Our anniversary dinner shoot came along when I had planned an elaborate birthday dinner for 4 people. Plans eventually fell through, and I was a saddened because I spent a lot of time formulating and designing the menu. I wanted to decorate our new deck by the beach with our Capiz string lights and move furniture to the area to make it “beach club worthy”. Since things didn’t pan out, Abe suggested we go through with our plans for our anniversary a few weeks later. I thought it was a great idea, especially since our website and social media channels needed a lot more content. I also wanted to explore hosting private dinners at home, for small parties!
Planning the Shoot
I knew a photoshoot would require a lot of planning, and I expected to feel a similar level of event planning stress for it. If we include my own wedding, we’ve organized six weddings at home, all well over 120 guests. Every single event has taught us valuable lessons, and has given us experience to grow more knowledgeable and proud of the work we do. The potential our venue really holds is amazing, and that’s why I work as hard as I can to improve on every single plan of action I set out to do.
If we include my own wedding, we’ve organized six weddings at home, all well over 120 guests
I made a list of our photographic equipment and made sketches of what kind of shots I wanted. I reviewed the food menu with my staff and made sure purchases were made ahead of time. I moved our beloved dining table to the deck so that the shoot would match our food containers. We wanted a rustic, natural look with lots of wood since that’s what most of our clients look for. Our food containers were wedding gifts from beloved friends, and they were made in Sagada! I wanted to feature a lot of earthy tones, since we would be doing an outdoor shoot with our white sands and blue sea sparkling behind.
You’ll find my designed menu card down below. If you are interested in joining us for a private occasion, we’ll charge only 1,429php per guest for the same menu.
For my photoshoot / Anniversary Dinner, (MegaBon= Megan + Bon, Bon being Abe’s family nickname) I added my YanYan Chocolate Cake recipe. Abe loves this cake because the childhood snack is one of his favorite pastimes. The crunchy biscuits and gooey chocolate ganache layered with moist cake layers are components of a quarantine-baking favorite I came up with months ago. We also added Siargao Surfbread and Homemade Mango Chutney to the list! The Mango Royale I made is *heaven* and is so delicious to eat outside by the beach. It's like an ice cream cake but with graham layers and sweet mango filling. Divine! Although the chocolate cake (and my pecan pie!) won’t be included in our private dinner offerings, guests may be able to request for them in the future!
Executing the Plan
The week before the shoot was filled with showers and thunderstorms. On Sunday evening, it was not looking good for our Thursday plans, since our phones were all forecasting more rain for the rest of the week. I told Abe that we can always just shoot our food on the second floor of our house, so that the wooden backdrops and floorboards would still be natural looking. He agreed, and we both kind of just carried on hoping that the weather forecast would be wrong. It was May, and this is the beginning of summer. We felt like the forecast had a 50/50 chance of coming true.
When event day rolls along, you always want to make sure you get a good night’s rest. I learned this lesson a few weddings ago, and thankfully woke up with a fresh start to the day. It was a sunny day, and warm with a very slight breeze. I took it relatively easy on this morning, since it was actually my Anniversary, but I soon began to feel the time-crunch as the day wore on. To get the best photos, you need lots of light. I knew that shooting would take several hours, so I aimed to have my food cooked and ready for plating by 2:30 so that we could shoot around 3:30pm. The weather changes so quickly by the sea, that in only a matter of minutes the whole day can be turned upside down.
I started dusting off my food containers around 10:30am, after I searched through our warehouse supplies for fabrics, baskets, and wooden cutting boards. Our warehouse is HUGE and our wedding and catering inventory is impressive, if I do say so, myself! I always feel so proud entering our warehouse and seeing how well organized it is (a bagillion thanks to Tefanie, Punta Dolores’ superhero!). Our investments in catering materials and venue furniture will not go to waste because everything is where it should be! We’ve come a long way in organizing our equipment and structures, learning lessons the hard way when we found damage and losses on items that were not kept properly. Our warehouse is one of the best investments we made to continue growing our small wedding venue company.
We filled up our black shelves with glassware, plates, vases, and other catering essentials. We have equipment for up to 250 people! Pictured is my baby and a friend of ours.
Our Warehouse before we filled up the shelves. You can see our cocktail tables, chandeliers, plywood tables, and ground fans.
Once I cleaned off the bowls, I started placing them on a work table in a visually appealing way. This requires different heights and sizes of containers, along with stacking wooden boards to help feature ceramic designs and colors. Afterwards, I peppered the nooks and crannies of the containers with some of my favorite fabrics- velvet, prints, shiny napkins, and plain weaves. The different textures add depth and design to the wooden table, and color too!
