Words and images by Ted Byrne
With the end of the summer looming it’ll soon be time to reluctantly put away that near-empty bottle of sunscreen and flip-flops. The days are growing shorter and the motivation to get up at 5:00 am to chase that perfect light may indeed be waning.
Luckily, from a photographer’s point of view, the thought of autumn being just around the corner conjures up tantalising thoughts of cooler days and crisp colours! But before we get too excited about the thoughts of falling leaves and frosty mornings, there are still many wonderful photographic possibilities of which one can take advantage. It’s the harvest season!
If you’re looking for vibrant colours, the obvious choice to start looking for subjects is to head to the local outdoors markets. Most will have a variety of vegetables just waiting to be captured as still-life masterpieces. You’ll definitely want to have some good light, so make sure you pick a good day weather-wise. Squash and pumpkins usually make excellent choices and are often available in a large variety of outstanding colours.
Technique and gear
I like to use larger apertures with still life subjects, and I almost always have my Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR Macro lens in my bag, which allows for non-invasive distances. On the other hand, it also allows me to really get up close if the need arises and the vendor permits. Although it's a fixed focal-length lens, I don't mind stepping forward or back a step or two to frame correctly. I also try and visualize any necessary cropping while I'm taking the photo. Generally, I like to try separating the main veggie from its surrounding neighbours with a shallow depth of field. You may also find that a standard mid-range zoom (35-135mm) may be fine for your needs. Your mileage will vary, and everybody's taste for still life will be different.
If you're shooting in jpeg, however, don't forget to crank up your colours using your Picture Controls (Nikon) or Picture Styles (Canon). Even if you are shooting raw, like I do, Nikon's free ViewNX will remember your camera settings when you ingest the images. The benefit of this is that your raw conversion on your computer is exactly like you see in the camera when you shot without having to apply any profiles.
Apart from the farmer markets, I like to get out early and walk the fields where the farmers are actually working. The fields themselves can often tell a story about the hard work that a harvest entails. Hay bales are usually left out for a couple of days to dry, and a large field full of bales can make a wonderful golden setting in the early or evening sun.
Technique and gear
In order to convey a sense of scale I find it important to get to higher ground if I'm attempting an "overview" shot. I use a 18-200mm VR Nikon superzoom when I leave the house and have no exact subject in mind. It's a lightweight lens, the zoom range is incredible and the optics are very good throughout most of its range, especially when you stop down to the f/8 - f/11 range. Because I'm tripod-lazy, VR (IS on Canon) is practically a must for me, especially since I tend to move quickly when I'm out on a shoot like this.
However, it can me more fun to "get up close and personal" with still subjects with a wide angle. Instead of standing back and trying to "get everything in", I usually find it much more interesting to get as close as possible to an object. The edge distortion on the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 is just perfect for my taste, stretching out cloudy skies on the edges while enhancing the main subject.
If you have a similar lens, try shooting from uncommon angles, such as on the ground or very close to the subject. Keeping your shadow out of the frame when shooting late in the evening can be a challenge, especially shooting at 10mm (15mm on my D90).
Lastly, don't simply overlook any machinery in the fields. Old tractors can look great when given a rustic look in post-processing and farm equipment unfamiliar to most folk (such as the hay tedders below) can surprisingly make unique and interesting subjects.