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


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Productive Respites and Floral Fun (Podcast 450)

Productive Respites and Floral Fun (Podcast 450)

When it’s not possible to get far away from home to a beautiful location, I love to just take a walk in the park with my Macro lens, and have some floral fun. Today I’m going to walk you through a few photos from a recent walk, and talk about how I take some of my flower shots to another level.

I’ve already talked about my black and white flower shots in the past, but today in addition to walking through my thought processes and a few techniques, I’m really thinking about how to make the most of a few hours with the camera, when it’s not possible to get further afield. For me, this kind of trip helps me to stay productive as a photographer when running the business and other work keeps me behind the desk for too long. Plus, I really do find this kind of photography to be a lot of fun!

When I moved apartments four years ago in preparation for incorporating Martin Bailey Photography, the reason I looked for a place in the area I live, is because it’s not far from Jindaishokubutsukoen, which is a botanical garden park. We buy a season ticket each year, and often jump in the car and just have a walk around, just as a refreshing walk, but when there are some flowers or other natural aspect that is at it’s peak, I often bring a little more gear.

On this particular day, although I had more gear with me, I could just have easily have brought just my 5D Mark III and my 100mm macro lens, because that’s pretty much all I used. I actually didn’t bring my diffuser which I like to use for this sort of photography, because I seem to have left it somewhere. I’ve replaced it now though, and I’ll talk a little about how I use that too as we progress.

Violet Rose

So, let’s jump in and start to look at a few photos. First up is this rose (below), which was actually a violet colour as we’ll see shortly, but I converted this to black and white. As I shoot, I generally know what I’m going to do with an image, and although I like to look at the pretty colours in flowers, I rarely find that the colour is enough of a key feature to actually keep it in the photograph.

Violet Rose

Violet Rose

As you may recall from a few videos I’ve released over the years, such as the video in episode 297, I like to reduce the background to almost and sometimes totally black, as with this photo. I just find this much more pleasing, as most of the time, I really just want to draw the viewer’s attention to the beauty of the flower.

To explain this better, here is the original photo, straight out of the camera (below). Now, for sure, this is a beautifully coloured rose, and the balls of bokeh in the reflection are nice, but as I shot it, I knew that both of these elements had to go. The beauty of shooting images like this is that Silver Efex Pro works with colour and tones, so because the flower is different to much of the background I can easily reduce the darkness of the background with a few strategically placed Control Points. Again, see my previous videos to see how to do this if you aren’t aware of the technology.

Violet Rose(original)

Violet Rose(original)

Maybe it’s just me, but I really just find the black and white, simplified version much more aesthetically appealing, and although I find myself quietly apologising to the people that worked so hard to create a rose of this colour, when I search for a flower to photograph, I’m much more interested in finding flowers without many blemishes. This one actually had a bit of a rotting petal just showing on the bottom, to the left of the foreground bud, but I can kind of live with that, and didn’t feel it necessary to clone out, especially as it reduced to a small spot in the black and white version.

Shoot in the Shade or Use a Diffuser

One technique that I’d also like to mention before we move on, is that I had my wife hold my hat to the top right of the frame for this photo (above) to stop the sunlight directly hitting the flower. It was a clear day, with full sun, but that creates way too much contrast for a pleasing photograph, so I generally block it out. Having lost my old diffuser, I’ve just bought something similar to the Lastolite TriFlip, which is an 8 in 1 triangular reflector, with the base layer being a translucent diffuser.

You just hold the diffuser between the light source, the sun in this case, and the flower, to reduce the light hitting the subject. I was totally blocking the light with my hat, but a diffuser is better, because it allows a soft white light through, which is really pleasing. The TriFlip also comes with gold, silver and black reflector covers as well, and I find these really easy to use in the field because they have a handle to easily hold them in position.

Pretty in Pink

Sometimes of course, the colour does add a lot to the photograph, and although I could go either way on this next image, I feel that the pink is worth keeping (below). This wasn’t a large rose, but I just got in close enough to fill the frame. This time I believe I was able to just position myself so that I was creating my own shadow, to avoid any nasty high contrast.

Soft Pink

Soft Pink

Apart from the next photo that we’ll look at today, all of these images were shot at f/4, which gives a very shallow depth of field when focusing this close with a macro lens. That was by choice of course. I really like the softness created with this aperture, and as you can see here, I am just careful to ensure that the focus falls on the critical part of the flower. This varies by subject, but here, because the top of the petals is in sharp focus, we can allow the rest of the rose to go soft and it still looks beautiful.

