Shooting a Picnic in a Park with new blogger friends

I hope everyone had a great weekend. Here in Charlotte, the weather did a 180 from torrential down pours on Saturday to beautiful cloudless skies on Sunday. This is perfect outdoor picnic weather, but not perfect outdoor photography weather…

On Sunday, I had a picnic with a large group of new friends. More on that later in the post. First, I want to talk with you about how you would shoot your food outdoors at a park for a picnic. The techniques are similar to the ones that I used while tailgating, but in this situation, I got to choose where I wanted to set up.

Here is a view of the location. I am standing with the sun at my back. (you can tell where the sun is by looking at the red arrow next to the shadow of the lamp pole). Notice how there are no clouds and everything looks really harsh. Look at the shadow edges of the lamp pole and the trees. They are very well defined and sharp. This tells you that the open sunlight is specular and NOT ideal to shoot your delicious food in. You will end up with the same sharp shadows on your food. Refer back to the Quality of light post if you need further explanation.

So we have assessed that direct sun is not going to be ideal. We need some shade. I could bring a diffusion panel out into the open sun, but I don’t want to bring out light stands a panel and set all of that up. I am here to enjoy myself, so I will have to look around and find a place that works. Notice the areas circled in yellow.

Do you see how the picnic table and the pine tree on the right are both in the shade? Those are the best areas to shoot.

Here is a picture of the table from before. I have turned around. The sun that was behind me in the previous picture is now on the left. The Pine tree is between me and the sun, and creates the shade. The red drawn on areas show where the sun is shining through the leaves of the tree. These large chunks aren’t ideal to shoot in. They are the same harsh specular light from before.Notice the area under the wooden structure that is shaded out in blue. This is a possible place to shoot, but it is quite darker, which would require me to bump my ISO up  in order to keep the same shutter speed and aperture (with the technology in today’s cameras, it would have been doable, but not preferable). When shooting under the building, the light will look more like ambient fill and will lack a direction to it. This is not necessarily bad, just different. The temperature of the light is also different under there, so  you will have to adjust for that. I chose to do the majority of my shooting in the shade of the trees.

Unfortunately, the table was not completely shaded. There where areas where the sun was able to shine through (notice the areas in red). The solution to this is to use a small diffusion disc.

Picture A is with out the disc. Picture B is with the disc in place. Notice how the center of the subject in Picture A is over exposed, but the rest of the image is correctly exposed. The disc fixes this by evening out and softening the light. The result is what you see in Picture B, a nice soft light falling over the subject. Here is another example.

Look at the harsh shadows in these cupcakes. They could look much more appetizing.This is where a diffusion disc comes in handy.

Much better. The light falling over these cupcakes is a nice diffused even light. Delicious!

Now that I have explained my method, here are some results.

In the beginning of the post, I told you that this picnic was with a group of new blogger friends. These friends and I are apart of  Charlotte Food Bloggers. In attending my first food conference back in January, I realized how much fun it was to hang out with food bloggers in person. Blogging is an incredibly social activity, but at the same time it is incredibly isolating. You develop connections and make friends with people who care about food just as much as you do, but you are limited to comments or 140 character conversations as forms of conversation. I might be old school, but I prefer talking in person far more than writing. The majority of my friends don’t care too much about food photography, wordpress, or recipe development. They will gladly eat when I cook, but when conversations fall to the topics of new plugins or what lighting I used on that shot, or looking at new props, I pretty much find myself alone. I needed to find a group of people just as interested in these topics as I was.

So, I contacted my blogger friend Julie, and we decided to start a group in Charlotte. Our first meeting was what you see above, and I couldn’t have been more impressed with the amazing bloggers and talent that showed up. I will definitely be blogging more about the group as more happens with it, but after 1 meeting there isn’t too much to say other than I was amazed at the turnout and the talented individuals I ate and talked with today. I am very much looking forward to future meetings and what will happen.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, and are wanting to hang out with other food bloggers in you area, start a group. You will be surprised to find what people in your city share the same common interests as you do.

If you live in Charlotte,NC, and are interested in the group check out the Charlotte Food Bloggers Blog (yes we did start a blog haha) or on twitter Here is a link to the post on Charlotte Food Bloggers about the Picnic

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  1. says

    I totally agree with you–food bloggers are part of a wonderful community but sometimes it can be isolating when your conversations are limited to 140 characters on twitter…late at night…after watching Extreme Couponing ;)

    Wish I was close so I could take part :(

  2. says

    Great tips, as usual. I’m totally envious of your new group of blogging buddies! I’ve also always wished I knew someone in person who was as into food and photography as I am :P

  3. says

    Great tutorial! I have been meaning to pick up a diffusion disc for a while now and I think this just prompted me to. I do a lot of shooting outdoors in the summer. I really love the shot with the hands holding the small tart.

  4. says

    Wonderful tips, Taylor. These type settings are the ones where I’m always disappointed in how my photos turn out when I sit down to edit them. The lighting always seems to harsh and with too many shadows.

  5. says

    This looks awesome!! I can’t wait to come to the next meet up! I’ve only experimented a little bit with the diffusion disc. Glad you all had fun :-) Love all of the yummy food!

  6. says

    Hey Taylor! It was so nice meeting you on Sunday and talking camera. Thanks for the tips. I love your diffusion disc. Did you get it around here or online? I don’t shoot many photos outside, but that seems like a handy little gadget to have on hand. :) Everyone already said it, but I’m sure you don’t mind hearing again…great photos!

  7. says

    Hi Taylor. I found you relatively recently and get your posts on email. I so appreciate these articles. I am also a food blogger and find the photography in specific situations can be the trickiest part of it. I love that you went ‘into the field’ with specifics and challenges that we all encounter but often in the moment do not have the tactics to deal with. Reading this helps to think through possible issues before hand and be prepared for them. Love that you show successful photos as well as ‘this is what happens if….’ photos too! So helpful!

  8. says

    I love this post! It sounds and looks like it was a wonderful picnic (my mouth was especially watering when I saw those pimento cheese sandwiches), and how lovely that you have a nice group of blogger friends in your community. The photography tips are hugely helpful, especially as we picnic just about every weekend here in Paris in the spring and summer. So thank you very much! BTW, where do you suggest looking for a diffusion disc? Looks like a very handy tool to have!

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