It’s hard for me to believe that 6 months ago, I was in week 4 of my College Football Tailgating Tour. For 13 weeks last fall, I visited the best college football tailgates in the country. It was an amazing few months that taught me more than I could ever have imagined.
I am working on getting a book deal to share with you all the great food I discovered through this adventure, so this post isn’t about that.What I wanted to share with you today was what I learned photographically. Consider this a case study for on location food shooting.
The photographic side of this trip was by far the biggest challenge I had ever attempted. 13 weeks, 13 different locations, all with environments I had zero amount of control over, and with 11 of them I had never seen in person (I had been to Ole Miss before, and tailgated many times at Wisconsin as a student) Luckily, my naivety prevented me from really understanding what I had signed myself up for. It wasn’t until I was standing in the Grove at Ole Miss on the first stop, did the “O Shit” factor set in. I don’t think I will ever forget the feeling of standing there surrounded by hundreds of tents and coming to a harsh realization. Saying “I was going on a tailgate tour” and actually doing this tour were going to be two entirely different things. I could go on and on about what I felt during the tour and maybe one day in a later post I will go more in depth about the logistics and the emotions involved with this project, but those 3 months and thousands of pictures I took (there are 7,734 in my Lightroom catalog that I decided to keep, to give you an idea) made me a much better photographer than when I had started out.
Now to show you the techniques I used to pull this project off.
In the last couple weeks, I have shared with you some tips on lighting your food shots. Last week I shared with you how a lit some outdoor drink shots. The same fundamentals apply, but how you use them is slightly different.
When shooting outside you have two basic weather conditions. Overcast or Clear. On an overcast day there will be plenty of cloud cover that will act like a giant diffusion panel leaving you with a nice soft quality to your light. When it is a clear day you are left with a cloudless sky and direct sunlight will leave harsh shadows on your subjects and your food shots will look incredibly unappetizing. Unfortunately, ideal tailgating weather and photographic weather are complete opposites. I was hoping every stop on the tour would be full clouds all day! Unfortunately only my 2nd stop and 13th stop (Wisconsin and Ohio State) had this ideal lighting.
Here we have fans from the Ohio State game. The bottom row of shots were taken in the morning when there was a nice overcast sky. Now compare that to the top row taken later in the day when the cloud cover had direct sun shining through. The bottom row of pictures with the overcast light looks much better. ( yes I realize that Wisconsin and Michigan fans would say all of the pictures are ugly because of Ohio St being the subject, but lets ignore that)
So how does this overcast environment translate to food? Deliciously I would say.
Unfortunately, there were still 11 other tailgates that did not have these great lighting conditions. For these games there was plenty of direct sunlight and bright sunny clear days! Great weather to be in, but awful weather to shoot in!
I had a few options of what I could do. I could do nothing, but then my food would look like this.
I am sure it tastes great, but really it doesn’t look very appetizing. So I had to do something.
Here is what the weather looked like in Jacksonville. Great day to be outside, but look at those harsh shadow lines. Not ideal.
So what do I do? I could shoot in the shade provided by structures around me. Luckily the interstate right outside the stadium was suspended creating a wonderful shady environment.
On the left my friend Jay is standing in direct sun, On the Right he is standing in the shade of the RV. Whenever there was food next to an RV or other large object I would use the shade created by the object to shoot the food in. Shooting food at home in the shade is another way to bring your food photography outdoors. What if you are in an RV less open parking lot? I this case, I would have to use a different way to diffuse the light. There were two ways that I did this. The first was using a small 20 in diffusion disc. This lightweight disc folds up into a small compact size that was perfect for carrying around a tailgate.
So what does this mean for you shooting at home? Well color shifts can occur for you as well. Sometimes they come from a place mat contaminating a white plate or if you are using a shiny fabric on your set. Just keep an eye out for materials that may be causing a shift in your light. Shifts are most noticeable on whites and lighter colored objects.
Enjoy moving your food shooting outdoors!