After I laid out my bowls and containers the way I liked, I had to draw their positions so that I could best visualize which food would go into them. Bigger bowls needed bigger items like pancit, and flat plates could use a nice golden chicken shining on top. I printed my menu and began crossing off items as I designated each food to their containers in my drawing. This took quite a bit of time, and I learned that the greater the detailed map or drawing of the containers and bowls, the smoother the process! I’ll admit I got a bit carried away arranging the fruit bowl (at what angle do bananas look best? Lol), and this distracted me from completing this organizing task somewhat. Hey, I wanted to have a little fun with this-so I practiced some patience with myself. After all, this setup was really for me, right?
I cut the banana leaves to shape and picked the foliage myself. The containers had beautiful ceramic patterns in them.
In hindsight, I should’ve worked faster. I got a bit flustered and confused myself with my quick sketches (like, why are there two ovals here? One’s big and blue and the other one is tiny..where was this basket supposed to be?). In the future, I will make sure to do this entire process of “placing the dishes” well-ahead of time.
1) Clean and select food containers to be used. Supply stacks of wood, cutting boards, and risers to create different heights
2) Decide on the color theme and fabrics you want to place (and get extra of each!)
3) Model the containers on the table how you like
4) Draw a very detailed map of where they are and label each container carefully (a label and numbered system might work well here)
5) Print the menu and designate which foods go where
6) Model the fruit and flowers where they will stay
Flowers and Foliage
A dining table really comes alive when you see fresh flowers and greens adorning it. These add color and a vibrance that is unique and stylish. A flower arrangement gives visual cues of flair, and I may be one of the luckiest people on the planet to live in such a diverse garden. We have so many different types of leaves, flowers, bushes and vines that I was hardly able to stop myself from snipping samples of everything growing here. For my next photoshoot, I realized that I have to cut all my desired plants in excessive amounts the morning of the shoot, before ensuing the Table setup. I was doing a lot of back and forth between the garden and my worktable, so having all my favorite plants on hand in good supply would’ve saved me a lot of time.
I reviewed my photos and I counted at least 22 different plants, leaves, and flowers for the shoot! Amazing, right? We used banana leaf, Kalipayan, Kalachuchi (frangipani), and gumamela (hibiscus) to name a few. I was selective of some of the leaves and flowers, because some species wilt dramatically once you snip them. What really excited me about the foliage were the deep purple kalipayan leaves with flecks of red and yellow, pictured left.
A lovely surprise that happened during the shoot was when I finally came to the shooting deck by the beach after plating the last of the food in the containers. I found a big pile of frangipanis (kalachuchi in Filipino) right next to the deck! I asked, “Wow, who did this? These are perfect!” Frangipanis are flowers about the size of your palm that are soft and white with a yellow center. It turns out that my baby daughter was busy outside collecting them as my husband and the rest of my team were setting up the shooting table. She’s only two so to see her helping me out in this enormous way was really touching for me. Frangipanis are one of your definitive “tropical” flowers, being seen in spas and island magazine features from places like Hawaii. They add a gorgeous pop in pictures because of their color and plain, smooth texture. They were last to be placed on the table, and a fetching addition to the setup.
White Frangipani flowers filling the space next to the bowl of Kinilaw.
Plating the Food
Plating the food had me feeling like a real chef. I was pressed for time as I was a bit late on schedule. It was already 3:30 and I had just started plating. The sun would be fast going down behind our trees in the back of the property. Golden hour would be great, but Abe did a few test shots of our plain table at noon and they looked astounding. I didn’t know a plain wooden table could look that great but the sand and waters just create that location magic.
Wooden Dining tables add a rustic elegance to any affair.
I had one plastic table in my house to do some plating and decided to start on my seafood platter since it was the largest item with the most food. A lot of seafood juices were spilled and it was a messy job, but I think I accomplished it the best I could! I absolutely love the aesthetics and techniques of food styling by The Grape & Fig, so I took a lot of inspiration from how they build their grazing tables and set menus. I was so proud of my work that I even sent them a DM with my unedited photos to them just to say thank you for inspiring me. I was super touched that they said it looked amazing LOL! ::fangirl moment::
The next time I plate my food, I gotta have lots of kitchen towels on hand and a second table or counter nearby. I need the kitchen towels to wipe the plates clean of sauce or oils, and the second table so I have a place for my foliage, food, and flowers to style as needed. I was running back and forth between my kitchen, workspace, patio, and garden for everything I needed, which frustrated me because I was racing against the clock for daylight.
In the end, I accomplished my plating duties by around 4:15, which was okay, but we discovered our best food shots were taken earlier that afternoon with more light. The abundance of light allowed more pixels to be visible, making for sharper photos. For actual weddings, professional photographers can get away with the lower levels of light because they have very expensive lenses that really capture so much light. Plus, when shooting people, not every single pixel needs to show, a softer look is definitely acceptable. For food outdoors, however, I’ve learned that the more light there is, the better.