Also for this shot, I reduced the Clarity slider in Lightroom to -55, and then with the Adjustment Brush, I painted +37 Clarity back in along the top edges of the petals in the centre of the frame.  This is an easy way to enhance the softness of an image but still keep the critical sharpness where necessary. I like to use plugins and I don’t mind jumping into Photoshop if necessary, but these options force me to create a new TIFF or PSD file, so when I can make this simple tweaks just in Lightroom, I like to do this, as it is done to the original raw file.

In this next image, I once again took the background to almost total black. It’s actually zone 1 in the zone system, so not totally black. I checked this in Silver Efex during my conversion, and again, we’ve touched on this in previous videos, so I won’t go into this today.

White Rose

White Rose

The point that I wanted to make with this flower, once again, requires that we look at the original (below). Here you’ll see that there are splashes of pink in what was an almost totally white flower in the black and white version. To achieve this, I just dropped a Control Point over the pink areas in Silver Efex Pro, and increased the brightness. This basically turned the pink to white. Then, once I’d changed one spot, I held the ALT key while dragging the Control Point to the next spot, and repeated until I’ve whitened them all. It was probably a twenty second job.

Pink and White Rose (original)

Pink and White Rose (original)

There are a couple of bits of texture left, but I like the look and it really is easy to achieve once you are used to making this kind of photograph. Again, because the background is just shades of green, it was also very easy to just take them down to almost black.

Beautiful Flower or Viscous Alien?

After spending an hour or so in the rose garden, we walked around to an area of the park where they have a wide range of Dahlia flowers at this time of year. Here once again, after the black and white conversion, I reduced the Clarity of the entire image in Lightroom, then brushed some back in over the centre of the flower, to enhance the overall softness, but then really draw attention to the centre of the flower.

Secret Dahlia

Secret Dahlia

I like this because I feel that the image can be read in a number of ways. If I want to see the softness and simple beauty of the flower, it’s right there, but because of the sharpness of the centre petals, I can almost imagine this being the teeth of a piranha fish, or an alien mouse shooting out from the flower. I don’t necessarily want you to see that in the photo, but I always find it fun when I can read multiple meanings from a single photograph.

Next up, let’s take a look at the original image first (below). Again, this is a dahlia plant, and I was continuing to look for specimens without blemishes and keeping my eye out for a nice clear background. I wanted to quickly mention here that with the diffuser that I mentioned earlier, you can also use the black cover, and hold it behind the flower, to almost create your black background right there in camera. That does take away the option of leaving some texture as I did in the conversion that we’ll look at shortly, but this is an option I sometimes use.

Dahlia #2 (original)

Dahlia #2 (original)

I’m sure that especially with this photo, you will agree that it’s a very plain, boring image in colour. Here though is the black and white version of this photo (below). Do make sure that you click on this image to view it at the largest web size available, as the texture in this photo just blows me away. Again this was shot at f/4, and because I was now in the shade as the sun was almost on the horizon at the end of the day, the ISO was up at 1000 for a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second. I like to keep the shutter speed up, because the flowers were blowing around in the breeze a little, so I was timing my shots during moments of stillness, but still, they were often not totally still.

Dahlia #2

Dahlia #2

Because of this centralised composition, I could of course flip this for a horizontal photograph, or easily crop down to a 4:5 aspect ratio or even a square crop. I did leave a little of the texture in the background here, as I think it works, and enhances the texture in the dahlia.

Edward Weston Homage

This next image (below) is actually a tighter composition of the same flower, which I also like a lot. None of these images have been cropped in post. These are the compositions right out of the camera.

Dahlia #3

Dahlia #3

I’ve named these two images Dahlia #2 and Dahlia #3, kind of as homage to Edward Weston, as I can’t help feeling a little bit nostalgic about this look, and dare I say, that they kind of remind me of Pepper #30, which is a photograph that probably had a lot of influence over my appreciation of black and white still life images.

Let’s take a look at one last image, which is another that was really all about the colour, so it stayed that way. I called this image Dahlia on Fire (below) because the petals really felt like flames. Once again I soften the image slightly with the Clarity slider in Lightroom, then added the Clarity back to some of the flames with the Adjustment brush, but otherwise this is pretty much straight out of camera too.

