Photography Styling Challenge #2: Table Setting

This is my most difficult assignment, EVER. I was so stressed about this challenge, that I almost backed out. Almost.

Table setting, food styling, making things pretty is a herculean task for me. I am no natural. It may sound funny, but I have an eye for beauty and aesthetics but find it immensely difficult to recreate it. And a table setting themed challenge was intimidating to say the least.

I am trying with my little point n shoot, but still have a very very long way to go. Trying is not enough. Have to really buckle up and maybe read more and play around with the camera more. Hence the entry into the challenge, a way to keep me on my toes where the camera is concerned.

A South Indian Table setting

A South Indian Table setting

Truth: I forgot about the challenge until Anjana posted hers. My hands were full with in laws coming to visit us for a few days, husband travelling and me falling sick.
Anjana’s entry was a wake up call. Then my absent mind even forgot about the submission date( first monday of every month)… so bad.

M (of redesignedbym) did give me an option to back out or chip in occasionally, and I almost considered it. But I didn’t feel good about it. I wanted to try. I had to do this.

A complete South Indian Meal - on a banana leaf

A complete South Indian Meal – on a banana leaf

There are two reasons for my apprehensions:

1. My indoor pictures suck. Big time. I have taken to shoot most of my food on my terrace garden during the day time, but a table setting theme doesn’t give me luxury of setting up a table there. Simply not enough space. And then I decided to do a picnic style theme replete with sandwiches and canapes and Indian chaat outdoor on a mat, not a table. But rains like to play games with poor souls. It was a huge risk. So, that idea went out of the window.

2. My dining table is not very appealing. It is attached from end to the wall, and thus immovable. It is away from many natural sources of light and with all the switches on, the entire setting makes for a very unwanted bright picture. Not nice at all.

After a lot of ‘I can do this, or that.. or wait.. maybe this…. or no no.. this is better’ ideas, I finally zeroed in on a South Indian Themed table setting. The husband argued that South Indians have their platter spread out on the floor… and this was a ‘table’ setting theme, but I still stuck on. Nowadays, the meal is served on tables too.

Use of green banana leaves, white jasmine flowers, orange marigolds got me little excited:

Jasmine braids for little steel tumblers

Jasmine braids for little steel tumblers

Since I made such a ruckus, husband and a few friends joined in to help. My bet is that they did their bit so that I would stop whining and cribbing šŸ˜‰

I planned the menu out, a simple wholesome lunch of some steamed hot rice, spicy sambhar, tangy rasam, crunchy poriyals, fresh kosambari and spiced buttermilk.

I got extra banana leaves and my friend helped me cut out small coasters from them. Red dinner napkins, rolled and tightly knotted with strip long leaves, with a marigold stuck on it, added color to the bed of green.

The highlight for me was my fruit wooden tray, which was scrubbed clean, and layered with clean leaves and then filled with hot steaming rice. It proved attractive and inviting.

Buttermilk, rice and poriyal

Buttermilk, rice and poriyal

It’s all about lighting:
I have no direct chandelier above the table to give direct lighting. There are many myriad fancy lights around the table, hence all need to be switched on, else one portion dulls out and the other stands too bright in contrast. This is one of my most pressing concerns where indoor photography is concerned. There is too little or too much light.



So, what do you guys think? The setting and all was in fact very pleasing and aesthetic. But I was not so happy with the pictures. In spite of trying from varied angles and directions, something was amiss. Too much light? The immovable table? The camera?

Well. I finally tried and put my entry in. That is what I am most relieved of, as of now. It was a huge learning experience, not so much in photography, but in setting the table. The myriad ideas to present food and lay an inviting and delightful spread is surely an art.

Make sure to check out the other participants of this challenge:



At the Corner of Happy and Harried

Inge Kathleen Photography


16 thoughts on “Photography Styling Challenge #2: Table Setting

  1. Kudos to you Namrata! A styled table setting and food?!! That must have been a lot of work. All those banana leaves are making me nostalgic… sniff sniff!!
    Just a couple of things I noticed. I feel there is too much going on in the photographs. Maybe you could have avoided using the round green leaves (I assume) under every bowl. Another thing I learned from Redesigned By M is to move or even leave some items (bowls, tumblers, food, etc) while photographing, to make them more aesthetically appealing.
    I am not so fond of the photo collage. Since this is a table setting challenge, I feel you could have left out the collage shot of the food. You could have left out a couple of the photos, the challenge is to include no more than five. Like the last photo, only one of the thaali has been served – the same perspective is well shot in the first photo.
    This has nothing to do with the challenge, but the narrow part of the leaf must be on the diner’s left always. Just a Southerner’s two cents’ worth šŸ˜‰ And, the days of eating food on the floor are long long gone!

