BRENT PENNINGTONFresh blueberries shot in the kitchen studio, 03 August 2014.

Been working on some food photography over the past few weeks, off and on, as I’ve come home with goods from the farmer’s market. We go down every Saturday morning to pick up our CSA share – that’s Community Supported Agriculture, for those of you not familiar with it. We have a share in a CSA run by our friend Farmer Jon, who managed to grow some of the best looking – and tasting – veggies I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been trying to get some good photos of them.

Compared to professional food photographers, I’ve still got a long, long way to go. The exquisite lighting, the expansive, detailed setups, the precision-selected subjects. That’s the major leagues and I’m still playing t-ball. But it’s a start and I’ve got some of the basics.

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The photos here are from two sessions, both done in my kitchen. The first was lit by a 36” softbox, the second by a shoot-through umbrella, in both cases lit by a Yongnuo 460II speedlight with radio triggers. I used the Takumar 50mm macro, shooting fully manual and focusing in magnified mode on the rear screen. Ah, the wonders of modern technology.

The lighting in both cases is setup as close the food as possible, just across my kitchen table. It’s a pure backlight scenario, although in so close that there’s a fair bit of wrapping. From what I’ve read, this is a pretty typical lighting setup for food. The result is, predictably, a bit heavy on front shadows, but a few pieces of foamcore placed in just out of the frame help provide good, controllable fill.

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During the first session I dug some plates and background pieces of out of the prop box. A year or two back I had started to put together a collection of dishware and platters with the intention of providing photos for a food blog my fiance was going to start. The blog fizzled after only a few posts and the props went into a box in the closet, most still with the price stickers on them, never used. But they came in handy now – I especially like the matte blue plate.

For the second set I bypassed all the extras and just shot right on the wooden tabletop. It was easier on a hot day, and the tabletop seemed attractive enough for some limited depth of field photos.

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As expected, depth of field becomes a real issue, which is the case with any macro work. I varied the aperture between wide-open at f/4 and stopped down to f/11, depending on the effect I wanted and my distance from my subject. Of course the closer you are to true macro, the shallower the DOF gets, until even f/11 maintains only a thin band of focus in the scene.

And at f/11, the single speedlight was maxed out. Any additional aperture would have required a second speedlight (remember the inverse square law: a second stop of light takes two flashes, a third stop takes four, and so-on). Although in the future, it’s something I’ll be trying.

BRENT PENNINGTON Fresh red onions shot in the kitchen studio, 03 August 2014.

The other trouble with stopping down is that the adapter I have on the Takumar keeps the aperture engaged in live-time, meaning that as I stop down, the image on the screen gets dimmer. I could bring the shutter speed down to compensate, but since I’m shooting flash I’d much rather keep it at maximum sync speed, even tripod-mounted. But it does make focusing difficult. My solution? Additional photons, in the form of a flashlight, which gets enough light on the subject that I can focus.

(Although I’d still love to see some good focus-peaking implemented on the E-M5.)

BRENT PENNINGTON Fresh green beans shot in the kitchen studio, 03 August 2014.

I think the part I struggle with the most is composition. I sometimes find it difficult to get a good angle that matches with the focal length of the lens, the struggle of composing an image that includes enough – or excludes enough – of the setting to work the way I want it to. I’d like to include more props, more complex setups, maybe add in another lighting angle. Or some water droplets, ‘cause we know they make everything better.

Shooting info: OM-D E-M5 + Takumar 50mm f/4 macro, ISO 200-400, f/4 to f/11, 1/125; tripod mounted

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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