Flower-Powered Therapeutic Photography (Podcast 733)

Flower-Powered Therapeutic Photography (Podcast 733)


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Still going stir-crazy here in Tokyo as the government swings between trying to keep the economy alive and trying to keep the population alive, I am watching the winter flush down the toilet, and having spent 20 hours straight on Monday trying to fix a broken website, I needed some therapeutic relief, and it needed to involve my camera and something pretty. My car battery has shuffled off its mortal coil too with me not driving it enough, so I took my trusty jump starter battery down to our car park, lifted the hood and started the car, then drove to my local garden center.

Somewhat disappointed that they only had a few bunches of flowers left, I reminded myself that it was already after 3 pm and bought two bunches then jumped back into my car before the brief charge the battery had received from the 10-minute drive was depleted, and drove back home to my studio. My Profoto strobe was already set up in a softbox, so I drew down my dark cloth background, placed the flowers on the table, and grabbed my macro lenses. I selected a Jazz album from trumpet player Ibrahim Mallouf to keep me company as I set about the task of driving myself sane with my camera and the newly acquired flowers.

I had two goals, which I’ll talk about in detail as we work through this today. The first was to shoot some soothing bokeh-filled abstract images which generally require a relatively shallow depth of field, and that isn’t difficult to achieve with macro photography, although the balance can be a bit tricky. The second goal was to finally figure out how to shoot another flower reflected in a water droplet. I’d tried this a number of times in the past but the technique had somehow escaped me until now, so I was determined to get this new arrow into my quiver. My plan was to spend the rest of my Thursday afternoon shooting and then create a Podcast about the experience on Friday. By the end of Thursday, I had my dreamy bokeh shots, but the droplet reflection required more time, so I picked up the process on Friday morning. I had a lot of fun and figured it all out, but as I sat down to prepare for this post it was already after 4 pm on Friday, so I had to finish and release this over the weekend.

We’ll start actually with this shot of my setup, as it’s important to understand how I got the look that I did in these images. As you know, I’ve switched to the Canon Mirrorless system and now using the EOS R5 as my main camera. I’ve replaced most of my EF lenses with RF lenses, but the Canon RF 85mm macro lens is not going to be a part of that. I don’t need a macro lens that can not shoot 1:1 or life-size images, and the 85mm only goes to 0.5 magnification, not 1:1, so it doesn’t really interest me.

Lifesize means that at the closest focus distance of the Macro lens, the subject on the sensor will be exactly the same size as it is in real life. So, for example, if I was to photograph a coin that measures say 20mm across, it will measure 20 mm on the sensor. A full-frame 35mm sensor is 24mm x 36mm, so that would leave 8mm on either side of the subject. I am still using my EF 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro L lens, which takes me to life-size, or 1:1 magnification, and what’s even more fun, is that I still have my MP-E65mm ƒ/2.8 1-5X Macro lens, which is what you can see in this photo attached to my Canon EOS R5 via the EF to RF Control Ring Mount Adapter. I enjoy not having to use the adapter for my RF lenses, but for this work, I am happy to have the option to continue to use my old lenses.

The MP-E65mm ƒ/2.8 1-5X Macro lens with Canon EOS R5
The MP-E65mm ƒ/2.8 1-5X Macro lens with Canon EOS R5

The 1-5X designation in the lens name actually indicates that this lens enables me to photograph subjects up to 5X life-size, and as you’ll see, that enables some pretty close macro work, almost in the microscopic range. In this photo, I have extended the lens to 5X magnification. You can see the five yellow markers on the top of the lens barrel, and note how the front of the lens protrudes out almost as far as the length of the main lens barrel. The other thing to note about this lens is that there is no focus mechanism as such. You move the lens back and forth until the subject is in focus, and you can actually use the magnification zoom to focus as well, but that, of course, also changes the magnification, so if you don’t want that to happen, you move the lens.

That’s where the Macro Rail that you see the lens mounted on also comes in useful. With that, you can fine-tune the distance of the lens from the subject with the screws at the front and back of the Macro Rail. I used this setup for most of the images that we’ll look at from the first day of shooting, but for the droplet shots that we’ll also look at, I was mostly hand-holding the lens. That is possible because I was using a studio flash in a softbox, as opposed to natural light, which would have required me to continue to use the tripod and Macro Rail.

This first flower photo was shot with the lens set to 1X so this is exactly life-size, as in the flower is recorded on my sensor at exactly the same size that it is in real life. This shot is really to show you some detail before we dive into higher magnification. I left the aperture at ƒ/4, as I wanted to start to introduce some soft bokeh, but at this magnification, we still see a fair amount of detail. I enjoy how the tips of the petals are gradually reaching out of the bokeh though, and the top right and bottom center are starting to get a little bit dreamy too.

1:1 Lifesize
1:1 Lifesize

I’m not aware of any way to find out what magnification I was shooting at just from looking at the EXIF data in Capture One Pro. I’m using RawDigger to dive in find that information from deeper in the EXIF data than most image editing software will allow me to see. If I’m not mistaken, it was my friend Don Komarechka that originally put me on to RawDigger for this very reason.

This next image is actually closer to what I wanted to achieve with my dreamy bokeh shots. This was at 2X magnification, and as you can see, just doubling the magnification makes a huge difference as you dive into the double life-size macro realm. Note that I have increased the Clarity a little and added a subtle Luma Tonecurve to these shots in Capture One Pro, just to increase the tonality a little. As dreamy as I want these to be, I feel they need a little bit of help to enable us to appreciate the detail.

Dreamy Petals
Dreamy Petals

This next image was slightly more magnified at 2.4X life-size, and I have left my aperture at ƒ/4 to really start to emphasize the dreamy feel of the bokeh, achieving my goals still. I didn’t want too much detail in these images.

2.4X Magnification - Dreamier Still
2.4X Magnification – Dreamier Still

This next image was at 3X life-size now, still at ƒ/4 so the depth of field is now Razer-thin. I can learn from my Photographer’s Friend app that at 26 cm, which is the distance of the flower from the sensor, at 65mm with an aperture of ƒ/4 I had a depth of field of just 1mm. This look isn’t for everyone, I’m sure, but I really like this level of dreamy bokeh. I find this aesthetic really pleasing, and needless to say, I was having a lot of fun, chuckling to myself as I peered through the viewfinder and adjusted the Macro Rail and watched different parts of this flower come into, and go out, of focus.

3X Magnification - 1mm Depth of Field
3X Magnification – 1mm Depth of Field

For my next trick, we jump straight to 5X magnification, and I stopped down my aperture another stop to ƒ/5.6, which at the slightly longer distance of 30 cm gives me a depth of field of 2 mm.

5X Magnification - 2mm Depth of Field
5X Magnification – 2mm Depth of Field

OK, so I realize that I’m probably boring at least some of you now with these images being so similar, so let’s move on. I’d achieved my first goal of getting some dreamy bokeh shots. I continued on Thursday to try and get some flower reflected in water droplet shots, but the results weren’t great, and I was determined to figure this out for myself, rather than just going online and reading a tutorial, so I switched off my Profoto strobe and went downstairs for dinner.

Chrysanthemum Japonense

I started again on Friday morning with my EF 100mm f/2.8 L macro lens, as I wanted just a straight shot of one of the flowers, and you can see in this first photo from the morning. I like black and white flower shots as well as color, and I originally converted this first shot to black and white, but I wasn’t too happy about losing the yellow center. In the black and white shot, I’d used a tone curve on the entire image to increase contrast and used a Radial Mask to darken the tips of the petals a little to keep the eye in the middle of the image, so I decided to leave those in place and just go back to color, leaving me with the enhanced tones in the petals which I quite like. I stopped down to ƒ/10 for this shot to get a bit more depth of field, as I wanted more detail for this image.

Chrysanthemum Japonense
Chrysanthemum Japonense

If you are wondering how I get that black background in these images, I use a black cloth background that I have permanently set in my background pulley system along with a white background, but I also use a piece of black velvet with a slit cut into it, which I drape around the base the base of the flower, so that it’s completely encompassed by the black velvet. In fact, we’ll jump ahead and show you an iPhone photo that I was going to show you later, as this includes the background so that you can see what I’m talking about.

