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Letís say your friends and family are feasting away outside on a red-and-white checkered tablecloth. A festive photo op, right? But if thereís ultra bright sunlight above, or even grey, overcast skies, this could be one photo op that isnít quite the picnic you intended. In this article, Olympus Visionary Lou Manna, who has served as a staff photographer for the New York Times for 15 years, gives us a few tips for making all of our outdoor celebrations frame-worthy events. Lou has photographed images for over 40 cookbooks, authored the how-to book Digital Food Photography and has led the creative efforts for countless professional outdoor photo shoots.
- Set the stage. Pick a picnic location either entirely in the sun or entirely in the shade, since the contrast range in a combo lighting situation will be too great for any digital camera sensor and you probably wonít get the detail you want in either the highlight or shadow areas.
- When shooting in bright daylight, try to have the sun at your side or behind your subjects. When the sun is behind your back, the result is often an unappealingly flattened image. Also, that will tend to make your subjects squint, which most agree is a rather disagreeable look. You can also use your flash to fill in harsh shadows, or use mirrors and aluminum foil to bounce light back onto your subjects. That way youíll create specular highlights and give a more appetizing appeal to all the food youíre photographing.
- Place wax paper or a white shower curtain between the sun and your subjects. This will diffuse the light and soften the shadows. Click here to see an example of this technique. If youíre using an Olympus camera like the E-30, E-620 or E-P1 which have built-in art filters, you can easily achieve a dreamlike effect with the filters called "Soft Focus," "Pale & Light Color" or "Light Tone."
- When shooting in the shade, you will need to be very careful about holding the camera steady. You might have to use a tripod. The lower light level means that the tiniest shake of the camera may result in a blurry image. Fortunately, most Olympus cameras have a built-in dual image stabilization feature, which protects against many of these blurry handheld mishaps.
- On your Olympus D-SLR or point-and-shoot camera, use the preset white balance settings in either the "cloudy" or "deep shade" modes. This introduces a warm yellowish and amber tone to the photographs and makes faces look much more engaging and food much more appealing.
- Consider using contrasting colors with your plates and napkins and try to vary the shapes and sizes of the individual food items. This will make the composition of your photographs much more interesting to the eye. Never forget this simple truth: You eat with your eyes first!
- All Olympus point-and-shoot cameras have a "Macro" mode (the icon is a flower) that greatly helps you focus closely to capture the detail, texture and beauty of the food and the various settings that you set out to capture.
- Donít forget to use the "Cuisine" scene modeóan exclusive point-and-shoot feature from Olympusóto boost the saturation, sharpness and contrast of food and drinks, especially for close-ups. Itís quick and easy to do simply by pressing a button.
- Experiment with colors and moods by using the in-camera creative features found on the new Olympus E-P1, E-620, E-30, FE and Stylus series cameras. Do you want to know how a colorful picnic will look when you shoot it with the "Pop Art" filter? See for yourself before you take the shot, right in the cameraís LCD. If you want to unleash your inner creative genius but donít have a camera equipped with in-camera art filters, use Olympus Master software to manually experiment with color, saturation, highlights, tone and other creative options.
- Hereís another good professional tip: shoot from several angles, take risks and donít be afraid to experiment. Strive to be different! Most of all, have fun. The beauty of digital photography is that if you donít love a picture, you can press "Delete" and try it all over again.
Note: Photography courtesy of Lou Manna; shot with Olympus E-System cameras and lenses.