An Introduction to Outdoor Food Photography
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, Summer is officially here! This means plenty of picnics, outdoor barbecues, and many more occasions where you can take pictures of food outside! When outside, you won’t have control of the weather conditions. To be able to have nice, soft, diffused light in any weather, there is one piece of equipment that I always bring with me. It is small, light-weight, and essential to creating mouthwatering pictures of food on a bright sunny day. Can you guess what it is?
If you guessed a collapsible diffuser, you are correct. A 22″ translucent collapsible reflector (referred to as a collapsible diffuser) is something that I carry in my camera bag at all times. The disc collapses to about 8″ in size so it can easily fit in most backpacks.
Here are just a few of the many situations where you may use the diffusion disc this summer.
A Backyard Barbecue
Pretend you are having a backyard barbecue, or are shooting an outdoor entertaining feature for a magazine. If items are on the grill, you will probably want to capture some shots of it! On a bright sunny day, your grilled items may not look that great. The harsh specular light created by a cloudless sky is not ideal for your food shots. Notice how harsh the shadow lines are and how the highlights on the chicken are small and blown out. Any sauce that you apply to your grilled items will create a reflective surface on the meat. When shooting, keep in mind how the sun will effect the highlights on your saucy reflective surface.
The solution is to use a collapsible diffuser!
When the diffuser is held over the grill, it creates nice and even diffused lighting! Can you tell a difference in the chicken? Which do you find more appetizing?
In this example, I used the inside section from a 5 in 1, but the 22″ or any other size collapsible diffuser will work just as well.
Now what happens when you take your grilled entree off of the grill? If you are outdoors in a cloudless sky, you may be left with chicken like this.
Above is the same situation as the grill. Again, notice the harsh shadow lines and small blown out highlights. The solution is simple. Add a collapsible diffuser.
Under this soft diffused light, the chicken looks much more appetizing! If you are shooting a recipe for a magazine or a cookbook which one do you think the client is going to prefer?
An Outdoor Picnic
Spring and Summer are the ideal times for a picnic! If you plan on taking shots of your food while on location, packing space and weight are a concern. In addition to your camera gear, you will also have to bring the food. Bringing a collapsible diffuser along is a lightweight and compact lighting solution. Here is how a diffuser could help your picnic shots.
Image 1 shows the picnic set under the harsh light of a cloudless sky. It is beautiful weather to be outside, but it isn’t ideal for taking pictures of your food.
Image 2 shows what happens when you add the diffuser. You can see the circle of diffusion it creates. As long as your subject is in that circle, you will have soft, even light on it.
Image 3 shows the same framing as shot 1, but with the travel diffuser in place.
Controlling your quality of light on location is a valuable skill for every photographer to have. The smaller set size that most food shots will have allows for lightweight and very portable solutions. If you are shooting a larger food set that than the images seen above, you will need a larger diffusion panel. Enjoy shooting your food outdoors this summer!
For more tips and tricks for your Outdoor and Travel and food photography this summer, check out Issue 6 of photographing FOOD.