Placing a Droplet
Placing a Droplet

As you can see, the black cloth actually looks like a mid-grey in this shot, and the velvet appears much darker. When the bright light of the strobe in the soft-box hits the white of the flower, the contrast becomes so great that even the folds in the velvet pretty much disappear, leaving me with a clean black background. See here too that I used a syringe to place a droplet on the tip of a petal on the foreground flower and this is the actual positioning that I used for the following shot, in which you can see the results of my experimentation.

The syringe isn’t sharp. It has a dull needle, bought from the film development section of my local camera store. Its main purpose is measuring out small amounts of development chemicals, but I found it to be really good for placing a large droplet of water onto the petals of a flower for these droplet reflection shots. We’ll step back a few hours though, as I want to share one of the first images that I shot as I started to understand the technique. I shot this with my 100mm Macro lens and the aperture set to ƒ/14 for deeper depth of field. This is close to life-size magnification.

Flower in Droplet #1
Flower in Droplet #1

As you can see, the position of the two flowers is similar to the iPhone shot, and I was basically using the droplet like a little lens, through which the flower in the background was being focussed. I initially had the background flower much further away, and tried all sorts of positions, but this was the first time that I got a nicely shaped flower in the droplet, although I was also getting a reflection of parts of the nearby petals etc. and I really wanted to get a cleaner shot of the droplet with less distracting elements.

I found that I could move the background subject flower out of the frame if necessary, and still get a reflection, as you can see in this shot, but the reflected flower is facing downwards at a more acute angle, and I didn’t find that as pleasing to look at. I do like the overall composition though, with the out-of-focus petals on the foreground flower positioned nicely in the frame.

Flower in Droplet #2
Flower in Droplet #2

You might notice that I numbered my selects, and we’ll actually skip number three to save time, and that takes us to number four, which is the image that I shot shortly before getting my wife to photograph me putting the droplet on the flower which was the iPhone shot that I shared earlier. This was probably the first shot that I was really starting to feel happy with. The reflected flower was nice and clean, although I did have to clone out the reflection of my softbox, which crept into some of the droplets.

Flower in Droplet #4 (2.4X)
Flower in Droplet #4 (2.4X)

I continued to shoot and got a few more images that I like enough to add to my final selection. We’ll skip number five and take a look here at number six, in which I placed a huge droplet and learned that larger droplets tend to disfigure the reflected subject a little bit more as you place the subject away from the center of the droplet. This was shot at life-size, 1:1 magnification.

Flower in Droplet #6
Flower in Droplet #6

It’s fun to use the big droplets though, so I continued with this next shot, using a pink flower instead of white. I like the contrast in the colors in this shot, so although the reflected flower is cut off, I quite like the image overall. It was shot at 2X life-size with the 65mm macro lens.

Flower in Droplet #7
Flower in Droplet #7 (2X)

Finally, I reached for one of the yellow flowers that I had and created a huge droplet on the tip of a petal to create this last image that I wanted to share. As you can also see, I had moved the flower that I was reflecting in the droplet completely out of the frame, so I was pleased that I was able to under the positioning enough to do this. You can actually see the reflected flower with the naked eye as you line these shots up, so once I’d figured out the optimal distance to place the flowers apart, the rest was really just a case of experimenting and shooting, and repeating the process.

Flower in Droplet #8 (2.4X)
Flower in Droplet #8 (2.4X)

This was shot at 2.4X life-size with the 65mm lens again, and the aperture set to ƒ/11, for a deepish depth of field, but still plenty of dreamy bokeh, so this kind of wrapped up my day and a half of shooting with an image that realized both of my goals.

Of course, the bigger goal for the almost day and a half of shooting that I did, as I eluded to in the title of this post, was the therapeutic benefits of just having a camera in my hand. It’s been tough to watch the winter go by not being able to go out on tour with my guests that had booked on this year’s tours. I keep dreaming of being in the field with them, but things go wrong, and we can’t take photos, or can’t get to our destination etc. Almost every night my dreams remind me of where I’d rather be right now, and watching the Japanese government make one bad decision after another isn’t helping. There is a new minister in charge of getting the vaccinations done who I trust will do a better job, but with the government now prematurely lifting our state of emergency, I fear that things are going to get worse again before they get better.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some cherry blossom photos in our local park as we are allowed out again, and I’m pretty sure that next year’s winter tours will be fine, but it’s going to be a while before things are back to normal, and I really needed to just relax and enjoy some photography, so that was what I did, and I felt much better for it. If you are stuck indoors too, I hope that this might help to give you some ideas on how to relax with your camera. I’m a big believer in shooting what we love, and although flowers are low-hanging fruit, I generally enjoy photographing them, so all is good right now.


Show Notes

Get the MP-E65mm Macro Lens on B&H here: https://mbp.ac/mpe65mm

Here too is the 100mm Macro lens that I also used: https://mbp.ac/100mmMacro

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Winter Wonderland Workshop 2009 #3 (Podcast 182)

Winter Wonderland Workshop 2009 #3 (Podcast 182)

Today we are going to continue to our multi-episode look at the results of the 2009 Hokkaido photography tour, affectionately known as the Winter Wonderland Workshop. As I recap, I lead a tour around central and eastern Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan, from February 16th to the 24th, 2009. If you’re new to the show, but would like to catch up before we move on, go back and listen to episodes 178 and 179 of this Podcast before listening to this one. We pick up the trail on the morning of the 19th of February, which is the fourth day, having made our way over to the small fishing town of Rausu, on the eastern side of the Shiretoko Peninsula, which is a Unesco Registered Natural Heritage site and national park.

As I said at the end of the last episode in this series, after the dawn shoot on the third morning, at Bihoro Pass, we took a steady drive over to the Shiretoko Peninsula. This is the horn shaped peninsula that you can see jutting out heading slightly upwards, from the eastern side of the island of Hokkaido. The eastern tip of the peninsula is the most eastern point in all of the Japanese islands. The area is rich in wildlife, due to the plankton which feeds on nutrients carried down by the ice floe from the Sea of Okhotsk on the Russian coast. On the other side of the peninsula is the town of Utoro, where we’d be heading later in the day, and they often have ice floe coming in right to the shore and sometimes have large chunks of ice washed up along the beach. On The Rausu side, the ice floe is less pervasive. I have been to Rausu when the ice was in so far it almost filled the harbor, but generally, that doesn’t happen for very long spells. Even at Utoro, you can have ice up to the beach on day, and none in site the next. It comes in and goes out very quickly.

The eagles that we were here to photograph need the ice floe to perch on to feed. They make the eastern side of the peninsula their home, because its warmer this side, as the cold air from Siberia buffets the western, Utoro side, taking away a lot of its strength. Also though, because the port does not get frozen solid for very long, the fisherman are active much more than the other side of the peninsula, and that means rich pickings for the eagles. On the day we planned to go out to photograph them, the fisherman were all having a day off, which means that the only fish the eagles were going to be handed from humans, would come from us. This was going to work in our favour. Last year, the ice had been too far up the coast, and it was bad weather. This meant that the eagles would not be able to see us up near the ice, and therefore would not fly out to us to get some fish. As the organizer of the tour, having driven up the coast with the skipper, while the tour participants were shooting back in town, it was a painful but necessary decision not to put out last year. There was no point. This year though, based on weather conditions, the skipper had devised a plan to take us to the ice floe that they knew had rounded the tip of the peninsula, and if we left later than planned, it would be clear, so the eagles would be able to see us. Because we were going to go pretty fast to get out there, and because of the distance, we teamed up with a second boat, for safety, and headed out at 8:30AM.

The conditions were excellent. The light was pretty much constant, though I sometimes had to ask the skipper to come around so that we had the light falling on the birds more favourably, but in general, it was perfect. The skipper, Hasegawa-san, is very good at his job. He know most of the time what we want, and how to maneuver a pretty big boat around with unbelievable precision, to get us to the best positions. We don’t bait the birds heavily. We just throw out enough to get them interested. If you throw out a whole palette of fish, you just cause a frenzy, and it’s not good photographically. They hand throw small numbers of fish into strategic positions on the ice flow, and that helps to get small numbers of birds in some shots, and keeps others flying around, looking for their opportunity to grab some tucker.

Although I have some very nice straight portraits of Steller’s Sea Eagles from this location, let’s jump straight into looking at something a little more dynamic. First let’s look at image number 2155. Here we can see an Eagle perched on the ice tucking into his fish, and another with wings spread out, looking almost shocked that the other eagle has some fish. Finding and shooting moments with movement like this will take your shots to another level. Some of the guys came back with shots of the eagles with the fishes in mid air, as the eagles toss them up into their mouths, which I have to admit, I didn’t even see, and was pretty envious. This is part of the fun of it all mind. You have to have the camera up at your eye, and always be searching for something interesting, and luck will often be the major factor in deciding whether or not you get the shot. Of course, no amount of luck can make sure your exposure is set and you are focused correctly, and that you press the shutter button at the right time, but looking in the right direction when something happens really helps. It can be tough going physically as well. Most of us had long lenses. I shot with the 300mm F2.8 with the 1.4X extender fitted for most of the time, as I did here. I had my ISO set to 200, for a faster shutter speed, which was 1/1600th of a second at F5.6. It can be tough to hold the camera up to your eye, or at least close to it, for a good two hours, which is how long we were shooting. You have to do this though, waiting for the right moment. If you try to raise the camera after something happens, you are often too late.

Oh My God, You're Eating a Fish!

Oh My God, You’re Eating a Fish!

I also used the 70-200mm F2.8 for a lot of shots too. Sometimes the birds come in so close to the boat that you need a wider focal length just to fit them in to the frame, but also, I wanted to get some shots, with the birds in their environment. In image number 2156, we can see a bunch of Steller’s Sea Eagles and White Tailed Eagles mostly sitting on the ice floe, but the Shiretoko peninsula in the background. This was shot at 190mm, again at F5.6 for 1/1600th of a second. This means the mountains are slightly soft, but I’m not too worried about that. At this point, I was more concerned about keeping my camera set up to capture action closer by, filling the frame with an eagle, and so had left the camera at F5.6. Note too that I timed this so that there is a Steller’s Sea Eagle in flight, just coming into the scene. I feel that something like this is necessary to give interest to an otherwise pretty boring shot. The birds on the ice alone would not be that interesting, but with this bird in flight, it makes the image worth looking at, in my opinion.

Sea Eagles with Shiretoko in Back

Sea Eagles with Shiretoko in Back

In the next shot mind, which is number 2157, I decided to adjust the aperture, to try and get a little more depth-of-field. Firstly, because I had the mental bandwidth at this point to make the changes. I risked not being able to go to a narrower DOF quickly if I needed to, but I also changed the aperture because the main subject was a little closer than in the last image. I also wanted to get the Kuril Islands, or Kunashiritou, as the Japanese call it, into the shot. We can see that large snow capped volcano on the island in the background, which is actually part of Russia. The Japanese have been trying to get the Russians to give these islands back to them for years, but there are a lot of politics behind all that, which I don’t pretend to understand. Having stopped down to F11, I now needed a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second, still at ISO 200. Another thing to note here is that many of my best shots at this location had sea gulls in them, often very close to the boat, and very annoying. More often than not, I had a series of shots where you can see the scene building until the point where I was going to be right on the money, and then a gull flew right across the middle of the frame, just at the worst possible time. This shot was no exception. The bottom part of the large chunk of ice in this shot is from the previous frame. That whole shot was OK, but I prefer the wing positions in this shot, so I took them both into Photoshop as layers in the same image, which is one of the edit options in Lightroom, then I just made the second layer a mask, and painted the ice with no gull into this shot.

Steller's Sea Eagle with Kuril Island

Steller’s Sea Eagle with Kuril Island

I was in two minds whether to do something similar in the next shot too, but didn’t. In image number 2160, we see a Steller’s Sea Eagle feeding, with a White-Tailed Eagle trying to get in on the action. I kind of like the totally indifferent look on the second Steller’s face as he looks the other way, but in one of my other frames of this, he’s looking right into the scene. I thought about merging that with this one, for a much better overall composition, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Maybe he’s too big in the frame, and I’m not that brave yet. Maybe someday I’ll come back to it, but for now, this is exactly as shot. I was using the 300mm F2.8 with the 1.4X extender again for this, with the aperture set to F5.6 for 1/2000th of a second.

Don't Even Think About It!!

Don’t Even Think About It!!

A good example of behavior to make your shots a little more interesting can be seen in image number 2161, where we can see a Steller’s Sea Eagle dancing with his shadow. We can see the eagle with wings spread, and his right foot up in the air, almost like a Native American doing some sort of a ritualistic dance. The shadow of the right wing also reminds me a little of Native American art. The shadow is clipped off slightly on the right side, but that doesn’t worry me. Overall I’m very happy with this one, shot at F6.3 for 1/2000th of a second, at ISO 200. The fast shutter speed of course helping to freeze that kicked up snow, which adds a lot of impact to the shot, and it’s totally tack sharp where it needs to be. To top it off, there’s a nice catch-light the eye, which improves wildlife photography no end.

Shadow Dancing

Shadow Dancing

We can see another nice catch-light a little more closer up in image number 2162. This is a juvenile White-Tailed Eagle, flying very close to the boat. I’d been tracking this one, and didn’t expect it to come so close, but shot the image anyway. The White Tailed Eagle as an adult has a wing span of up to 238cm, so it’s really quite a treat when these birds come up close. The Steller’s Sea Eagles that we looked at earlier have a wing span of up to 241cm, which is about 8 feet, so I’m sure that you can appreciate how amazing it is to be this close to these huge birds. Despite having cut off the wings and tail with this tight crop, I’m happy with it because I think it makes a nice animal portrait, as I say, with that nice catch-light, and we have the torso in close, with lots of detail in the feathers and the yellow feet, tucked in to the body and tail to the right of the frame. Again, shot at F6.3 for 1/2000th of a second, there is nice separation from the sky, which is slightly out of focus making a nice background.

Juvenile White-Tailed Eagle

Juvenile White-Tailed Eagle

Another action shot in image number 2166, as this Steller’s Sea Eagle pounces on a frozen fish. Again, tack sharp, with light in the eyes and wonderful detail in entire bird. This is another where I couldn’t help but rescue an otherwise good shot from an intruding sea gull. This is the best of a short series of shots, and a sea gull stuck his fat head in the bottom left corner, which I had to clone out. I didn’t want to waste this one. I had opened up the aperture just marginally here to F5.6, and adjusted the shutter speed to 1/2500th of a second, still at ISO 200. Not only can you tell that it was pretty bright, you can probably also appreciate how much we are helped by the light reflecting back of the snow on the ice floe, to fill in any shadows that we might otherwise get from the very bright sunlight bathing this scene.

Hunting Frozen Fish

Hunting Frozen Fish

We spend a good couple of hours out on the boat shooting these wonderful birds, and there are a bunch of other shots from this shoot on my Web site. I’ll put a link to display all the images from the trip into the show-notes again, so take a look if you’re interested. After the eagle shoot, on request from some of the participants, we took a little more time to shoot in the Rausu harbor again, before starting our drive to the other side of the Shiretoko peninsula. In the summer time, it’s a leisurely drive across the mountains to the other side, but in winter, the road is impassable, so we have to drive down to the base of the peninsula, and up the other side, taking about three hours. It’s a beautiful drive mind through some wonderful scenery. As we started up the Western coast, we saw that the ice floe was right up to the shore here, and it was amazing to see how the sea undulated and swelled under the ice, lifting tons of crushed ice, as the waves made their way to the shore. I have some still shots of this in my gallery, but it’s difficult to capture without being able to see the motion. I waited for some of the waves to crash against the shore spraying up into the air to show this, but we won’t look at the images today because they’re not that great. I did shoot some video with the 5D Mark II mind, but I haven’t really checked it out yet. As I feared, right now, it still isn’t something that I have totally gotten my head around. I am looking forward to checking out the video clips that I took back at some point, but it doesn’t excite me so much that I prioritize it over other things that I’m doing right now.

We stopped again at the Oshin Koshin Falls, and I decided to try something a little different to what I’ve done until now, as we can see in image number 2170. There was a tree with some brown leaves still on the twigs, which I thought would make a nice focal point. I still took some straight shots of the falls, but thought this would be different. I used the Singh-Ray Variable ND filter to dial-in some darkness for a 1/4 second exposure at F11. I had reduced the ISO to 100 and was using the 70-200mm F2.8 lens at 200mm. For the composition here, I was conscious of the position of the right most branch, so that I kept it over the white water, making it stand out more, and was also keeping my eye on those three balls in the top left. Also the position of the water itself was difficult as I was trying to keep the snow at the edges of the falls out of the right and left sides. I do have some creeping into the bottom there, behind the leaves, which I don’t like, but couldn’t really avoid. Also notice that the tree takes above two thirds of the image, with mostly water making up the last third. All of these things I was keeping in mind while thinking how to compose this shot.

Tree at Oshin Koshin Falls

Tree at Oshin Koshin Falls

As the sun got close to the horizon, we got back on the bus, and drove a little further down the coast towards Utoro, to the two rocks that we can see in image number 2173. These rocks are not that well known, but I’ve shot them a number of times over the years. In the summer time, you can shoot the sunset through the rocks, but in the winter, the angle is much more acute. We were literally running from where we parked the bus to get to a position far enough along the coast to be able to see the sun, and as we crowded into a space about 6 feet across lining up our shots, I noticed a sea gull flying in towards the sun. I got one shot, as it came across from the left to right, then another as it turned, and the third, which is this one, as the gull crossed right across the front of the sun between the rocks. I was kind of willing it to do so, and it did. Very small in the Web version and if you are looking on an iPhone or iPod you might as well forget it, but this looks great in a print, so I am really happy we made it here in time and I was lucky enough to shoot this.

Gull Sunset

Gull Sunset

So, the sun had gone down on the fourth day, so we headed back to the hotel, for a night in probably the best hotel that we stay in, the Shiretoko Daichi Hotel. This is a beautiful hotel with an amazing buffet. I got a few shots this year, to use in the marketing material for next year, but it really is a great place. We would say good bye to Forrest and Joerg, two participants that were only with us for the first leg, so we pushed the boat out a little bit further than usual, ordering one or two bottles of sake more than we probably should have done, but we had a good time.

Ezo-Shika

Ezo-Shika

The following morning we visited the Shiretoko Nature Center, and had a work through the woods and out to the coast. As we turned the corner, two wonderful stags were walking right towards us, and I managed to capture them as we can see in image number 2174. I blew the snow out a little bit here, as although I’d just set my exposure moments earlier, they were in the open, with just a light covering of bear branches above, so I was a little out. 14bit RAW files helps though, so I was able to bring the snow under control and retain plenty of detail in Lightroom. The exposure for the stags was perfect though, at 1/160th of a second at F4, ISO 100, so I’m happy with the results. I shot a few frames as they walked towards us but most like this one, with the stags in almost the same pose, with the horns on either side of the frame. They walked off into the woods to the right of the frame here, and we walked back and shot them in another opening for a while too, standing up to our knees in snow. The results weren’t that great though, so I didn’t upload any of these shots. The walk through the woods and over through the reserve into the park was nice, and we had a pleasant morning in general. We shot some more deer and a lighthouse on the hill, and then steadily made our way back to the bus.

After a brief stop at the souvenir shop, we had to be back on the bus by 11AM to go to the airport to drop the two guys that would leave us off. On the bus on the way over, we recorded a comment or two from each of the guys, which I’ll play you now before we finish today’s episode.

So, that ended the first leg of the tour. We were to go on to concentrate more on landscape photography in the central part of the island. There was a storm brewing though, and as we made our way over to the hotel between Utoro and the Daisetsu-zan mountain range, we were caught in a pretty nasty snow storm. We made it to our hotel though after an afternoon’s drive, and settled in for the evening. The following day we would drive to Mount Asahi, and were hoping to go to the top of the mountain in the cable car to shoot the highest peak in Hokkaido, in the middle of winter. Tune in again next week to see how we got on, as we start the second leg of the tour. For now though, you just have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye-bye.


Show Notes

For details of the workshop itself, including next year’s workshop once the site it updated, please check out my workshops Web site here: Tours & Workshops

The music in this Podcast was created and produced by UniqueTracks.


Audio

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Bokeh! Pronunciation, Meaning and Practical Use (Podcast 181)

Bokeh! Pronunciation, Meaning and Practical Use (Podcast 181)

I’m tired of hearing people mispronounce the Japanese word Bokeh, meaning the out of focus part of a photograph.

As the master of bokeh in my photography, and having lived in Japan and speaking the language for the last 18 years, I thought I’d put the record straight once and for all, and tell you how the Japanese actually pronounce it, and give you a little background on the meaning of the word.

The correct pronunciation is Bokeh. With roman alphabetic characters, it is spelt “Boke”, or “Bokeh” with an H on the end, which joined with the E helps us to pronounce it Bokeh, and not boak, which would be the natural way to pronounce a vowel, followed by a single consonant, then another vowel, like “poke” for example, in the English language.

One way to think about the pronunciation is to say the first syllable “bo” as the first syllable in the word “bottle”. If you feel the urge to pronounce the word bottle with an A, like “battle” you are probably American. This in itself is not a problem, but it will help you on this occasion to learn to prounounce bottle in the mother tongue. The “ke” part of the word is pronounced like the “ke” in “kettle”. A utensil used for boiling water, a container to hold fish. So think of “bottle” and “kettle” and you are almost there. Just put the “bo” and the “ke” together, to make “boke”.

It is not boke, that rhymes with poke, or bokah, that rhymes with poker, or “bouquet” or any other similarly mutated word, it’s bokeh.

The word “bokeh” comes from the Japanese word meaning to be senile, suffer from dementia, or to be fuzzy or blurred.

As an intransitive verb “Bokeru” means to become fuzzy, or to become forgetful with age, become senile, go gaga or to go soft in the head. “Boketto miru” means to gawk and “Boketto suru” means to look spaced out.

As a transitive verb, “Bokasu” can mean to refuse to come out and say something, or to hide the truth. It means to obfuscate or to befog. In a visual sense it means make opaque, to gradate, to smudge or to make blurry.

As an adjective “boketa” or “boketiru” mean to be foolish, dippy or scatterbrained. It also means senile or used to describe someone suffering from dementia.

An example use in the original sense would be something like “Obaachan ga bokete shimatta”, meaning my grandmother has gone senile.
By the way, to confuse things further, there is also a type of flower called a boke, which translates as the Japanese quince.
There are few swear words or bad language in Japanese. Rather the Japanese use the same words with different stress or inflections. A friend might request another to “bokenaide”, which means “don’t be silly”. On the other hand, you might see a scene in a yakuza (Japanese mafia) movie, where some Chimpira (hoodlum) is kicking another man in the head with his arms flailing while shouting, “Nametennoka? Bokeh!!”. This has a significantly stronger meaning, something along the lines of “Don’t mess with me, you @sshole!”.

So, next time someone tries to tell you intelligently and often most convincingly how to pronounce the word Bokeh, you can wag your index finger at them, tut loudly, then tell them exactly how it’s pronounced, and you could go on to explain the background of the word, if you want to really impress. If you still fail to convince them, just send them a link to this post or Podcast. Finally, to show true mastery of the word, you could even call them a “Bokeh” yourself, meaning, as you now know, you idiot or fool, or @asshole, depending on your intonation.


Show Notes
Music from Music Alley: www.musicalley.com/


Audio

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Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.

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Flowers, flowers, flowers! (Podcast 83)

Flowers, flowers, flowers! (Podcast 83)

Last Saturday, which was April the 14th, 2007 for those of you that will be catching up on the archive later, I visited the Hitachi (Seaside) Park in the Ibaraki Prefecture, about 90 minutes from my home in Tokyo. Now, before you start thinking that the Japanese electrical appliance manufacturer Hitachi are into the Park and Garden business, the name actually comes from the name of the City that houses the park, which is called Hitachinaka. Also, the English translation of the name having “Seaside” in it might lead you believe that this is a beach park, but in reality, this park is just by the sea, and only a part of it is like, a sandy-beachy type recreation area. It’s a really huge place though, and I only concentrated on a number of the flower gardens, and that took me a full day from the moment they opened until shortly before they closed. I got a load of great flower shots though, and today I’m going to focus on some of my favourites.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I rely on photography location magazines quite a lot to get ideas of where to go to shoot, and I found this location in the same way. On Friday night, I spent a couple of hours going through my magazines and noticed this park that I’d not come across before, and found that the tulips and daffodils were going to be blooming right now. I checked the Web site to see that they were saying the daffodils were in full bloom, and the tulips were about 30% open. This turned out to be a bit misleading, and I’m starting to understand more how these places calculate what they call best conditions, or fully blooming. What I think they are doing is counting the percentage of flower heads that are open, regardless of how close they are to dropping off. For example, the daffodils were almost all open, and they were marked as being in full bloom, but 80% of them had been open so long waiting for the last 20% that they were almost dead. This gives an overall really tired look to most of the garden, and to be honest, I almost didn’t venture much further into the daffodil area having seen the first parts. Of course, we photographer’s don’t get our shots by giving in easily though, and I’m very glad I didn’t too, as we’ll see later. I looked at the Web site again yesterday, two days after I visited, and saw that the daffodil area was no longer marked as in best condition too, so the information is definitely being kept up to date.

Anyway, the other part of this percentage of blooming flowers thing is, that the tulips, of which only 30% of the flowers were open, were still very fresh, and on the whole in very good condition. When I made my mind up to go here I was thinking that I might have to go back the following weekend to shoot again, once the tulips were out in force. I won’t be going back so soon though, as I found them to be just perfect for what I wanted, just as they were. Had I waited until the tulips were supposed to be at 100% open, many of the flowers I shot there today would have be well past their sell by dates, so I’m glad I didn’t wait. One other area that we’ll take a look at that was also at 30% was a man made hill on which the park has planted 4 million Nemophila or Baby Blue Eyes flowers. This probably would have been better on the whole in a few weeks time, but still, the flowers that were blooming were all nice and fresh, so I made the most of what was currently blooming, getting in nice and close, and one nice wide angle, which we’ll look at too.

Having given you a bit of background, we’ve got a lot to get through today, so I’m not going to dwell on each shot too much, and just try to plough through them pretty quickly. I’m going to try to look at twelve images, which is two more than the usual maximum, but this is actually exactly one third of the 36 shots I’ve posted from the day. I’ve put a link in the show-notes to display all 36, and if you want to view them in the order shot, remember to click the last number of the bottom right of the thumbnail page, then click the last image, and then use the left arrow key to work your way back through the images. Of course, I’m going to call out the numbers of the images as we go through them as usual, so you can either enter that number into the field on the top page or the Podcasts page at martinbaileyphotography.com to jump to each shot, or you can view the images by clicking the thumbnails for this episode on the Podcasts page, or of course you can follow on your iPod or in iTunes if you’d prefer.

Dandelion with Visitor

Dandelion with Visitor

So moving right along, let’s take a look at the first picture which is number 1373. I was actually walking up to the entrance of the park when I noticed a few dandelions on a lawn, and got down with my 100mm macro lens to shoot them. I positioned myself so that I could get really close on one of the flowers, and have two other flowers way out of focus in the background, forming some nice large blotches of yellow. I uploaded on shot just like this, but lady-luck smiled on me as I was shooting the flowers, and a small wasp just happened to buzz by and land right in front of my lens. I had to refocus quickly and raise myself up a little more to get more of the visitor in, but the result was a nice pleasing shot and I kept the blotches of yellow in the background. I was shooting at F4 for 1/1000th of a second at ISO 100, so you can tell it was a nice clear day with lots of available light.

The park unfortunately doesn’t open until 9:30AM, but we’d arrived at 8:30. To get out of Tokyo before the traffic really starts to build up, barring the days when an accident occurs stopping the traffic at any time of day, I usually aim to get on the road before 7AM. If I leave home after seven, I can pretty much guarantee it’ll it at least another hour or two to my journey, and a lot more stress. Basically though, with leaving early, I was here in time to have some breakfast in the car and take a steady walk to the gates. I bought my ticket and then picked up a map from beside the ticket machine and started to get my bearings and figure out how to make my way through the park. My plan was to shoot the tulips hand-held quickly, and then make my way to the hill of Baby Blue Eyes then check out the daffodils before coming back to the tulips. The tulips is literally just a few minutes from the gate in an area called the “Egg Forest Flower Garden”. It’s called the Egg Forest because there are large eggs with holes in for kids to climb around in scattered throughout the area. This is a great idea I think for making this a totally family area. I didn’t shoot the eggs myself, concentrating on the flowers.

Hitachi Park #03

Hitachi Park #03

The image I want to look at from this first batch of tulip shots is number 1376. Here we can see a simple composition, that’s strength comes really from the striking colours. I focussed on the single tulip that was facing me from this batch and the wide aperture of F2.8 allowed the flowers in the background to get gradually more and more out of focus. The light was really beautiful, still coming through the trees at an angle, despite the having risen almost four hours earlier. I was shooting in Manual mode again for control, and using my EOS 5D and the 70-200mm F2.8 lens, with a shutter speed of 1/1250th of a second. It actually took me a long time to select the 12 shots for this episode from the 36 I uploaded, and the reason I couldn’t drop this one, despite me also having another vertical all tulip shot to look at later is just the overall power of the shot. I feel this simple composition becomes so strong because of the deep greens with those amazing reds throughout.

I shot a whole bunch of other shots during this first session in the Egg Forest, but then quickly made my way to the Baby Blue Eyes hill, and still shooting hand-held, I started to make my way up the hill looking for nice spots to single out. The flowers as I said earlier were only about 30% open, but this here too I’m sure meant that the flowers that were open were much fresher and more photogenic than they probably would be in a week or so when the hill is in full bloom. I had found a few nice patches and have actually uploaded a total of seven shots of these flowers, but we’ll just look at two here. The first one is 1387. Here you can see that I’d found a tall flower that made a change from the blue flowers. I spent a little time sitting on the dirt path at the edge of the flower trying to parallel the tall flower with the highest blue flower on the right. It took some doing but I just about pulled it off. I’m not 100% sure about the red-ish line of colour across the top of this shot, but it seems nicer than the ones without it. I feel as though it makes a nice target for the taller flower to reach for. I shot this again with my 70-200mm F2.8 at F4 for 1/2000th of a second at ISO 100.

Hitachi Park #14

Hitachi Park #14

I made my way up to the top of the hill and joined up with the missus who’d got tired of waiting for me and gone ahead. We knew there was a view of the see from the top of the hill, but was a little disappointed to see that it was basically some kind of harbour wall with cranes and tankers scattered around. Not very photogenic, though I wasn’t really hoping for anything here, but a slightly nicer view would have been better, and made the small climb a little more rewarding. It’s surprising how colourless the park was from here too. You can look across the entire area, but as just about the whole place is covered with trees, all you can see is the canopy, and almost none of the flowers. Still, the flowers look great with the trees intermingled, so I wouldn’t like to have seen this any other way.

Image number 1388 was shot about half way down the hill, looking back up it. The sky had been clouding over and then clearing again for the last 30 minutes or so, and was now showing an interesting face, so I decided to go for the super wide angle to emphasise the expanse of blue flowers against the blue sky. I used a circular polarizer to bring out the blue a little as it was getting a little hazy, and it worked out OK I think. I made a bunch of exposures here as people moved around and wanted to choose the right one later when I got home. I chose this with a few people sort of standing around taking photos and a kid in a white shirt throwing his arms around as he ran around all excited. I’d used Jonathan Sachs’ DOF, a depth-of-field and hyper focal distance calculator on my Pocket PC phone to figure out what the hyper focal distance was for my lens at 16mm at F16. This is actually just 50cms, so if I focus my lens at 50cms at F16, everything from 33cms from the cameras sensor to infinity will be in focus. So I set my focus looking at the scale on the lens barrel and forgot about the focus, then fine tuned my composition. The thing I love about working with really wide angle lenses is the perspective you get, especially when looking up at something like this. I think the people add to the scale and perspective of the shot, so I was quite happy there were a few people wandering around up there.

Baby Blue Eyes Hill

Baby Blue Eyes Hill

One other thing to note before we move on is that I was pleasantly surprised to see that new 16-35mm F2.8 lens from Canon has no vignetting at all, even when shooting at 16mm with a small aperture, with two filters attached. Now, before you take that statement too literally, note that the manual for this lens says it supports one filter, and if you were to use two big fat rimmed filters, you may well have problems. With a UV come protector filter and a polarizer, both from Kenko, and both made especially for wide angle lenses, I couldn’t see anything. The down side of this new lens though is that I now have to carry more circular polarizer filters around with me. Until now, for the last year or so since buying the 5D, all my lenses have taken either 77mm or 52mm filters. Now though, the 16-35mm has jumped to an 82mm filter size, so I not only had to pick up an additional filter, and they aren’t that cheap, I now have to carry a 52mm, a 77mm and an 82mm polarizer with me. I’m still considering whether or not to get an 82mm neutral density filter. I’m thinking I’ll wait until I know I’m going to need one, but that probably won’t be long, as I’m hoping to get out shooting some waterfalls again soon. Anyway, remember that if you are buying thin banded filters, you can probably also get away with two and no vignetting with the new 16-35mm lens.

Watercolour Daffodil - Hitachi Park #18

Watercolour Daffodil – Hitachi Park #18

The next shot, number 1392, is one of my favourites from the day. Sometimes the excitement of the day can affect the way you feel about the resulting photographs, and that’s why I try not to get too excited for a few weeks, but if I’m still saying this in a few weeks time, this may well end up being one of my favourites of my own photos of all time. I printed it out on 13×19″ fine art paper last night and it blew me away. The lighting was perfect, with a bright, yet colourful background and a whole bunch of little purple flowers scattered throughout the scene, and nice large patch of yellow that I positioned behind the daffodil’s head to form a halo. This was enhanced because the foreground flowers were in shade, increasing the contrast between them and the background. Holding the print in my hand last night, it felt more like a water colour than a photo! I hope this doesn’t where off, because right now I’m really excited about this shot and so glad that I ventured into the daffodil area of the park, despite the patches of flowers either side of the path leading in there looking decidedly tired. I shot this at F3.5 for 1/250th of a second by the way, with my 70-200mm F2.8 at full stretch.

Next let’s look at image number 1393 which I shot just a few paces down the path from the last one. For this shot, to the embarrassment of my other half, I was sitting on the path, leaning back on my camera bag, kind of like I was sitting in a reclining armchair. I rarely feel self-conscious when getting in weird positions to take photos, but I must admit, I felt the eyes of a few passers-by while shooting this one. Not to the point of embarrassment but I knew they were looking. Anyway, I basically wanted to get down low enough to be able to shoot this pair of daffodils through some other flower heads, to form these large patches of white blur, or what I tend to call foreground bokeh. These guys are maybe kind of comical, looking a little like they’re standing back to back, and about to walk 10 paces away from each other then turn and fire in some kind of a floral duel. I shot this at F3.2, just one click off wide open, for 1/160th of a second. This and the last shot were hand-held by the way.

Hitachi Park #19

Hitachi Park #19

Hitachi Park #22

Hitachi Park #22

Let’s move on to image number 1396. Here, every so often a breeze got up and caught the heads of all these daffodils, so I fitted an ND8 neutral density filter to my 70-200, and dropped the ISO down to 50, and selected an aperture of F22 to get a nice long shutter speed of 6/10th of a second. This was long enough to catch a lot of movement in the flower heads. Some of the flower heads stayed stationary long enough to register a little more in the photo, giving us something more to latch onto while being thrown around the shot by the other movement. The tree trunk place in the top right and the line of almost stationary yellow daffodils along the top of the frame also help to keep some order in the mayhem of the majority of the shot. This is another example I guess of staying open to ideas as we hunt for photo opportunities.

After this, we had some lunch, and then made our way back around to the tulips in the Egg Forest Garden, and from here, I’d like to look next at image number 1397. Here we see a sea of red, with most of the screen occupied by incredibly powerful red tulips. Again, I’ve chose the black face of the tulip looking at me to focus on, but selected an aperture of F16 this time to give me more depth-of-field so that we can make out more of the different coloured tulips that run across the top of the frame. I’ve also included that tree trunk up there in the right third to and a second tree trunk in the top right corner to stop our eye from running right off the frame having been taken up there by the larger tree trunk. I’d moved the ISO back to 100, and the shutter speed was down to 1/60th of a second now at F16, so I was using a tripod again.

Hitachi Park #23

Hitachi Park #23

Let’s look next at a grab shot from the middle of the afternoon’s shooting which is number 1399. As I made my way through the garden I noticed a woman in a beautiful silver grey kimono setting up her camera for a photo with hubby, so I dropped my camera down, still on the tripod and levelled it waiting for the scene to develop. As I waited, really just a few seconds, a little boy ran across the shot as the farther in the middle squatted down to photograph his little boy, and just released the shutter a few times. This was my favourite as the little boy reaches the edge of the shot to the right and the lady in the kimono stood up having set the camera’s timer running again to make her way back over to her partner for the next frame. I’d quickly selected an aperture of F4.5 because I didn’t want much more of the scene than the center band with the activity to be in focus. This photo to me though really gives us a feel of the mood of the afternoon. There were lots of families there in the park enjoying the warm weather and each others’ company.

Day in the Park

Day in the Park

Let’s move on to image number 1400. In this shot I like the less formal effect given by the scattered tulips in the foreground, with the other groups in the background behind the trees, rather than the somewhat stiff lines and shapes in some of the other shots. The previous day when I selected the location while looking through a magazine, I found later on looking through my final selection of images that my other half was really not all that impressed. She’d thought it would be too formal and that she didn’t think we’d have a very good or productive day. The shots in the magazine that although portrayed the park very nicely, were all shot at like f32, totally sharp from front to back, and very documentary. There’s nothing wrong of course with documenting a scene in that way and I made a few similar images from the day too although I’d like to think they are nowhere near as stiff. I find it much better to section out areas of the garden to emphasise the part of the scene that has captured my imagination. This is just another example of that. I also found that I really gained an appreciation for the skill of the architects that designed this space. They positioned trees at just the right places to bring out the best in the scene, quite often from multiple, if not all angles of view. They really are masters of their trade. This one by the way was shot at F4 with a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second, again at ISO 100.

Hitachi Park #25

Hitachi Park #25

Let’s look at image number 1401 now, which is hopefully a good example of how, rather than avoiding the straight lines of a somewhat formal garden, we can use them to our advantage for some graphically pleasing images. Again, observation is very important. Surveying the scene for areas that work is a must. Here I’d found a view in which the patches of tulips and the angle of the ground, complimented again by the position of the trees, all comes together to along with the light and dark from the angled sunlight making its way through the trees, to make a pretty pleasing shot. I selected a wide aperture of F4 and shutter speed of 1/640th of a second, and focussed on the yellow band of tulips in the top third of the image. I’d tried focusing on a number of other patches of flowers, and also really liked the one in which I’d focussed on the foreground patch of yellow, but decided to go with this one. I tried focusing on the line of red closer to the top of the frame too, but that didn’t really work at all. Note too that the angle that brings out the best in the subject is not only gained from where you stand, or the angle of view of any given focal length of your lens, but from the height of the camera. For pretty much all of the images today I was either crouching, sitting or lying down, or had my camera on my tripod at some height other than eye level. I also had to be pretty patient here, as there were people walking through the scene all the time. I basically had to wait for a few minutes each time for the scene to clear of people before snapping of a few frames before the next back of folks walked in.

Hitachi Park #26

Hitachi Park #26

Hitachi Park #28

Hitachi Park #28

I want to finish with one more shot of all red tulips, which is image number 1403. This scene caught my eye because of the light catching just a few heads of these tulips, but they all seem to be looking in the same direction towards the sun. As I metered for the brightest flowers, this threw the other flowers into shadow, and made for quite a moody shot I though. I love the solidarity of all these flowers just standing there, gaining the last few hours of warmth as the sun drops lower and lower in the sky. I shot this at again at F4 for 1/500th of a second. I’d been shooting in Manual mode the whole day, really wanting to in control of the exposure, stopping these bright reds and yellows from clipping, which keeping them as close to the right side of the histogram as possible for maximum punch.

We headed around through the small fairground area after this and took a few shots in a small field of rape flowers before heading for the car to make our way home. All in all it was a great day, very productive and very exciting. I know that most of you will never come to Japan, and if you did, you’d more than likely not make your way over to places like this, but if you have gardens like this near you, I hope some of the angles or shooting techniques I’ve shown you today will give you some hints on ways to make the most of them.

That’s it for today. Yesterday I closed the Simplicity Assignment for uploads, and turned on the voting system. Please do come by to the mbpgalleries.com Web site and take a look at the album half way down the top page, and please do take a moment to register if you are not already a member and vote for your favourite image. There are some really amazing shots in there, and I’m really looking forward to see what you guys choose. Thanks as usual to all those that took part. If you do register to be able to vote, remember to also sign up at the main martinbaileyphotography.com Web site with the same user name and email address so that I can keep tabs on who’s who when, or if I do eventually get around to linking these two sites. Voting will continue until the end of Sunday the 29th of April when we’ll find out who the winner of an original print of one of my photos is, and more importantly, who will take the annual grand prize based on all of the accumulated votes, which this year is going to be an amazing Lowepro Stealth Reporter D650 AW camera bag.

Other than that, have a great week, whatever you have planned. Bye-bye.


Show Notes
The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Equinox Flowers. Impeccable Timing! (Podcast 56)

Equinox Flowers. Impeccable Timing! (Podcast 56)

Equinox flowers bloom for a short time coinciding precisely with the autumnal equinox on September 23rd. These are beautiful flowers that I shot for three hours until almost total darkness on Sept 24. Today I’m going to talk about the techniques and artistic decisions made during this short shoot, including one technique to gain a quite strange effect that sprung to mind on seeing the opportunity. Listen out for this too during the course of this virtual tour.

Before we start I also want to apologise for the problems on Friday the 22nd and Saturday the 23rd as I switched my Web sites to a new server. It didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped, with some of the settings taking quite a while to propagate around the globe, and there were a few teething problems afterwards too, but hopefully things are running smoothly now. Anyway, I’m sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience. Now let’s get to today’s main topic, the equinox flower shoot.

After a number of weeks without getting out shooting, and a lot of computer work with one thing or another, I was starting to get pretty stressed. My choices for spending the afternoon of Sunday the 24th of September were creating the transcript for this week’s Podcast and maybe also recording it, or shelve it all and go out shooting for a few hours. Although this has meant with my other responsibilities and workload that this week’s episode is going to be a few days late, I opted to go out shooting, and the result of that shoot is what I’m going to talk about today.

I’ve mentioned before about keeping certain subjects that are only available at certain times of the year in mind as the seasons progress, but no natural subject that I can think of is more reliable than the Equinox Flowers that bloom across Japan at exactly the autumnal equinox. How can you forget that these flowers are blooming when the equinox comes around. I had a look through some of my mooks, which are a cross between a magazine and book, for some good places to shoot these flowers and found a promising location 80 kilometres or 50 miles from my Tokyo apartment. It is a small town called Chinchakuda, near the city of Hidaka in the Saitama Prefecture. I didn’t leave the house until almost 1PM, having had a lazy morning recovering from the lack of sleep the previous day, and although my car navigation told me it was going to take just over one hour to get there, it actually took two hours, the last hour of which was spent in the traffic jam for the last 7 kilometres. I realized that this place was very popular for these flowers as I started to see signs for temporary car parks in fields in the last few kilometres as I got nearer to the location and just because of the sheer number of people that were turning up to take a look at them.

I parked up and was heading towards the area that the flowers were blooming in at 3PM, which was actually just right as the light was starting to warm up in the last couple of hours before the sun dropped below the horizon at around 5:20PM. It wouldn’t leave me much time for reconnaissance, but the area that these flowers are growing in is probably only around an acre or so, which will be around half a hectare. As I walked into the woods in which the flowers are blooming, at first I thought I was maybe a few days early. The flowers around the first part were a little sparse, but as I walked further through the growth was much thicker. Before I got there though I had already started shooting, and the first shot that I chose to upload to my web site is image number 1115. You can see in this image that there are still a fair number of the flowers that are not opened, in the kind of red pods that look a bit like red chillies. Also the fact that the flowers that were open hadn’t been for very long meant they don’t look too tired. These flowers can look pretty drab and withered if you wait until they are all in full bloom. You can also see here that there was still quite a lot of available light. The light area in the background was the edge of the woods and the sun was just almost behind the flowers, backlighting them. This gave me a nice light background and also some nice highlights on the red petals. I was shooting in Aperture Priority with minus two thirds exposure compensation here. The reds start to clip very easily in conditions like this, so I was making full use of the RGB histogram as I find tuned the exposure to get the red close to the far right to ensure a bright image, but not quite clipping, for this example at least. The obvious artistic decision I made here was to search out a combination of flowers that would allow me to put a patch of flowers close to me in the foreground and use a shallow depth-of-field of F2.8 to throw them totally out of focus for that foreground bokeh. This ISO by the way was set to 100 and this gave me a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second. I’ve placed the main focussed batch of flowers in the right third for a more pleasing composition. Also note pay a lot of attention to the background, adjusting the height of the camera to ensure the out of focus area, those blotches of colour, add to the shot without taking too much attention away from the main subject. Just because the background will be way out of focus, it doesn’t mean you can ignore where the graphic elements are in the shot. These are as important as the main subject in the part they play in making your images successful. You see how I do this in most of my flower shots, including some others we’ll look at today.

Equinox Flowers 2006 #1

Equinox Flowers 2006 #1

In the next shot for today, image number 1117, you’ll see two equinox flowers with the main focus on the left one, and this time I found a pair that were being lit by the sun as it got lower in the sky, but it was not illuminating the ground below the flowers, so the background of the shot is very dark, making the red stalks that emanate from the centre of the flower. I’d switched to Manual mode for more control with the dark background, but basically this was shot with the same EV, that’s Exposure Value, as the last shot. I had changed the aperture, closing it by one stop to F4 for slightly more depth of field, which caused me to select a shutter speed one stop slower than the last image, which gave me 1/200th of a second. I also chose this pair because there’s a spider’s web around the stalks of the left flower. There’s also actually a tiny spider in the horizontal centre, about 1/4 of the way into the shot from the left. It’s very difficult to see on the Web site because of the size, and if you are viewing on an iPod you won’t be able to make it out at all, but it makes for an interesting addition when viewed at full size.

Equinox Flowers 2006 #3

Equinox Flowers 2006 #3

In the next image, number 1118, I wanted to briefly explain what I did with the focus and depth of field. Basically I noticed a patch of flowers that was brightly lit in contrast to the foreground that was in shadow. I also found the side lighting highlighted the texture in the bark of the two trees in the background, so I decided to focus on the patch of flowers between the two trees in back and used an aperture of F8 to give me a certain amount of depth of field, but not so much that the foreground would also be in focus. This has the effect of leading us into the shot from the blurred foreground and giving us something to look out deep inside the image at the top. The trees help to stop us going right through and out of the back of the image though. I had switch back to Aperture priority again, as there’s not particularly anything challenging about the lighting, but I was exposure compensating to the tune of minus 1 and two thirds of a stop, as the front of the image was quite dark, and I wanted to stop the top half of the shot from blowing out. The reds in this shot are in fact clipping slightly, so I am very close to the edge here. I might have gone right down to -2 stops, but I wanted to keep that top half bright and warm which is how I saw it. The shutter speed as a result was 1/40th of a second, again at ISO 100. I should also mention that I was using a 1.4X extender or teleconverter with my 70-200mm F2.8 lens at full zoom, for a focal length of 280mm.

Equinox Flowers 2006 #4

Equinox Flowers 2006 #4

As I walked a little further around the path through the patch of flowers and woods, I noticed a number of white equinox flowers amongst the reds, and in the next shot, number 1119, you’ll see that I found one very close to the edge of the enclosure so I was able to make a nice macro shot. I lowered my tripod and got right down to the level of the flowers, as I wanted to play with the patches of red made by the other red flowers, so I had to be on the same level. I used an angle finder so that I could look down into the finder rather than also having to get right down to this same level. I was actually sitting on a post with a rope running through it to mark the edge of the enclosure and keep people out. The other great thing about using an angle finder is that it has the ability to flick a switch to double the magnification, allowing you to really fine tune the focus. I almost always switch to manual focus for macro work, and on this occasion I ensured that focus was spot on the anther in the centre of the image. This was almost parallel to a number of the other anther, so we have a few in focus, but even with the aperture set to F5.6 for this shot, you can see that the depth of field soon drops off as we move into the image. I touched on this earlier too, but notice here how I’ve positioned the blotches of red in the background. They touch on, but don’t disturb the main subject of the white equinox flower. They also add interest to the green that makes up the rest of the background, broken up really only by a few stems of the flowers. I have added one third of a stop exposure compensation here too, as the off-white flower was causing my camera’s meter to slightly under expose the image. Also, again at ISO 100 I now had a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second, so you can tell that light was now fading as the end of the day drew nearer.

Equinox Flowers 2006 #5

Equinox Flowers 2006 #5

I moved around the patch of flowers for a while longer and found another white flower, alone amongst the reds but this time quite a way into the patch. In image number 1120 you can see how I singled it out with the tree trunks in the background and the single thin tree trunk in the foreground but to the right. I focussed on the main subject, which is of course the white flower, and I chose an aperture of F5.6 to get both the flower and thin tree trunk in focus, but nothing after that. It was getting darker by now, so I couldn’t simply use the depth of field preview button to check the depth of field, so I bracketed the aperture a little, also shooting F4 and F2.8 versions, but the depth of field was too shallow. This shot gave me just the right amount of focus. It also renders the rest of the shot slightly out of focus, but not so much that it’s unrecognisable, which gives us an interesting, but not distracting background. The shutter speed was now down to 1/6th of a second, which was attained by exposure compensating to the tune of minus one stop to keep the feel that it was now getting gradually darker.

Equinox Flowers 2006 #6

Equinox Flowers 2006 #6

Now, I promised to introduce a weird technique today, and the next shot, image number 1121, is the one in which I employed that technique. This reminded me of the importance of keeping techniques like this in mind while shooting. I have never tried this myself, and it must be quite some time since I read about this technique in a book too, but when faced with a single white flower in a path of red, and ambient light requiring an exposure of more than 3 seconds at F8, I recalled a technique that I thought I’d give a try. Basically what I did here was set the camera on my tripod, obviously, and placed the white flower in the middle of the frame. I was using my 70-200mm lens, though any zoom lens with a range of more than 100mm would work, and I zoomed in too 200mm and set the focus. Again, I switch the lens to manual focusing so as not to loose the focus when I press the shutter button, and then I zoomed out to 70mm. I then tripped the shutter, and during the first two seconds of the three second exposure I slowly and steadily zoomed in from 70mm to 200, leaving the last second to burn the impression of the white flower more permanently into the image. The result is the reds of the flowers around the white one leave a trail, streaks of red radiating out from the middle of the image. The white flower doesn’t leave a trail because it is covering its own tracks as it grows in the image. If you look closely you can actually see the remains of some of the red flowers from the moment before I started zooming. One problem with this technique is that you have to place the main subject in the centre of the frame, but if you don’t over use it, I think it can produce some interesting effects, so you might want to give it a try yourself at some point. Of course, you could also try this technique in normal lighting conditions by using a neutral density filter, maybe an ND4 or ND8, to block out some light for a longer shutter speed. I just thought of the technique because of the conditions, but you don’t need to be governed by these conditions as long as you have the technology, i.e. the ND filters, with you when you want to try this.

Equinox Flowers 2006 #7

Equinox Flowers 2006 #7

The last image I uploaded to my online gallery from these three hours shooting equinox flowers is number 1122. This one again was 3.2 seconds at F2.8 now, so you can hopefully appreciate that it was really quite dark by this point. I actually had a hard time finding my car in the dark about five minutes after this. I was in aperture priority mode and applied minus one stop exposure compensation for this image. Again, I used the graphic element of the tree trunks, but this time singled out just two that were leaning over, and I focussed on the equinox flower just in front of the left tree trunk as it was slightly taller than the others around it. A tip here is that as it is very difficult to focus on your subject when it gets this dark, if you are using a digital SLR, you can see what your camera gives you as a best effort, and tweak as best as you can by looking through the viewfinder, but then start to bracket your focus by turning your focussing ring very slightly either side of what you think it should be, and then check the results on your LCD. I actually shot five or six frames here to get the focus spot on. Also remember that at F2.8 the depth of field is very shallow, so it’s quite important to do this if you need accurate focusing, which is pretty much always going to be the case. I was quite surprised at how much colour ended up in this final image, with there being so little available light at this point, but I really like the overall effect in this shot. I like the patches of red separated out with the green areas in which we can see the flower’s stems, and the two tree trunks break it up nicely I believe. And that’s about it for today.

Equinox Flowers 2006 #8

Equinox Flowers 2006 #

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me during my three hours shooting equinox flowers here in Japan at the autumnal equinox. The few take-aways from today’s episode are, be careful of what your backgrounds are doing, even if you have blurred them out of recognition, keep various techniques in mind and use them when the opportunity arises, and you don’t always have go home when it gets dark. There can be some great opportunities lurking in the shadows.

Also I’d like to give you a quick reminder that the “Reflections” assignment is still in progress. You will be fine to upload your entry until midnight on Sunday the 22nd of October, just about anywhere in the world. Check out the assignment forum at martinbaileyphotography.com for more details. I’ll also put a link to the Assignment details in the show notes.

Also I’d like to say a huge welcome to all of those new listeners and forum members that have joined us during this last month. I know that many of you have found your way over here from the Photocast Network, so Welcome! I hope you enjoy what you’re hearing. Note that the archives are all still available in iTunes and on my Web site. If you go to martinbaileyphotography.com and click on the Podcasts link in the toolbar at the top of the page you’ll be able to browse the archives. If you want to see more than the last 12 episodes, just click on the link below the index or with any episode’s details to view them all, either in one big table or in a larger full text index. Also note that you can view any of the images I’ve spoken about today in iTunes or by clicking the thumbnail on the Podcasts page. And also by entering the number I give out with each image into the small field on the top page or the top of the Podcasts page on my site and clicking the orange button. Finally there’s a button with each Podcast to stream it directly to your desktop, and if you listen on a Pocket PC or other small form factor device you can browse the archives via the Light page, to which you can also find a link at the top of the Podcasts page.

So once again, thanks for listening, and that of course goes out to all listeners, old and new, and I hope you have a great weekend, as the episode is a little late this week. Enjoy yourself anyway, whether you’re out shooting or whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

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