North Las Vegas may surprise you.
Recently I was hired to photograph the food and beverage menu items for the various restaurants at Aliante Casino in North Las Vegas. Working with both their marketing team and my friends at Wicked Creative, we spent several days photographing the new items for the upcoming spring offerings. Now, I have to admit I knew about Aliante Casino, but seeing I'm a southeast Vegas dweller, I had to find them on the map. Located on the newly completed 215 beltway at the top of the valley Aliante is quite impressive for an off-Strip property. If someone had blindfolded me, dropped me in the center of their casino, I'd easily think I was somewhere inside a new Strip property when the blindfold came off - yeah, it's really nice.
From MRKT Sea & Land, Bistro 57, The Salted Lime and FARM, Aliante's well-balanced food & beverage program offers something for everyone at every price point. Like most casino F&B business models, all of their outlets are centrally located directly on the casino floor with open views to the happenings of the nightlife.
Starting at the pool, their beverage creators delivered to my camera's lens the ultimate fruit cocktail concoctions severed straight out of the skins that the fruit came from. Admittedly, I have to disclose I lived in the Hawaiian Islands in years past, so I know a little about tropical drinks - just saying. These trouble makers could without question put a Sumo wrestler down for an early nap. Kidding aside (not really), the tricky part of photographing food and cocktails at a pool (especially in Las Vegas) are the desert winds, the direct sunlight and finding the right composition to bridge the pool's atmosphere with the subject matter without framing too wide.
To begin, I'm not a fan of photographing food anywhere near a water source such as a pool; specifically since my light strobes need to be powered by electricity! On the occasion the production calls for this, I always take great precaution to pile extra steel shot sandbags on my c-stands to avoid the wind from playing Mary Poppins with my light modifiers (softboxes & umbrellas), taping my bright yellow stingers down with day-glow green gaffers tape and ensuring nobody is near or in the pool. Photographing food or cocktails in direct sunlight will always produce the same lousy results - unflattering hard shadows and blown-out highlights. The trick is to find the correct background exposure, underexpose by 1 stop, edge-light your subject opposite from the sun and lastly diffuse the sun's harsh light using a scrim. Bounce cards and reflectors don't work well in these situations because they won't wrap your subject with light, as a softbox or umbrella can accomplish. The only time I use reflectors is when photographing people in the middle of the desert, where power is non-existent. They are especially useful for filling faces with the warm golden light a setting sun provides.
For MRKT (I'd like to buy a vowel please) Aliante's fine dining restaurant, I photographed their signature steaks, seafood towers and shared side dishes in the various booths and on the beautiful marble bar tops. I have to say, in the 17 years that I've lived in Las Vegas, I've patronized just about every steakhouse on and off The Strip. The design team for MRKT really hit their mark on all the aesthetic elements. From the careful planning of separating the bar area from the dining room with a floor to ceiling temperature controlled glass-walled wine room, the semi-private high-back dining booths, arm chairs opposed to side chairs throughout the open dining area, an intimate private dining room and lastly the newly designed garden Al Fresco dining patio, the place looks spectacular.
For MRKT's new patio lunch menu, I photographed the new items outdoors, in the shade. For illumination, I don't have a standard lighting scheme for photographing food, but rather adapt to best reproduce the food as it appears in the various areas. If a venue has large windows providing natural light to pour in, I take advantage of that light. Natural light always delivers a more organic look by wrapping the subject with light and creating a lower contrast image opposed to lighting with strobes. Most people think a cloudy day makes for unfavorable photographic lighting conditions. To the contrary, a cloudy day can act as a giant softbox defusing the sun's harsh light rendering a more pleasing image. The key in great food photography is to create shadows that slowly transition from light to dark - this creates dimension to the subject. Direct sunlight will render hard line shadow areas and overblown high-lights. Even lighting will make your subject look flat. In between is that sweet spot. Never shoot in direct sunlight without the use of fill light unless your capturing a vast panoramic landscape image.
For further information, please visit Aliante Casino + Hotel + Spa in the city of North Las Vegas