Picnic at the Empire State Plaza

Posted on June 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm
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Greetings from the Empire State Plaza! I’m the guy on the right with the smug French face :) It’s Lunch Week at All Over Albany and I figured I would send them a little something, they have always been good to me. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: a whole week with posts about… lunch, featuring contributions from local food bloggers. This Friday, June 18, AOA will do a post about what everyone had for lunch this week. Specifically, the Wednesday of that week (June 16), when everyone is invited to send a pic of their lunch and win… a free lunch. Yes, there is such thing.

I’m not a foodie, I’m a photogie. Photogers? Oh never mind. When I read the announcement, this was a no-brainer though: this calls for a quick photo-op. I enjoy taking pictures of abandoned places so the first thing that came to my mind was to actually set up something fancy in an unusual location. A nice table, plates, cutleries, flowers, wine, a decent lunch in the middle of nowhere. A bit surreal… and a bit of French snobbery as well :) The top of the Central Warehouse was an obvious choice, there is ample space and a glorious view of Albany from up there. I emailed my BFF and photography enthusiast Bennett to discuss this little project and have lunch with me. Though he liked the idea, he wasn’t so hot about the location. Yes, I just called you out B :) I can understand the guy, he had a bad experience with a pigeon the first time we explored the warehouse. Damn’ pigeons. Oh and maybe something about the police as of late.

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He suggested the Empire State Plaza, which sounded great to me. If you haven’t been there, here are a few photos. A huge slab of marble and concrete surrounded by towering steel buildings; two large pools, the Capitol, the Empire State Museum and The Egg nearby. It’s a very dry, aseptic, business-oriented environment, a good place to set up a pretentious cute picnic. I liked the photo opportunities offered by the backdrops and the reflections in the pools. Sold!

…until we checked the weather that is. Rain rain rain. When I woke up this morning it looked really decent though; I worked home for a few hours, packed my camera, a tripod, 2 chairs, a picnic set, my lunch, wine and one of my 25 fake orchids, then picked up Bennett at work to grab his table and a magnificent tablecloth. We wrapped the photo-op in much less than an hour. I love it when a plan comes together!

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On the menu? I brought a bottle of Sauvignon blanc and what I had cooked the night before: steamed cod and cauliflower, lemon and chives, guacamole and watercress. I picked up a couple of sweets at Crisan. Had to. Bennett packed… whatever he had until he decided my food looked better, so I shared :) And two cookies. Can’t go wrong with that.

Here you go. This was fun to prepare and set up, quick and easy. Thanks to B for his help! Sure, I hear photography is an art, but enjoy yourself, it really doesn’t have to be serious. Grab a like-minded friend and make silly plans now and then, you won’t regret it.

The whole set below, or check the full-screen Flickr slideshow, or click on any of the thumbnails below to open a larger view.

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My photo tips. There isn’t much going on here technically speaking, but the right props didn’t hurt. Be prepared. No need to stress about it, but why not give yourself some breathing room? I wrote down a small list, ordered a couple of picnic items online last week, and by Monday we were pretty much in business, minus the table. Shooting outdoor means dealing with the elements. I checked the weather a couple of times and we lucked out Wesdnesday right before noon. During this short window before the rain I was only able to take 5 photos, litterally. Make them count :) Beware of the wind, bring something to weigh down what could fly away.

As you can see, I’m in the pictures myself, therefore I had to set the camera facing us on a tripod. I use a Manfrotto 190XB with a Manfrotto 501HDV Video Head. It’s a nice and sturdy piece of equipment for a Video-DSLR like the Canon 5D Mark II, but I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise, I’d suggest to pick something lighter by Manfrotto or Gitzo. A Wireless Remote like the cheap Canon Control RC1 is exactly what I needed to trigger the camera from a distance… but it’s also very easy to lose. Mine is gone. Nothing a timer set to a 10 seconds delay can’t solve if you only need to be sitting 6 feet away.

There wasn’t enough time to bother with a wireless flash on a stand, we had too much to carry already. The light isn’t that bad in the photos above, though I wish I could have lit our faces a little more. The choice of lens was an obvious one: with two people, a table and tall buildings to fit, I went as wide as possible with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II. As you can notice in the last photo above, ultra-wide lens are very distorted near the edges. Look at our faces, ouch. You can fix lens distortions somehow with applications like Dxo Optics Pro or the new Lightroom 3, but there is only so much you can do. Again, give yourself some elbow room and don’t shoot humans *too* tight: you can always crop your photo closer to your subjects later on in post-process, using the area that isn’t near the edges. Maybe I’ll remember that next time :)

Tags: Albany, All Over Albany, Empire State Plaza, lunch, picnic, tips


  1. Albany Jane says:

    What a great idea! Picnic lunch at the plaza – it all looks beautiful!

  2. Matthew says:

    BNut has the perfect amount of stubble.

    Classic shots, dudes.

  3. Bobf says:

    What’s up with Bennet and birds anyway? I can understand being intimidated by the geese at Five Rivers…but pigeons?

    Your lunch shoot looks like it was fun!

  4. Keet says:

    Boyfriend and his boyfriend…You guys make me smile.

  5. B says:

    Hah, thanks Matt.

    Unfortunately I’m a pretty bad model, which is why I stay behind the camera as much as possible. I don’t know what face I was making in that last photo, I’ll say the sun was in my eyes. Man this was fun though, it was really about 30 minutes from setup to teardown, a good thing since we only had three quarters between us for parking. Couldn’t believe how quick.

    And yes, I was too scared to do the warehouse roof, I admit it. On a non-work day it would be fine, I just don’t want to make that call to my office during my lunch break… “Uh, guys, listen, I’m taking the rest of the day off… yeah, I’m actually being arrested… uh huh, see you tomorrow.”

    Great idea, great fun.

  6. Sebastien says:

    To my dear but old-fashion mother back in France: she didn’t mean litterally. Not that it would be wrong *of course*, the guy makes a mean pizza, and just look at these stubbles.

  7. Keet says:

    He’s dating a girl who works for Audubon…he has a love/hate thing with birds.

  8. B says:

    Keet misses a perfectly fine “What’s up with parrots?” reference.

    I don’t know, birds just hate me. Maybe I did something in my forgotten childhood or a past life to deserve it.

  9. Marcie says:

    I laughed when I saw this the photo for the AOA Second Course post. So clever! I’m glad you posted these other shots here, too. I didn’t notice the raspberry treats in the first shot, so I appreciate the final picture which focuses on the food.

    One of the few sets I have up on my flickr account is from the ESP that I took a couple years ago. Some shots I like, but others, looking back, I am “meh” about. If you’d be kind enough to take look, any suggestions you have to make types of photographs more solid?

    Here is a link to the set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/26511502@N03/sets/72157606192777934/

  10. Sebastien says:

    Thanks Marcie. I’ll comment directly on your photos on Flickr this weekend, but I think a lot are pretty solid already. Keep it up.

  11. Julia Zave says:

    You are hilarious! How long did it take you to set up the table? Did you get a permit? Hehe, just kidding about the permit :)

  12. Sebastien says:

    Took us about 25 minutes to park, set up the table and take photos. Very quick.

  13. Julia Zave says:

    That’s a feat in itself! Did you actually get to eat?