In our Food Styling 101 series, Lisa Bolton offers up food styling tips for conveying the stories you want your food to tell. Her advice will help you create food photography that entices readers to make your recipes and read your articles. Today Lisa offers up tips for food styling a picnic - everything from the picnic setting to the food and props.

Food Styling a Picnic | Food Bloggers of Canada

Well hello there, summer! School's out and vacations are being planned. For us, that means if a meal isn't on a patio, it's on a beach, in a grassy park or at an outdoor table. It's picnic season!

How Do You Food Style a Picnic Shot?

Over the last two months I wrote about styling summer cocktails and grilled foods, so now let’s take our food and drink to a picnic setting.

When it comes to styling a picnic shot there are a few things to keep in mind to not only make the food shine, but the setting too. There are several elements that contribute to a picnic shot besides the food itself. Things to consider capturing in your shoot include:

  • People enjoying themselves
  • The table itself (like a picnic table or blanket)
  • Surrounding scenery (think water, grass, sky)
  • Patterns and textures (blankets, wicker baskets)

Choose a Pretty Setting

A picnic can happen anywhere from a backyard to a beach. To capture the scene you'll likely want to capture some elements of nature when styling the picnic. Try filling the frame with lots of negative space taken up by elements like open blue sky, water from a lake or ocean in the background, or lots of grass in the shot from an overhead perspective.

What you want to keep in mind when setting up the picnic are the elements you might not want in the shot; for example, things like a parking lot, busy street, cars, other picnic goers, street/directional signs, playground structures, et cetera.

Here Comes the Sun Shade

woman carrying a picnic basket

The irony, now that the summer sun has arrived, is that less sun is actually going make your food look better. When choosing a spot to set up your picnic shoot you want to look for shade, not sun. Not that you can’t shoot in the sun — it's absolutely possible. But without the use of a diffuser, you'll end up with harsh shadows that sometimes can make your food look flat.

So, while you'll want to lay the blanket in the sun when it comes time to enjoy the picnic, when you're trying to capture the shot set up the food and props under that shady tree.

Textured and Patterned Textiles

Textured Textiles and tablecloths

Speaking of blankets, now's the time to get out the patterns. When propping an indoor shot, I tend to use linens without a pattern. Textiles like cheesecloth or neutral linens are my go-to, so as not to distract from the food itself. But when it comes to styling a picnic, so much of the magic comes from how the props come together.

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When people think of picnics, we connect with the idea of spreading a blanket on the grass or a tablecloth on the table. This is the time to break out the checkered or floral patterns that support the theme of your shoot.

Choose a Theme

Because there are so many contributing elements, when setting up your picnic you'll want to have a general theme, so all of the props and accessories don’t compete with each other. For example, a romantic theme might include flowers like baby’s breath and peonies, a straw hat and floral patterned blankets. A childlike theme might include colourful balloons, bubbles and a bold coloured cloth.

By categorizing your shot with a theme, you'll be able to pull together all the pieces in a harmonious manner.

The Food and Props

A big picnic charcuterie board

As a food stylist I'm often taking food out of its original container and putting it into a prettier one. The beauty of a picnic is that some food is going to look just right left in its original containers. Picnics are often about going to the grocery store for deli sandwiches and salads and using disposable cutlery.

I like styling a picnic with things like berries and dips in clear plastic takeaway containers. Compostable bamboo serving ware and mason jars are also great for styling picnic shots. Twine and parchment around a sandwich add a whimsical element. To add layers, bring a small wood serving board or tray to place on the blanket. And don’t forget a wicker picnic basket!

With summer here, I hope you're taking your dining outside and making the most of the beautiful weather! Remember to tag FBC and use the hashtag #fbcigers to show us your best picnics this summer.

Suggested Picnic Photo Shoot Prop List

  • compostable bamboo serving ware
  • mason jars
  • takeaway containers
  • wooden serving board or tray
  • twine
  • parchment paper
  • wicker picnic basket
  • textured or patterned blankets, tablecloths, cloth napkins
  • glass bottles for beverages
  • props to suggest a theme: hats, bicycles, flowers, books, butterfly nets
Food Styling a Picnic | Food Bloggers of Canada

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Lisa Bolton is a food stylist, recipe developer and creator of beautiful food boards.  You can find her work at lisadawnbolton.com.  She lives in the Lower Mainland of BC.  Her first cookbook, On Boards, (affiliate link) is due to be released by Appetite by Penguin Random House in October 2018 and is available for pre-order. You can reach her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.

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