Dahlia on Fire

Dahlia on Fire

I know that this is just accepted now, and really not worth raising, but looking through my images from this shoot, I was reminded of just how empowering digital has been to the modern photographer. I shot at five different ISOs, ranging from 400 to 1250, and both colour and black and white.

I’d have needed to change film at least six times to create the seven images that we’ve looked at today, and although I generally know when I’m going to convert to black and white, and when I’m not, having the ability to decide this later is totally liberating. I know I’m probably showing my age now, as many listeners probably never even shot film, but sometimes these are things that I think about.

Have Fun – Staying Productive

So, as I mentioned at the start of this episode, I really wanted to talk about this set today, both to introduce a few theories and techniques that may not have been obvious, but also because I really do find it important to keep options like this simple afternoon in a local park in mind when you have some time, but maybe not enough time to venture further afield.

There was a time when this was one of my main focuses, and venturing further afield would have actually been taking a visit to a park like this, but now, I generally want to go further spending more time on my photography, but that simply isn’t always possible, for a variety of reasons. Most of us though are happy if we have a camera in our hands, so this is a welcome break in an otherwise busy life, and I for one really enjoy this kind of casual shooting.

I hope you agree too that the results are worth it. Having sat on some of these images for a few weeks now, I will be adding some of these to my flowers portfolio, and probably making some of them available for sale as prints and adding them to my stock photography library too, so my enjoyable few hours in the park turned out to be quite productive.

Choose Your Own Medicine

Of course, photographing flowers may not be your idea of a relaxing afternoon. Maybe you’re a street photographer, and need to just identify a few local spots that you enjoy to shoot, or a portrait photographer that needs a model friend or two that you can call upon from time to time. Whatever your medicine, I know this kind of casual shoot can be very satisfying and fulfilling, so I hope you already have a few of these up your sleeve, or are able to find some to feed your soul in the short pockets of time that are sometimes all we have.


Show Notes

Martin’s Flower fine art prints: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/product-category/prints/flower-prints/

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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The Anatomy of a Flowerscape (Podcast 247)

The Anatomy of a Flowerscape (Podcast 247)

In Episode #244 of this Podcast, I talked about a couple of recent trips to a local park here in Tokyo, where I’d one week found myself a little bit dry on the creative front, and then the following week, forced myself to go back to face my demons and reacquaint myself with my creative muse. I had been shooting Flowerscapes, a type of flower photograph that I named, and take pride in shooting.

Also last month, the MBP/WebSpy Photography Assignment theme was Flowerscapes, and I was quite surprised by the reaction to some of the members of the community over this theme. Some people really got it, and went out and got some great Flowerscape shots of their own. Other people didn’t really get it, and came back with basically flower close-up shots or macro images. Although many were very nice photographs, they were not what I would call Flowerscapes, so today, I figured I’d talk a little bit about how the Flowerscapes theme that I’ve been shooting for some five years now came about, and give a few more pointers on what I consider to be a good flowerscape image.

The History of Flowerscapes

So, first a bit about the history of Flowerscapes – although I’d been shooting Flowers for a number of year before this, I remember clearly the day the Flowerscape was born. It was May the 21st, 2005, five years and a day before my revisit to the Showa Memorial Park to face my demons a few weeks ago. It also just so turns out that five years and a day before that, I’d been in the same park, but it was a different field.

The park rotates what they plant in their fields every few years, and five years ago, the Corn Poppies were on the other side of the park, probably about a mile from my recent poppy images. I’d been doing some macro work, and I also went on to shoot with my 24mm Tilt/Shift lens, laying the focus plane down across the heads of the poppies to get each and every one of them in focus. In between these two types of shot though, I reached for my 100-400mm lens and shot image number 636, which you can see right now in the Enhanced Podcast or in iTunes, or on my Podcasts page or blog if you are at a computer.

Poppies

Poppies

I can still remember my excitement as I raised my then 20D camera to my eye with 100-400mm lens fitted and saw the beautiful red poppies, with the afternoon light filtering through the frail petals. This particular patch of poppies was partially shaded by a large tree, which explains why many of the poppy buds and some of the flower heads are dark. This was something else that I was to play with a lot more to this day, using shaded subjects with a bright background for effect, but we won’t go into that today.