Taking the Photographs
Back in 2018, I decided to invest in a Rotolight Aeos to capture great portraits and pictures here in Siargao. A Rotolight is a branded portable spotlight that you can take with you to your photoshoots in any location. It can attach to a tripod and has a battery that powers many LED lights that can flash with your camera or emit a warmer or cooler light by adjusting some dials in the back. This portable light has been crucial for us to get these amazing shots, especially since the light was waning faster than I wanted it to. Another pro-tip we have about lighting is that table candles must always be on!! It makes for a much livelier photo when your candles are actually lit, which means we will always need a great stick lighter to work.
At night, we were able to bounce the light off our Coolaroo shade cloth, which we installed above the deck. The difference in the photos were amazing. Just having the light for this shoot made my conscience happy that I spent so much money on this equipment years ago. Unfortunately, by the time we were doing the night shoot, my husband got cranky and wanted to call it a day.
On photoshoot or big event days, make sure you eat finger foods or easy to prep and eat food. You'll be so busy that you likely won't want to waste time, light, or focus sitting down and eating food.
Even though he took hundreds of photos with his amazing S21 phone, we weren’t able to take many night shots with the food and some string lights. I was also getting tired, as I spent lots of focus and energy on designing the table. Most of all, we were all hungry since we decided to skip lunch in favor of having a big breakfast earlier that day. I regret not shooting the table with my Christmas tree lights, because the glow of the lights had such a dramatic effect on the bowls and greenery. If only I intertwined the lights between the containers while we were taking our 30min break at sundown!
Another lesson: any kind of photoshoot outdoors really requires a staffing tent. If we expect to shoot for more than hour outside, a staffing tent should be set up early that morning with enough space to:
Hold all the food and table equipment if it rains
Have water, snacks, and chairs for shooting breaks. Lunch too if possible
Have extension cords and an electric fan
Have extra towels, shooting equipment, and glassware
During our photograph session there was a little rain shower which had Abe screaming “HELP!” in order to get our entire team out there to transfer the plated food items back to the house. That was when we decided to pitch up the production tent, as seen on the left. Thankfully the rain shower was a super brief one that wasn’t very heavy. We were on our toes the rest of the day for the next one, though. When we reached the nighttime shoots, we were anxious for the rain to come, which we could no longer see coming. We ended the shoot on a high, because I knew we had some awesome photos captured!
Ending the Anniversary Dinner
Abe’s nephew was able to take some shots of his own during our photoshoot. You can see his gallery below! He also joined us in eating the food afterwards. Sadly, by the time we got to the food, it was all cold and sweaty, and the lumpia was no longer crispy. I still enjoyed the food since I’m not too fussy about those things, (and because we have wonderful home chefs!) but Abe was disheartened to eat cold food. I didn’t have high expectations since I knew it was for the shoot, but Abe told me afterwards that he wishes we could have just celebrated a nice meal for our anniversary, instead of shooting and celebrating it on the actual day with work. All of us were so tired, including our feet and arms. We spent a lot of time just being quiet and slowly rehydrating ourselves, catching up on our phones.
Important note here: We would NEVER serve HOT food cold to our clients! It is one of Abe's biggest pet peeves and he's very particular about his food, which is why he was lamenting so hard on our Anniversary (Sorry, Bon!). This is where kitchen genius and experience plays a part during actual catered events- timing and equipment! At our weddings, we have heat lamps and beautiful chafing dishes to keep our food nice and hot for our guests. So many establishments don't put a priority on serving food hot- which is how everyone should enjoy their food.
My next tip for any photoshoot is to wear rubber-shoes the whole day AND to wear sunblock and makeup to look cute for every single photo. I dressed in a hat, sweats, and a long-sleeve stole to protect my arms from the sun. I was also wearing sunblock and intended to change into fancier clothes as we were finally taking photographs of the food, but there was just so much going on. There were minor adjustments to make on the table, a little bit of this, and a little bit of back and forth always happening. I normally put myself second to the job, so I never have too many cute selfies to post, but I wish I did post more photos of myself working. I must do all my personal get-ups before anything else for the day, so…here’s to my improving self-awareness!
This photogrid is credited to Joaquin Talan Tolentino, mastermind behind Sidargo Explorer's Bar. Check out their Facebook page and Instagram account and stay tuned for their grand opening in Siargao soon!
I am so proud of everyone, including myself for completing this Anniversary shoot. It was a great refresher on the organization, systems, and energies needed to execute a production with grace. All my former weddings left me physically and emotionally drained, for days afterward. I felt the same after this shoot, although the fatigue only lasted for half a day. It felt great to be responsible for everything involving the shoot. My team is everything, and having a great result for the day gave me a lot of satisfaction. I love working hard, getting organized, and letting my creative side show. Most of all, I feel great doing my best, so these pictures are treasured proofs of this passion of mine.
Thanks for reading! May your event planning and shooting days be filled with joy and luck!