How to make vegetables look yummy on an overcast day! (and yes, I realise tomatoes are a fruit)

Yesterday, I had an interesting commission, and that was to journey to far-off Mirboo North, to photograph a friend’s veggie patch, esp. her tomatoes, which are quite interesting and unusual varieties. There was, of course, also tea and cake, and some minor consumption of said tomatoes, as well as chatting and playing with the dog – all the usual country things one does.

The only downside to this adventure, was that the run of sunny and warmish weather we’ve had down here this last week has clearly come to an end. By yesterday afternoon, the sun had started to go, and ominous clouds began to appear in the West. Anyone who has photographed plants outdoors will know they look very dull indeed out of sunlight. There is no sparkle at all to a flatly lit tomato, so what was I to do?

The answer is to treat the entire world outside like a studio-set, and the light from the sky as just one light source out of many you could possibly use! So I decided that the overcast sky could be my “fill light” – the nice even lighting that brings up the shadows so you could see ’em – so given that at ISO100, I was metering around f/5.6 at 1/160th – for a nice contrast ratio, I would need something around f/8-ish for my “sunny” highlights, which would be provided by my favourite 1970’s technology: The Vivitar 283.
I brought along two (and a spare) of these little flashguns, on little light stands, with wide-angle adaptors, and cheap little wireless triggers (along with a corresponding transmitter to put on the camera’s hotshoe), that I could simply cross light each vegetable with. So, one I’d position to the side of the camera, at a 45 degree-ish angle to the subject, and the other I’d place behind the subject, on the opposite angle (ie pointing at each other and the subject), to give a nice keylight, and some nice backlighting. If this wasn’t possible (if a fence was in the way, then I’d angle them more like copystand lighting – throwing strong sidelight onto the subject to give it a nice 3D highlight. The beauty of the ancient Vivitar 283 flash is that you can put a little infinitely variable power control on the front – sort of like a lighting dimmer, and control the power output. So, generally the flashes were aroundabout 1 metre away from the subject to give me f/8, but if more or less were required, I could dial them up or down.

It’s such a nifty and portable way of having nice controllable lighting everywhere, but there are some limitations. For instance, if it had been sunnier, then the flashes would have been overpowered somewhat – you can control flash power relative to the sun with the shutter (faster shutter = less sun = same amount of flash because it’s so speedy), but with an SLR, there is also a maximum shutter – sync speed. Using something with a leaf shutter solves that problem, like an old medium format camera… mmmm.
Anyways – I have two bags of gourmet tomatoes now, and shall presently devour some.

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