Murphy’s Law has a special addendum just for photographers:

“Anything interesting that can happen will happen — as soon as you put your camera down.”

It’s the fear of this that keeps us clicking away constantly. It keeps us from being present and experiencing moments with the people we are trying to photograph. And we’re especially guilty during the holidays.

So, instead of trying to figure out if the camera belongs to the left or right of the salad fork in your place setting, set up a time-lapse to record the whole meal.

Use your phone

Your phone may be the easiest tool to use to make a time-lapse video. It’ll take a picture every second or so and compile it into a video automatically. On my phone, there are no options, just a start button, and that’s great. Options mean you have to take time to learn what they do. If you just want a simple setup, choose the time-lapse setting on your phone and let her rip.

The only trick is finding a place to set your phone. I use a Square Jellyfish tripod mount for my phone, and I attach it to a Platypod Ultra (which is on sale for Black Friday) so I can position it anyplace. If you really want to have some fun, get the Platypod Goosenecks so you can position the phone anywhere.

Use your camera

Your camera may include a setting for making a time-lapse. It’s often under a menu item called Interval Shooting. Set it to record a picture every three seconds and set the number of frames to 9999 so it will just keep shooting throughout your meal.

You can use either Aperture mode or Manual mode. Aperture mode may change the exposure if someone wearing a white shirt walks into the frame, or someone wearing a black shirt. The camera can’t tell the difference between color and brightness and may change the exposure. If the exposure changes during the time-lapse, it causes the video to appear to flicker and it can be distracting or even sickening to watch.

Using Manual mode

Manual mode is a safer choice, just make sure that the lighting is as it will be during the meal. If you get all set up and start the time-lapse and then your mother-in-law turns off the lights and uses only candles for the meal, your settings may be all wrong — though it would look awesome to do that.

Make sure you choose a white balance setting other than AWB so that it also doesn’t change through the meal. Probably the Tungsten setting for normal warm-colored light bulbs.

Use autofocus to get the shot in focus, but it’s imperative that you then switch to manual focus. If you don’t, then it’ll change focus every time someone walks by and that shift is worse than the exposure flicker. It’ll ruin the video.

Set the camera’s aspect ratio to 16:9 so that you frame the shot as it will be viewed on the TV, phone, or computer. It’s frustrating to get home and realize that your video from the camera is a 3:2 or 4:3 ratio but YouTube is 16:9.

If your camera has it, be sure to use Silent mode. There are few things as aggravating as the sound of a camera clicking away behind you every second. It’s really annoying, so set the camera to silent mode, or place it where it won’t be heard.

Place your camera

Get your camera into a spot where you can see the action. Maybe in a loft upstairs, maybe on the railing of the stairs, maybe on top of the wall in the kitchen, maybe on a light fixture. Just make sure it’s a place that won’t get bumped.

Most importantly, make sure it’s not in the way and that no one needs to be careful not to bump it. Putting an expensive phone or camera in a high-traffic area is a surefire way to cause an argument. If you’re trying to ruin Thanksgiving, I’ve got some more tips in last week’s post. Otherwise, make sure it’s not going to cause a problem.

You can set up a tripod upstairs overlooking the dinner, or use a rolled-up sweatshirt or a Ziploc bag full of rice or beans to position the camera. You know I’m a fan of a Platypod, and that’s clearly the easiest way to position a camera, but use your imagination and I’m sure you’ll find a solution.

Be dynamic, be concise — and be PRESENT

You can shoot one time-lapse during the meal, but you could also compile several together to make a very cool video. Do one making rolls, another setting the table, another watching the game or playing games. Put all these into one quick video and it’ll be a fun thing to share. Just remember to be concise and brief. You’ll love watching a two minute time-lapse of everyone at the table, but it’s far too long for sharing. Break it up and use five-second clips or shorter. You can use sections from the same time-lapse more than once, but use a short section of the clip each time.

The whole idea here is to allow you to let the camera run while you enjoy time with friends and family. Don’t get stuck messing with settings, and certainly don’t let the quality of your pictures determine the quality of your experience. Have fun and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.