One thing I had not yet gotten down in my technique was the shallow depth-of-field. I shot this scene at F8 – I was young and impressionable. Apart from that though, I’d fallen in love with the look. I was probably more excited about what I was seeing through the lens, because of course, unless I hit the Depth-of-Field preview button, the lens aperture would have been wide open, and I would have been treated to a much dreamier looking scene to the one I captured. Only by one stop mind, as this lens stops down to F5.6 at 400mm. This was the start of a love affair with Flowerscapes though, that gets me out on spring and summer, and autumn days, to this day, and hopefully for many years to come.

Fast forward by two and a half years, and I’d figured out that to shoot my Flowerscapes, I needed a wider aperture lens, and to keep the aperture open, as we can see in this image, which I called Cosmos Rhapsody. I didn’t get here in one fell swoop of course. As of May 2010 there are 84 images in my online gallery that are tagged with the Flowerscape keyword, and this image is the 61st out of that 84, so I’d uploaded 23 other flowerscapes before this. It was though another pivotal photo in the history of flowerscapes, and I certainly recall the excitement of looking through the 70-200mm F2.8, and seeing once again, the beautiful quality of late afternoon light, once again filtering through trees. I shot this wide open at F2.8, and it had the dreamy look that I wanted, helped actually by a little bit of flare as the sun hit the front element of the lens.

Cosmos Rhapsody

Cosmos Rhapsody

I’d learned to keep my eye on the edges of the frame more, and although in many flowerscapes you can’t always avoid cutting flowers off at the edge of the frame, you can make sure that the image has an overall balance and pleasing look to it, as I believe I achieved here.

Fast forward another six months, and I was back in my poppy haunt, the Showa Memorial Park, this time shooting what I believe are Icelandic poppies, and my favorite shot of all of these is one that is in my Flowerscapes Fine Art Print Folio, Poppy Heaven. This was shot with the 300mm F2.8 that I bought with one of the main purposes of shooting Flowerscapes in mind. I wanted to get further into a patch of flowers, when you can’t actually step further in. I’d fallen out of love with the 100-400mm since buying the 70-200mm F2.8, and even the 70-200 wasn’t performing as well as I’d like on the sharpness front, when used with the 1Ds Mark III, which is what I was now shooting with as my main camera.

Poppy Heaven

Poppy Heaven

The 300mm F2.8 lens had become my best friend, and is pretty much still my best friend today, although the new 70-200mm F2.8 version II is giving it a good run for its money, with it’s incredible sharpness. They are both F2.8 so I am really enjoying having the flexibility to get in there and frame my Flowerscapes how I want to. I do use other lenses, and I sometimes stick the the 1.4X Extender on them, for added flexibility, but these are probably my two main Flowerscape lenses now.

The Anatomy of a Flowerscape

Dragonfly and Cosmos

Dragonfly and Cosmos

In the Poppy Heaven image I’d really started to explore the idea of having just a huge expanse of vivid bokeh taking up the majority of the frame, with the flower subjects almost taking backstage, although of course the images wouldn’t stand up without the sharp main subjects. I shot this at F3.2, so the Depth-of-Field is tiny. Only the foreground white poppy on the left is totally sharp, but that’s OK, in my book. The idea is to make just a few, or sometimes only one flower swim in a sea of bokeh.

A Flowerscape doesn’t have to be just about the flowers. In September 2008, I shot a number of images where a dragonfly stopped by while I was shooting my Flowerscapes, and I just had to make him the star of the show for a few frames. This was shot with the 300mm F2.8 and the 1.4X Extender, so an effective focal length of 420mm at F4. See how I’ve been mindful of where all the elemsents around the edge of the frame fall? Scan the edges of the frame as you compose your shots, and move forward or back if you are using a prime lens, or zoom in or out to get the most balanced framing. LiveView can really help too, as it enables you to almost see the finished picture while you are shooting. It’s surprising how much easier it is to clean up your composition when you see the image on the LCD as compared to through the finder. You also see how the camera sees the scene too of course, as the dynamic range and color balance is all their on the LCD. Sometimes looking through the viewfinder doesn’t give you this feedback.

