Someone once asked me to name my favourite fruit/vegetable. Without hesitation I replied “why the tomato, of course” (as if it was the dumbest question I’d ever heard).
I really love these beautiful red fruits – from the sweetest cherry right up to the monstrous beefs. They are just so versatile; I mean a humble cheese and tomato sandwich just wouldn’t be the same without a slice. And who hasn’t been warmed to the core by a mug of sweet tomato soup?
Right now, I’m in tomato heaven. Brian (our friend and prolific grower of all things delicious) has been giving them to us by the bucket load – literally. What we’re not eating in salads, sandwiches, curries, pastes, sauces, quiches etc., we’re cooking and freezing. On a cold December evening we’ll still be able to enjoy a little of what Brian has so lovingly grown and get a tasty reminder that summer will be with us again one day.
I love shooting tomatoes. But there’s something about their, well, redness that makes the task something of a challenge. Camera sensors can get confused and the light can play all sorts of tricks with what you’re trying to achieve. So a key tip is to be perseverant. In photographers’ parlance, you need to bracket your exposures – keep shooting with different combinations until you’re happy with the outcome.
My story starts back on April 15 with the first of the seedlings. Taken at the end of the day in soft light, I chose a very wide aperture to create a narrow depth of field. The shot resembles a military cemetery – quite odd given it’s the start of life.
Next up and we’re already in to August. The warm summer sun has done its stuff and turned the skin from green to red (or nearly). Again, this was shot late on (after 8pm), this time with my favourite 105mm Nikkor macro. Getting in close really pays dividends – just look at the minute hairs on the stems.
Now we’re into harvest time in Kent. This crop was picked and on my kitchen table within an hour. As always, I aim to shoot with produce that’s as fresh as it can be. I sprayed on some water with a little glycerine then positioned the bowl near a large east facing window. The fill light comes from a small mirror held off camera to the right. And that’s it – though I did play around with the apertures for a bit to make sure the red looked just right.
Now we’re getting a bit artier! The white planks were laid on top on two saw horses at right angles to a large window (go for a cloudy day or diffuse the light with net curtains or you’ll get harsh shadows across your food). I shot this with a Nikkor 60mm macro lens at f.12 – a small aperture to ensure lots of detail (depth of field). The tomato dish is placed directly in the light for emphasis and again enhanced with a mirror. But that’s it. No tricks or artificial lights.
Next up, everyone’s favourite – a bowl of tomato soup (this one homemade). But it’s not as easy to shoot as you might think. You want it to look fresh, hot and appetising, wholesome and hearty. The key is in making people want to dive right in and eat. With this shot I reverted to the 105mm lens and set the tripod back a bit farther. By choosing a much larger aperture (f.4) it’s brought the texture of the tomato lumps into focus and thrown everything else out. The bowl was positioned close to the light to highlight just the area I’d chosen to focus on.
The final two shots are a bit different. With the first I wanted to contrast the smooth skin of the sweet plum tomato with something a bit more coarse. So I placed them on a sheet of sandpaper, again got in very close with my 105mm lens and shot wide open. I took it on one of our wooden stairs. Why? Simply because the light there was perfect. Weird eh? Not really – you have to be flexible and shoot wherever and whenever you can. Be prepared to think laterally.
To complete the set is an image with a more autumnal feel. On a baking sheet I roasted some chopped tomatoes, red onions and garlic with a couple of spoons of balsamic vinegar. There’s not much else to say other than it’s making me feel very hungry! And the smells from the kitchen that morning were simply divine. Aside from the vinegar (a nod to our friends in Italy), everything was grown within 20 metres of our front door. Fresh, great tasting and apart from the horse manure employed to nourish the onions and garlic, not too much carbon involved either.