Monday, July 20, 2009

Blueberry, blueberry, where are you?

You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!"

Blueberries by Robert Frost

Blueberries IIHave you ever pulled a well-ripened blueberry from it's comforting container and just ... admired it? Hold it between your fingers. No, don't squeeze it; it'll burst at the seams. But, just cradle it. They have a delicate skin, a deepest of blue. Some of mine were just past the age of ripeness. You could see it in the skin, wrinkled like the skin of a well-worn man aged in the sun and retired from the orchard.

When ripened, blueberry skin becomes waxy, almost white and milky. This aging of it's coat protects it from spoiling too quickly. But, at the same time, reveals a mottled and textured appeal for the camera. It gives life and depth to this tiny blue planet.

On one end a crater has formed from the tips of the flower petal. It resembles a miniature (yet mighty) impact of rock and ice on a planet surface. Really, go look. Tell me you don't see it.

Anyway, I took up the idea of blueberries one evening recently after having seen a photo of this delightful little fruit falling into a bowl and leaving a trail of light in it's wake. I wanted to recreate that image to see if I could do it. Sadly, I came to the conclusion that it's not as easy as it looked.

BlueberriesI'm still mulling over why I failed here. The scientist in me could give you a hundred different technical reasons on why I couldn't capture it, starting at "not enough ambient light" and ending somewhere around "not enough hand-eye coordination to coordinate the falling berries and the shutter". The storyteller in me just wants to say that the idea, however much I had chased it, just wasn't in me. Frustration set in when I wasn't getting what I wanted.

So, like every grand experimenter, I tried something different.

A little side journey here. One of the things I'd promised myself recently was to shoot every Strobist Bootcamp II subject presented to me. I did the first. Failed on the second (but made up for it with my coffee beans). When the results were announced, I went through the entire 700+ list of entries just to see what people were doing. I declare that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants here. The one that caught my eye (before it was announced as the winner) was this one. Peppers in a well-seasoned skillet. Now this ... this has character. This pan has a story to tell, of all the wonderful and comforting dinners it's sizzled away at. You can see the scratches and dings and pock marks. A hedonistic patina built up by years and years of use.

Blueberries IIIAnd this is how ideas start.

I wanted something like this, something showing off the well-used baking stone we have. Our second stone, in fact, lovingly built up through years of curing under the scorching oven heat, saturated with the oils leached out of the foods we've cooked on it. French fries, battered fish, bread, pizza ... you name it, we've cooked it. This has taken years. I was crushed when, in a moment of idiocracy, I took our first stone and set it under a fountain of water coming from our kitchen sink. It was the CRACK! heard 'round the world. Yep. The sudden change of temperature from hellfire and brimstone to cold, cold river water did me in. And I remember that moment every time I'm cooking on our second stone because of the time and effort it takes to season one of these well. An unseasoned stone is no stone to cook on.

So, I had my stone. And I had my blueberries. Like chocolate and peanut butter: two great tastes tasting great together. I had the soul and depth of my background with the life and zest of my subject. So, what to do? Be like any great artist and just plop my load of tiny planets down on this dark brown thingy. Make it look not-so-arranged and neat. Order is the bane of inconsistency. I played with the light a bit combining a bit of flash with a bit of incandescent and didn't like it all that much; the blue and the orange just didn't work well with this. Blueberries IVThe orange just detracts from the color of the blueberries, warming them up too much. They're blue. They needed to be stark and cold and inviting that way.

I labored on. I spent hours upon hours arranging each and every berry in the most articulate of ways. You know, pushing and prodding gently with a toothpick, picking them up one by one with tongs like a little berry crane, and gingerly dropping them down upon the other without a moments hesitation. Ok, not really. They were unceremoniously dumped from the bowl I was eating them out of and finger-kicked until it looked
right, I realized I was still missing something. Steel! Cold, hard steel. Everyone loves a good blade right?

I'm still debating which photo I like more: with the blade or without. I wanted to see some of the detail and striations in the knife's makeup. It really is a pain in the ass to get that angled correctly so the detail is teased out without blowing out the stripes. I tried adding some drops of water blown on to the entire arrangement but it looked contrived. I also thought about crushing some berries but ... by that point, I was just eating them before I could sufficiently place the crushed ones back on the board.

Oh well.

Blueberries SetupThe lighting setup on this wasn't too difficult. One 32" white shoot-through umbrella on the far side of the baking stone to give me that broad northern-looking light. I had a second light on-camera but aimed directly up at the ceiling to create a large fill source. I wanted just enough light to bring up some of the shadow detail without killing it and without blowing out the detail in the knife. I think it worked well enough.

But again, I'm still not sure which picture I like more. One thing's for sure: the berries were good. I'll need to go and get some more before the season dies out.

No comments: