Daytime outdoors. Autumn. The light inflames the colours of the trees in a late autumn afternoon. The leaves go from reddish brown to the brightest yellow, little splashes of warm colour in the woods and gardens and along the tree-lined roads. When you tell a story, whether you tell it with words or through images, you would like to include all this, from the crunching of the dry leaves underfoot to the wisps of fog that wrap themselves around the branches of the increasingly bare trees.
On an autumn day like this one, you are fortunate to be able to immerse the subject of your photograph in such a soft light. Natural light is always recommended for food photography; it enhances shapes and colours, makes it more appealing and, often, it is a lot easier to manage than artificial light, especially for those who are just getting started.
However, when you move from an indoor set – a place in which you can control nearly all the variables – to taking pictures outdoors, you need to pay attention to several different factors.
The time of year in which you take your photos will have different effects on your final result. Photos taken outdoors in the summer, autumn or winter require different white balance settings and, often, even a particular method of dealing with shadows – very clear and in contrast in full summer daylight.
Even the time of day influences greatly the photo result; it is recommended to shoot when the light is at its softest – in the morning or late evening. With the last moments of the sun in particular, during the golden hour, photos take on a mellow, soft light that enhances any subject.
The problem outdoors is precisely how to manage this wonderful light, that so often strikes the subject of your photo with such force. A light that is too direct will have the same effect as a flash: the subject will appear flat and will have strong contrast shadows, difficult to manage. In the case of food, it will also make the subject less appealing, almost fake-looking.
So, in this case, you will have to use a diffuser to screen partially the light that hits the subject. A reflector can also be useful for bouncing the light off into areas of overly-intense shadow, so that important details of the subject can be revealed. If you don’t have a diffuser, you can use piece of white material – a bed sheet or a light tablecloth – to screen the light without blocking it completely.
If it is a cloudy day, however, you won’t have any of these problems. A cloud-covered sky, whatever the season, is the best solution for photography, because the clouds diffuse the light evenly, without making the use of other tools necessary.
One alternative solution can be to photograph your subject in shadow; in this case, there are no problems with direct light, but you will have to take the white balance into consideration, either at the time of shooting or in post-production.
A lot of these difficulties are easily managed, especially in autumn, when the light is naturally softer. Dry leaves make a warm and natural background: a plate with a few little cakes and an espresso resting on a bed of dry leaves can tell the story of a late autumn afternoon, of a meet-up with friends for a chat, of a private moment of relaxation, in which to take a break from the afternoon’s work, taking advantage of the last of the season’s sunshine.
Using wood as a background conveys the same warmth; it goes well with woodland tones and places the photo in an autumn surrounded by nature.
Giulia Scarpaleggia, teacher of Tuscan cookery courses for tourists, Tuscan food blogger, writer and photographer, 34 years old, from Colle Val d’Elsa (Siena).
I started my blog in February 2009. In January 2012, I began working full-time as a food blogger and teacher of cookery courses.
In December 2012, my first book ‘I Love Toscana’ was published by Food Editore in Italian and English.
In September 2013, I won the Macchianera Food Award for best Italian food blogger.
In September 2014, my second book, ‘Cucina da Chef con ingredienti low cost’ (Chef Cooking with Low Cost Ingredients) was published by BUR.
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