“This morning I sat on top of a mountain just after sunrise and dined on low bush blueberries still fresh with dew. There can be no great sign, no greater affirmation, that summer is here than that. Surrounded by the chatter of bird song and the last fog clinging to the low areas of the barrens, the world is fresh and wet and not yet too hot, and the berries are sweet and just ripened. The barrens are blanketed with them, more berries than I could eat in the morning. Probably more than I could eat in a lifetime.”
I wrote that two weekends ago, sitting on a lump of quartz-infused bedrock on the top of Moosic Mountain in the Eales Preserve, alternately photographing and eating wild blueberries. I’d come to the pine barrens looking for birds, specifically Eastern Towhees and Prairie Warblers, which I’d been largely unsuccessful in photographing last year. The blueberries were a delightful surprise that ended up becoming the primary focus of my time there.
It all came about as a sort of fortunate accident; the afternoon before I brought my Takumar 50mm f/4 macro lens with me to a bar-b-que and rediscovered the joy of its fully manual nature. I love the way it renders and it’s my only macro lens, so at the last minute I decided to bring it along thinking that the Mountain Laurel may still be in bloom. Unfortunately it was gone, but the blueberries were just ripening, so it was a no-brainer to throw the bird lens back in the bag and start working with the Tak.
I’ve had an interest in food photography for a while now but haven’t gotten too far into trying much, at least not at any real productive level. But one of the tricks I keep coming across is to add water drops to fruit via a small spray bottle or mister. The water adds some texture to the fruit as an element, but it also plays to our perception of “freshness.” And in this case, it’s all natural – it doesn’t get any fresher than actual morning dew with your berries still on the stem.
My biggest goal was to get images from “fruit eye level”, which meant getting down as low as possible to the ground – these are low bush blueberries after all. Although I prefer to use the viewfinder whenever possible, in this case that would have meant laying down in the berry patch. So I used the E-M5’s rear monitor instead, flipped out and angled upward. As I mentioned, the Takumar is fully manual, both aperture and focus. Most of these were shot at f/4 or f/5.6, since I wanted a shallower field of focus. All were at ISO 400, to ensure a fast shutter speed.
I also made a mental note to, belatedly I might add, enter the lens’ focal length into the IS, since it couldn’t be automatically detected. It made a big difference in my ability to hand-hold the camera while taking making these photos.
Given the sheer number of berries along the trail there was no shortage of subjects and angles. This isn’t often the case in photography, so whenever an rich opportunity presents itself, it’s foolish not to take advantage of it. Or in simple terms, work the scene. There was no point in focusing on just one berry alone, so I moved around, changing subjects, changing angles, experimenting with light.
In the top-most photo, one of the first I made, I was working with more of a shaded mindset, focusing on darker tones. As I kept shooting, the light became stronger and I tried to incorporate that into the photos, even to the extent of overexposing the background. It’s a more washed out look in the end and I like it. Change is good. Work the scene.