Two events stir a sense of culinary duty in the most traditional of men. One, of course, is the barbecue. The other is setting fire to Christmas pudding.
Indeed, when I look back at the Christmas highlights of my childhood, they do not recall the quasi-ceremonial carving of the turkey. They feature a wild-eyed paterfamilias bursting into the dining room with his hands on fire, squawking like the bird he had earlier dismembered, before tossing a plate of flaming suet before his kin. There are gasps.
I wish I had a photo of those moments. Of that Christmas pudding. In fact, I wish I had a photo of every Christmas dinner I had ever had. The year when my aunt jazzed up our slices of gammon with a tinned pineapple ring (a courageous stunt that was never repeated). The year someone saw fit to swap roast potatoes for mash (WTF!?). I wish I had photos for all of them.
Of course, there are some people who hate food photos. Apparently, they can get you unfriended on Facebook. But you can guarantee that social networks will be teeming with food photos over the festive period. Some of those photos will be mouth-watering. Others - keep an eye on Christmas at Martha Stewart's gaff - will be terrible.
That's a shame. Because Britons will be spending an average of £180 on food and drink this Christmas, and god-knows-how-many hours pouring it into novelty tankards, wrestling it into a baths of brine and rescuing it from overstuffed ovens. No wonder we end up wanting a photo when it's all done. And it's pretty easy to take a good one.
And you know what? Just for the heck of it, here is a nice written set of rules. Yes, rules.
- Do use natural daylight. Window light will always produce the best results. Stick your dish as near to a window as possible, and your photo will look great.
- Don't rely on overhead lights. This is the biggest mistake people make when taking photos of food. Overhead lights create grim shadows and project a pretty brutal light. By contrast, a standing lamp or a table lamp will produce a much better effect.
- Do choose the right angle for your dish. With flat dishes of many components (think Christmas dinner or a fry-up,) an overhead shot may be best. But with a stacked dish (imagine your fantasy burger, people), shooting side on may produce more dramatic results.
- Don't overcrowd the plate. The most memorable photos generally show a bit of plate. Less picturesque is a gluttonous trough with gravy cascading over the edge of your crockery, like seas off the end of the world.
- Do let other items and objects play a part in your photo. You've won the battle to get your favourite bit of the turkey. Why not pan out beyond your plate to include the victorious half of a Christmas cracker? That's a sweet moment.
- Don't feel obliged to photo the whole plate. Sometimes, a close-up is better than snapping the whole thing. A stack of mash potato may be boring from a distance, but reveal a beguiling fluffiness close-up.
- Don't fear the gravy. Few food images could capture a white Christmas dinner better than steam rising off your plate. Except maybe the sight of a drunken uncle eating brussels sprouts off the snow. Just try and avoid the gravy steaming up your lens... take your shot quickly!
- Do keep a steady hand. Limit yourself to no more than four glasses of champagne during The Snowman. Hold the camera in two hands. And if you're at the tail-end of an all-out festive bender, why not rest on your elbows to create an ersatz tripod?
- Do take photos of the process and the party around the main dish. Ahem, some apps let you animate several photos to tell the full story of a dinner. And on an entirely separate note, check out our new feature!
- Do put down your camera and enjoy your Christmas dinner. Or someone will snatch at least one of your spuds. Honestly, don't bother with more than a couple of shots from a given angle. They don't get better with repetition.
And if you follow these tips, they'll be bang on first time!