A Seafood Picnic on the Beach.

•  02.September.2014

A couple of weeks back I was asked by my friend Aran Goyoaga to come along for a day on the beach at Discovery Park during a 3 day photography workshop she was teaching here in Seattle. I absolutely love collaborating with friends and didn’t think twice about spending a day in the sun sharing some of my thoughts on prop styling.

The goal of the day was to give the students opportunities to learn lighting techniques for when you are dealing with direct sunlight and tips on styling shoots on location. I loaded up a rustic vintage picnic table into the car and packed up a couple of bins of relevant props (lots of wood, neutral pottery pieces, some pretty linens) and we headed down to the beach to create some fun.

The night before the workshop I pinned together an eclectic mix of soft linens and fabric pieces in a color palette Aran had been inspired by for the shoot. The resulting canopy/tent provided some much-needed shade on the rocky beach that day. Aran brought along the most beautiful produce and food she had sourced from Pike Place Market, and she in turn created the most stunning tabletop spread for a seafood picnic feast.

Since shooting on location is always a bit more challenging than shooting in studio, a few tips for creating a beautiful setting outdoors :

1. SEEK OUT THE PERFECT SPOT : Find a location that offers a variety of textures, color and lighting opportunities (dappled light is quickly becoming my favorite environment to shoot in, especially in the summer months). If you’re having a picnic on the beach with friends, you definitely want to have a shady place you can escape to if you get overheated from the hot sun.

2. PLAN AHEAD : 80% of my job as a prop stylist takes place before the day actually arrives. Give yourself plenty of time to plan out the details of the day. Find inspiration photos online that inspire your ideas and color palette. Find props that help to evoke the mood you are hoping to create. Think in terms of texture, color and dimension. Vintage is always a great way to achieve all of these goals…there is so much character and worldly charm that is already built into vintage items and props. Instead of purchasing a new picnic blanket for example or some basic paper plates, pull out that beautiful old afghan your grandmother passed down to you and generously pack some pretty vintage plates you picked up on the cheap from a second-hand store. Enamel is also always a great option for shooting or enjoying food outdoors – very sturdy!

3. FIND HELPING HANDS : Anytime you are planning to create an event or photo shoot in a location other than your home make sure to ask for or find help. First off, things are always more fun when you are working on a team, and second you don’t want to be completely exhausted from carrying furniture/props/decor from the car to your location before you even start setting up the scene.

4. GET CREATIVE : Maybe instead of a conventional picnic on a blanket, you bring chairs and layer them with cute pillows to be placed among the tall grass lining the beach. I’m of the philosophy of thinking outside the conventional box with pretty much every visual aspect of my life that has the potential to be unique or different. As Steve Jobs once said “For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” It’s perfectly okay to keep things simple when it comes to styling or event planning, but even that simplicity can be done with great intention with every detail of the day.

5. FIGURE OUT YOUR LIMITATIONS : Some local parks and outdoor areas require permits or special permission in order for you to set up a photo shoot or event in that area or space. Be sure to check with the city or park about whether or not you are allowed to be there. The last thing you want is to spend a whole lot of time planning and setting up only to be shut down before you even get to enjoy your efforts.

6. DRESS ACCORDINGLY : You want to be comfortable especially since you will be working hard to set up all of your props/decor/food, but you also want to wear something that reflects the vibe you are attempting to create. I always have my friends pointing out how I end up matching the event or the shoot I’m working on. Although not always an intensely conscious decision, it is intentional nonetheless. If I know I’m going to be attending an event or styling a photo shoot in a very natural environment, I tend to wear clothing that reflects the palette of that environment. Especially with a photo shoot where I might not have it in the budget to bring a model on board. I know there will inevitably be a shot where the photographer asks me as the stylist to “reach for something” within the frame. I make things a whole lot easier and a heck of a lot more visually cohesive if the sleeve on the top I’m wearing or the jewelry on my hands pairs well with the items I’m reaching for. Plus, it helps me as a stylist to set the tone for the day for not only myself but for those on set. It’s like turning on music to create a mood…I dress accordingly to also set that mood for the images I’m hoping to create.

For more photos from our day on the beach and a fantastic corn chowder recipe that’s nearly too pretty to eat, make sure to check out Aran’s blog post about our collaborative adventure here.


photography and food styling by aran goyoaga | prop styling by jenn elliott blake.