    • Thank you so much for your insight. I missed no more than 5 photographs, could I edit the post now by leaving a few out?
      Yea, even I feel the setting looks too crowded, but what’s done is done. The base of the table is very unappealing, so we tried to show as less but I guess it backfired.
      I am have eaten many times from banana leaves, but had no idea abt the narrow part being on the left. Thank you so much for informing me abt that. Next time will make sure.

      • Since this is a challenge and not a competition, just take each one as a learning opportunity. No need to edit anything now.
        I so understand the difficulty of photographing a glass base. That must have been tough, na?!! With all the reflections and glare from the surroundings… I can feel your pain!

  2. Pingback: Photography Styling Challenge #2: Table Setting | Redesigned By M

  3. Hi Namrata! I’m so glad you stuck with the challenge! Photo styling is not an easy thing to learn, but I find it’s so much fun! I hope you will learn to appreciate the challenges and how they will help you stretch your imagination, creativity, and eye for detail. You didn’t have to cook food for this challenge, you know? Actually, there are no more food related themes from here on out, but I know that your blog is based on food, so it’s understandable that you wanted to use food to your advantage. I think that’s wonderful! That’s why I left the themes so vague – you’re totally at liberty to interpret them any way you want! Did you see how Inge created her table setting out of vegetables? Brilliant! So just keep in mind to play up your strengths with this challenge and worry less about your disadvantages.

    I do think the table setting is busy, mostly due to the fact of the glass table top showing the chair legs through. They detract from the leaves and the plateware. Did you consider placing a table cloth on the table to cover the legs and the base? That might’ve been a good starting point to give a good solid backdrop to your setting. I’m unfamiliar with traditional Indian dining, but do you normally just eat the food directly on the leaves? If yes, then it was good to leave the leaves the way they were. If not, maybe it would’ve been good to add the plates so the place settings looked more solid. There were also some inconsistencies in the styling: the cups and little sauce bowls are in different locations for each setting. The way they’re sort of scattered on the leaves makes the eye bounce around too much, in addition to the line up of food in the center.

    As for photography… I think Photo #1 would have been stronger if the angle was directly over the table and not tilted at an angle. I know this is difficult to do, but that’s where you would use your imagination or not use the photo at all. At the angle it is in now, some dishes just barely block others and the black sticks in the pot at the bottom of the photo are distracting. I would’ve maybe left this pot out of the photo entirely as it seems you have some sort of symmetry thing going. Photo #3 could’ve been stronger with a straight angle. I like how the focus is on the detail of the cup with the shallow depth of field! Did you practice that camera trick I taught you with depressing the shutter halfway on your focal point?

    In general, the photos look a bit off focus. I’m not sure which camera settings you used, but for indoor shoots with poor lighting conditions, try setting your camera at a higher ISO or if it’s too high, the images can be grainy. You just have to play with it. If you shoot in Manual mode, you’ll have more options to play with in terms of light exposure and such. Or if you naturally have shaky hands, then consider using a tripod.

    I think you gave a solid effort at this one and I’m really proud of you for sticking with it! I admit that it was a challenging one as I too struggled with the same issues you had. My house has almost no natural light and all artificial lights cast some sort of yellow glow to my photos, it’s so disgusting. I had to take my shoot outdoors, but had to find a shady spot (or wake up super early to set everything up before the sun came up – not an option) and even then had to work quickly because that shade could go away soon! As the only shady spot in my backyard wasn’t big enough for a table, I ended creating my “table” setting on the floor of my deck – which is why you don’t see chairs or the edge of any table in my final images. Haha.

    I like styling because you can use things and move things around to trick the camera’s eye. The camera sees things that the human eye doesn’t, so it’s important to look through the photos as you’re shooting to see what element(s) you’re missing or need to take away. I tried playing with floral and plant arrangements in my photo shoot, snapped the photo, and then moved the settings around to see how they would look. Then shot things at various angles. I took about 50-60 photos and really only liked 1 out of all those images. When I looked through the images, I thought the plant photos looked out of place had to reject them. This is just how it works! But the thrilling thing is getting that ONE image right. I think in time, as you learn and grow, you’ll see how much stronger your images will get and then you’ll remember how painful Month #2 was and laugh about it! It’s just like working out or cutting sugar out of your diet. They don’t call it a “challenge” for nothing! Good work, Namrata! I hope my thoughts gave you something to think about… sorry it got so lengthy. Guess I was just in a chatty mood! šŸ™‚ ~M.

  4. Pingback: Photography Styling Challenge #3 – Wall Vignette | MyFoodTapestry

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