Most outdoor lifestyle assignments require the photographer to fully immerse themselves in the wilderness of the location by staying in remote spaces. However, when the focus of the shoot is on food photography instead of landscape imagery, it requires a balance between a location that looks rugged but has access to a working kitchen.
Portland-based photographer Dina Ávila discovered how to strike this balance when she staged a thoroughly realistic-looking campout for Eater. While no one actually stayed overnight at the campsite itself, the series has an authentic feel established through natural elements like a burning fire, a trickling creek, and ducks swimming by all in a row.
A shoot of this scale and focus was new territory for Eater so they leaned heavily on my commercial photography background to help guide them through the process.
Erin DeJesus, the lead editor at Eater, reached out to Dina to collaborate on a feature they would call “The Great Eater Campout.” The article highlights recipes from five different chefs that would be feasible to cook with friends on a camping trip. Once she was provided with a style guide and mood board, Dina used her contacts in the industry to source talent, find props, and work with the crew.
Dina and the team traveled to the Rustic Creekside Cabin, a 100-year-old log cabin nestled in the backyard of a densely wooded area in Milwaukie, OR. The area featured a small creek running through it and had a fire pit, the ideal spot for staging the campground.
Aside from the obvious benefit of having two basset hounds to keep us company, the location provided us with a creek, tall trees, and a cabin that I stayed in for two days.
The goal was to make it look like we were actually camping out in the woods, but we needed a kitchen and electricity.
Dina needed access to a kitchen where they could prepare the meals, not wanting to disturb their meticulously scattered campsite. She outfitted the talent in retailers any outdoorsmen would trust and directed them to relax and cozy up, cracking a “well-earned” beer by the fire. And yet some elements happened organically, like a group of ducks trailing along in the background.
The shoot went smoothly down to the family of ducks cruising down the river right on cue for a shot.
While the images of the campout required an outdoor setting, Dina didn’t trust the inconsistent natural light of the Pacific Northwest to effectively light the flat-lay shots.
We were working with light that changed constantly — from grey and flat to hot and dappled — so we constantly adjusted our light and camera settings.
Instead of shooting the close-up images of the food at the campground site, Dina used her at-home studio to shoot perfectly styled flat lay images of the finished recipes. She used the same cookware used in the lifestyle shoot and staged the dishes on top of a wooden backdrop to make it feel like it was placed on a campground picnic table.
There were a few phases to the shoots. As far as the flat-lay recipe shots go, recipe testers provided those dishes and I styled and shot most of them in my home studio.
Dina has over a decade of experience in the food photography industry, so she has shot both fine dining and casual eating in a variety of ways. She’s also developed the ability to self-style and set a table with elements that allow her to highlight the food while keeping the overall composition engaging. For this shoot, Dina used an old radio, patterned table linens, a compass, and a map to remind the viewer of the outdoor campground setting.
Dina’s experience and willingness to orchestrate the many logistics of a shoot allow her to work in greater harmony with all involved. Whether she’s on location or at home in her studio, she strives to connect with each member of the crew to facilitate better collaboration.
I felt that this shoot was a true collaboration between all involved. I love walking away feeling like the whole team participated in creating the work.
Photographer: Dina Ávila
Lead Editor/Creative Director/Model: Erin DeJesus
Food and Prop Stylist: Nathan Carrabba
Model: Anthony Adams
Photographer Assistant/Model: Arthur Hitchcock
Props Source: Max Humphrey
Props: REI, Duluth Trading Company, Red Wing