Things to Look Out For

One thing that I do a lot when scouting for Flowerscape images is look for subjects of contrasting color. Way back in Episode 31 I spoke about the use of Contrasting or Complimentary Colours. In that Podcast I talked about how colors opposite each other on the color wheel have the most contrast, and colors one third apart are also very complimentary. I’ll put a link to our color wheel in the show notes, but you can literally try this out for yourself. Select colors that are close to the ones in my recent image Lensbaby Blue, and you’ll find that they are one third apart on the color wheel. As the name implies, this was shot with a Lensbaby Composer. This one was one of the few images that I actually liked from my first recent visit to the poppy fields, when I wasn’t feeling very creative. Despite the Lensbaby being an excellent tool, I often find myself reaching for it when I need to mix things up a little bit creatively, as I did on this day.

Lensbaby Blue

Lensbaby Blue

A Flowerscape can be close to a Landscape photograph, as in my image Trees Company (below), from my most recent demon facing visit, where everything just seemed to flow and happen so naturally. Here the flowers don’t even take up half the screen, but it’s definitely still a flowerscape, because the flowers are such a major part of the shot. Without the vivid red across the bottom third to half of the image, it would be nothing at all. I actually did stop down a little for this shot though, to F5.6, as I wanted to give us some more detail in the tree, which was certainly a major contributor to the shot. The main thing to note though is that the depth-of-field is still shallow enough to give us separation between the tree and the background, and for the foreground poppies to go nicely out of focus.

Trees Company

Trees Company

Wild Bokeh

Wild Bokeh

I do like to go crazy with the bokeh though, and although this is not to everyone’s liking, I use foreground bokeh in my flowerscapes, with as much effect if not more than your standard background bokeh, as in this image, Wild Bokeh (right)! Here I positioned myself so that there were a number of poppy flower heads above the poppy horizon line, so they are hanging in the air like balls of fire. Of course, I aligned my main subject, the white poppy, again a contrast in color compared to the surrounding red poppies, so that it is viewed through a nicely balanced opening in the foreground bokeh.

Finally, we’re going to finish on my favorite image from my recent trip, and at this point in time, probably my favorite Flowerscape so far, called Lone White (below). This is one of those shots where I felt that everything came together perfectly. The lone white poppy is surrounded by a sea of red, with just enough green in the poppy buds and seed pods to add a splash of interest. As the breeze blew the poppy heads around, I waited for the red poppy in front of the white one to move almost completely out of the way, but just overlapping slightly. As I tried for this one I obviously shot a number of images, but this one with just a little teasing bit of overlap works best in my opinion.

Lone White

Lone White

There are some flower heads cut off on either side of the frame, but I chose to allow that to happen. I felt that the belt of sharpness worked well going right across the top third of the frame. Note too that I chose the height of my camera so that the dark horizon as the poppy field changed to trees, fell along the top of the frame. I feel this adds balance to the entire image, as do the greens in the bottom corners.

Things to Avoid

Although it can sometimes look at though the bright patches of color are overexposed, especially when they are out of focus and between two contrasting colors, try not to overexpose any of the color channels. Keep your eyes on the RGB Histogram. It can start to look really nasty if you don’t keep your image optimally exposed. By optimally, I don’t necessarily mean zero on your camera’s meter. I generally shoot in manual mode and rarely even look to see where the caret is on the meter scale. All I care about is that I am as close to the right shoulder as possible, for the brightest and most vivid colors, and yet I don’t want to be touching the right shoulder, with any of the channels.

Try not to use deep depth-of-field, unless you really need to. The F8 image that we looked at early was deeper than it should have been, and the F5.6 image that we looked at was only that deep to give us some detail in the leaves on the tree. Any more depth-of-field would have killed that shot. It’s always tempting to go deeper, and I used to bracket my apertures until I was confident that I was simply not using the deeper depth-of-field versions I was going home with.

Make sure you have a definite main subject or subjects. Flowerscapes where there is no color or subject contrast are not as strong as those that have something like the white flower against the sea of red that we just looked at. Even if it’s the same type of flowers, and the same color and everything, look for one that is taller than the others, and set the height of your tripod to accentuate that, or align it with the trunk of a tree or something. Just find a way to make something stand out and you’ll improve the shot no end.

No Rules

At the end of the day though, the most important thing about this and any kind of photography, is to enjoy yourself. These few guidelines are just that, guidelines. There are no rules, and I am certainly making this up as I go along. The more I shoot Flowerscapes, the more I feel I am improving on them, but it’s still very much an open book. If you feel like giving it a bash yourself, knock yourself out.


