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  • Create Your Light, part 1 of 2: Action meets stills in a food photography shoot!

  • The #CreateYourLight journey returns with theme 20! This time we invite you to explore creative collaborations between experts from different fields! For each theme, we invite two photographers from different areas of expertise to explore their crafts under one genre.

    We begin with Donna Crous and Aurélie Gonin, who explore food photography together. Donna Crous is an award-winning blogger and food photographer, and Aurélie Gonin is an action sports videographer, producer, editor, and director.

    We went to Tenerife to find out what magic they might create when using our first S-Line mirrorless macro lens—the NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S. What happens when you bring two completely different creative styles together to explore food photography?

    Frozen blueberries, sparkling details—and dragon breath

    Aurélie usually shoots action with a 24-70 zoom lens, and the wonder in her voice when she first looks through the NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S says a lot: “You can imagine new kinds of images” when you shoot up close with this “beautiful” lens.

    The NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S is a macro lens with outstanding resolving power: it’s exquisitely sharp and full of character. The 24.5 MP and 45.7 MP sensitivities of the Z 6II and Z 7II respectively ensure that you have a huge canvas on which to paint all the details of even the smallest subjects. And, of course, the phenomenal light-gathering and focusing capabilities of the Z mount system allows exceptional aesthetic control.

    You can see all these advantages coming together when Donna captures every sparkling ice crystal on the frozen blueberries. Aurélie’s keen to find out how Donna manages to get those frozen blueberries to look so white. You can, too, if you watch our video. Get ready to try this at home: you’ll need a freezer and… dragon breath!

    TIP 1: Sharp from front to back—focus stacking is easier than you think

    "Sharp from front to back. As Donna points out, people think that all you need to do is narrow down your aperture and push it through to f/16 or f/22. But if you set the camera at f/5.6 and use focus stacking, you’ll actually get a much sharper image." Image shot on Nikon Z 7 II + NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S @ 105mm, 0.4s, f/4.0, ISO 100, by Donna Crous and Aurélie Gonin.

    In our video, Donna stacks focus across the frozen berries to create images that are “crystal sharp… all the way through.” She shows us how focus stacking—or ‘focus shift’—is not as complicated as it sounds.

    As Donna points out, people think that all you need to do is narrow down your aperture and push it through to f/16 or f/22. But if you set the camera at f/5.6 and use focus stacking, you’ll actually get a much sharper image.

    Simply choose ‘Focus shift shooting’ from the menu on your Nikon Z camera, and then set the number of images—and the increments of focus (‘steps’)—you want. Set the first point of focus at the front of the subject, and the camera will do the rest. The camera automatically shifts focus from front to back as it captures the images.

    Oh, and Donna’s top tip? Making sure you create a new folder for each set of shots, so that you don’t have to spend hours trying to remember what shots go in which batch.

    Flat-lay photos and how to perfectly align your camera

    Nikon Z 7 II + NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S @ 105mm, 1/20s, f/5.6, ISO 100, by Donna Crous and Aurélie Gonin.

    With its 1:1 reproduction ratio, the NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S is optimised for macro work, yet it is a stunning lens for detailed portraiture, or top-view food shots, too. In our video, Donna does just that—taking advantage of the medium-telephoto angle of view toshoot beautiful still-life compositions using a tripod.

    A still-life shot directly from above is known as a ‘flat-lay’ photo, and Donna lets us in on one of her secrets: placing a special spirit level into the hot shoe of the camera, which is a great way to ensure the camera stays aligned throughout. As Donna says, it’s important to check and recheck alignment. It’s so easy to move the camera ever so slightly out of place when you adjust settings. With that spirit level guiding camera positioning, you’re free to use your Nikon Z camera’s touchscreen to make sure the angle is just right. You can also check alignment by going into the camera’s display-menu options and turning the virtual horizon on. The virtual horizon shows whether the camera is tilted left or right, and it will appear in the viewfinder display or on the monitor.

    As for the numbers, Donna likes to shoot at an ISO of 100 and an aperture of f/5.6—which she says is good for overheads because it gives you plenty of focus and detail. Depending on the amount of light available to her, Donna may shoot at low speeds of 1/20thof a second or longer.

    SnapBridge for flat-lay photos

    Donna says that flat-lay scenes don’t have to be a workout, thanks to Nikon’s SnapBridge app. Say goodbye to the days of standing up, squatting, and standing up again while you perfect the arrangement of your shot.

    If you watch the video, you’ll see that Donna simply uses SnapBridge to open Live View on her smartphone while she fine-tunes the arrangement on the floor. She can see what the camera is seeing on her phone screen in real time, which saves her from having to get back up and check the camera monitor each time she makes an adjustment. When she’s ready to shoot, she can activate the shutter release via the SnapBridge app—ensuring there’s no danger of accidentally moving the camera when taking the shot.

    TIP 2: Experiment with aperture and distance

    Image shot on Nikon Z 7II + NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S @ 105mm, 1/160s, f/3, ISO 1000, by Donna Crous and Aurélie Gonin

    The NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S lets you get astonishingly close to your subject: as little as 0.29 m away! When you shoot this close, you have a very narrow plane of focus with which to work.

    Even if you’ve been shooting macro photography for a while, focusing within such a narrow plane of focus can still be a challenge. If you’re having trouble achieving the focus you want, it’s helpful to remind yourself of the relationship between plane of focus and depth of field.

    The plane of focus is a 2D field in front of your camera, at the point of focus. Though it is called a ‘plane’ of focus, it’s not actually flat (like a plane of glass would be)—it has curvature (like a lens). Anything closer than the plane will be out of focus, as will anything beyond the plane.

    Depth of field—as you almost certainly know—is the distance between the nearest and furthest objects that are in sharp focus within your frame. In other words, depth of field is the area around that 2D plane of focus, in which objects are still sharp enough for the image you want to create.

    Depth of field is affected by proximity, focal length, and aperture. As the focal length is fixed in the case of the NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S, we’re simply going to talk about proximity and aperture.

    Let’s talk proximity first. The closer you are to your subject, the more limited your depth of field. Shooting up close with the NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S, you’ll get a much thinner depth of field than if you were shooting from further away.

    What about aperture? Stop down the aperture and you will increase depth of field. If you’re shooting at very close proximity and stop down the aperture, your depth of field will still be thin, but it will be noticeably larger than it is at wide open. When you’re shooting a moving subject—such as insects, or flowers swaying in the wind—stopping down the aperture gives you a greater chance that your subject will remain sharply focused.

    With the NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S, your area of focus is rendered sharply even when shooting with shallow depth of field. But if you want to use bokeh to draw attention to your subject when shooting macro, then it’s always worth experimenting with the position of your subject and the aperture setting. Going to f/5, f/6, f/8, or f/11 with the NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S will give you incredible sharpness and, in fact, it’s not uncommon to stop down to f/16 or further in macro photography.

    This was the first two tips on shooting macro food photography. Return in two weeks for the remaining three tips!

    In the meantime... what’s your biggest macro challenge? Show us every detail. Whether you’re working on a tack-sharp, focus-stacked marvel—or capturing the miniature wonders of the natural world. Tag your photos with #CreateYourLight for your chance to be featured in on our channels.