Cajun Creole Garden Party

Dodging a Rainy Bullet

St. Louis weather always keeps me guessing. Blistering heat one day, then cold and dreary the next. Toss in the odd tornado and/or momentous thunderstorm and you’ve got your average spring week here in Missouri. Such was the case in late April when I photographed a Cajun/Creole garden party for Feast magazine. The brief was fairly straight forward: several local chefs with New Orleans backgrounds would all be attending a backyard party, along with their families. Each chef would being a cajun/creole dish (potluck style) and I would photograph them eating and talking and generally having a good time. And oh yeah, it would be outside, rain or shine.

The day of the shoot was stormy, cloudy, cold and generally not very nice. Considering the story was running in the June issue, I was concerned that everyone would end up being photographed wearing sweatshirts under umbrellas in the pouring rain – it didn’t feel like summer at all. Undeterred, I got to the shoot early, set up a whole bunch of lighting equipment with the idea that at the very least I could have nicely lit food portraits. The weather seemed to be on a mission to destroy the shoot. Right as the first chefs started to arrive with their beautiful dishes and we were setting up for the initial shots, it started to thunder. I went into overdrive, determined to shoot everything before the torrential rain started blowing through to ruin everything.

Then, just as I was getting into high gear trying to shoot both the food and the chefs, all at the same time, the thunder dissipated and the sun made a surprise appearance. Our bleak and dark afternoon turned into a bright and sunny one. Disaster averted! Summer garden party!

It was a difficult shoot, because I was the only photographer and there was a lot of material to cover. The subjects were real people, and this wasn’t a big commercial shoot. The staff at Feast made it clear: Everyone knows that they are going to be photographed, but it’s a party first – the guests are there to have fun. In other words, keep it low key and don’t spend the whole afternoon moving people around. I had to photograph everything on the fly. Harder still, all of the food arrived at the same time, and since this was a real party, everyone one was laughing and talking and generally ignoring the photographer.

I had a small list of must-have photographs and I did my best to check them off as I shot them, catch as catch can. One in particular I wanted was an overhead shot of the table, hands reaching for food, holding plates, showing the whole spread. When it was time I called over the chefs, shimmied up a ladder and started looking for my shot. Everyone dived into the food (and why not, it looked delicious). Hands everywhere, food being served. It was exactly as I planned but didn’t have that little zing I always look for in a shot. Just as I was about to move on to another shot, the son of one of the chefs popped his head up underneath the arms of the adults to check out the food. Click! It’s one of those moments when you can say, “Boom, I got this!” That shot ran on the opening spread (see below).

Despite the hinky weather and the chaotic nature of the shoot, it ended up being a blast. You can see all of the photographs and read the article (along with recipes) over at Feast’s website: The Cajun/Creole Connection.

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