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Instagramming Thanksgiving? 5 tips to keep your shots hot and fresh

Katie Cannon/ NBC News

If last year is any indication, this Thursday will bring several million Thanksgiving-themed photos to everyone's favorite food photography service, Instagram. If you don't want your dinner-table photos to sink out of sight like butter on mashed potatoes, here are a few tips to make them stand out from all the other cooked-bird-on-table pics.

1. Pick a unique subject
Everyone is going to take a shot of the full Thanksgiving spread, and it's all going to look largely the same, except for the arrangement of the side dishes. Why not take a shot of the kids playing under the table, or the floral arrangement, or the 15 bottles of wine on the sideboard? Something about your Thanksgiving is unique, and it ain't the turkey.

2. Find a new perspective
Instead of taking out your smartphone and snapping a shot while milling around the dining or living room, see if you can find a better vantage point. It may be cold, but head outside and take a shot with a big window framing your happy family chatting away inside. Climb up the stairs and take one from a birds-eye view. Give the phone to your niece and tell her to take pictures of the dog, or the cook, or anything else kids love to watch. Shoot through a wine glass or between the legs of the bird — phone cameras are small and maneuverable, so use your imagination!

3. Control the lighting
Any food photographer can tell you the key to making a meal look good is getting the light right. Even the most artfully composed plate will look grey and unappetizing if it's captured in flat, fluorescent light or the like. No one (except your immediate family, of course) has to know you put the lamp on the dining table out of frame to make the turkey shine like a diamond, and it's OK to dim the lights extra to get that candle-lit look for a moment — even if the diners can't see a thing.

4. Be judicious with filters
No one is going to appreciate the vintage, sepia or other extreme looks when it comes to this meal. Thanksgiving is a wonderfully colorful meal, and your photos should accentuate that, not tone it down — or blow it out. This is a great time for #nofilter brags, especially if you take the time to get the lighting and exposure right. That said, there's no shame in adding a little contrast and saturation to make the cranberry sauce and brussels sprouts really pop.

5. Tell a story
Did you have a flat tire on the way to your parents' place? Did someone have to sprint to the store to get more wine, and all that was left was the boxed stuff? Did your grandmother recently hit 90 and still insists on making the gravy herself? Document it thoroughly — or make something up! Instagram (or whatever photo service you prefer) is an opportunity to communicate not just moments, but entire events and adventures. You'll thank yourself later: Thanksgivings tend to blur together, and one table looks much like another, but recording the memorable circumstances surrounding it will make these photos more relevant and enjoyable in the future.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is