and unusual punishment. Make yourself a practice meal a few days before, just for pictures. It falls under the category of artistic licence I believe. Not only will your photos be better planned, you will get to double the number of celebratory meals you get to have in any given year. Mmmmm, left-overs.

© Judy Parsons 2017.

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