Podcast show-notes:

Win a Kata 3N1-33 Bag! http://bit.ly/mbpga2

Learning Digital Photography Podcast: http://www.canonblogger.com/

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


Audio

Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.


The Cosmos “Flowerscapes” (Podcast 159)

The Cosmos “Flowerscapes” (Podcast 159)

Following on from last week’s episode, when we looked at some Equinox flower shots from a place called Kinchakuda, I want to look at some Cosmos flower images that I shot at the end of the day in a field near to the Equinox flowers. I was thinking to also look at some white cosmos shots from a few days later, but I didn’t get a chance to finish processing the shots, so I’ll maybe pick up on those in the future at some point. For now though, let’s look at my Cosmos shots, and I’ll talk a little about the composition and make up of each shot, but also using a series of four shots, I’ll talk you through my thought process as I built up the shots.

If you’ve been following my work at all, you may know that I have a passion for dreamy flowerscapes. One of the reasons I splashed out for the 300mm F2.8 lens was to enable me to shoot these images. They can be done with the 70-200mm F2.8 to an extent, but to really pick out a portion of a field of flowers and make it something special, often takes a little more reach, but still with a nice wide aperture, and I’m loving what I’m capturing with the 300mm F2.8.

I was shooting for literally just 25 minutes at the end of the day, as the sun got low in the sky and then went behind the trees on the horizon. The first image that I uploaded from this series of five shots was image number 1933. The quality of light changes dramatically as the sun stops hitting the flowers directly, and in this first shot, I was just getting into my flowerscape mode. What I basically do is walk along the edge of the field, and peer into the flowers, looking for something that stand out to me. Here I’d just found some purple cosmos flowers that were sticking up slightly higher than those around them, which is always a good start. There was also that one tall purple flower in the distance, which was going to help to add interest to the background. I’m also looking for stuff that might clutter the background, as I want nice bokeh without too many distractions. At the Web size, you might not be able to fully appreciate this, but on a large print or a large full screen, the other thing that I’m doing here is basically just giving you lots of points of interest to poor over. When you look into this shot, there is so much on the focal plane that you can search through for quite a long time just enjoying the detail, standing out against the dreamy background bokeh. This is not that great an example though. As I say, I was just getting started here, getting my eye in, and searching for something more.

The Cosmos Cosmos

The Cosmos Cosmos

Bee on Cosmos

Bee on Cosmos

I walked a few meters to the right, and noticed some more flowers that were again, a little higher than the surrounding ones, and so again pointed my lens in their general direction, and set up another shot. In image number 1934, because of the tallness of the two purple flowers to the left, and the nicely position pink flower to the right, I decided to shoot them in portrait mode, as opposed to horizontally in landscape mode. I opened up the aperture from F4 in the last shot, to F3.5 now, and we’re getting slightly dreamier bokeh, and even less distracting background. There are some nice patches of white and pink in the green though, and I now have placed a few flower in the foreground too, helping to add some foreground bokeh, and make the two purple flowers and their stalks stand out much more. Now what we’re getting is much better composition, and if you look, here I was lucky enough to have a bee come in, gathering pollen from the right flower of the two purple cosmos. This is not the one that I was focusing on, and I didn’t have time to refocus, but still, it’s sharp enough to be a nice addition to the shot. Having shot these cosmos images quite often now, I very much welcome a little something extra like this.

This is why I was very pleased as I walked along a little further, and found a dragonfly perched on a Cosmos flower bud that was just about ready to open, and we can see the first shot of this in image number 1935. As I have no control over where the dragonfly is, I now have to start to compose my image around it instead of just basing my composition on where the flowers are. Before this shot, I actually had a bit of flower overlapping the right wings of the dragonfly, and although it looked nice, with the foreground bokeh, I moved to the left just a tad, and gave myself a totally clear view of the dragonfly for this shot. You’ll notice that I have positioned the purple flower in the top left, moved vertically to make it about the same distance from the top of the frame as the side. I also had to step back by about two meters to give myself a bit of space after the flower to the right. I have to admit, I didn’t even see the butterfly that was sitting on that flower when I was setting up the shot. I think it came in for just a few frames, then flew away again, but this adds so much to the final image, especially when printed out, that I felt really lucky that it dropped by to see us. Still at F3.5, there are plenty of things along the plane of focus here to look at, so again this is a great shot to just poor over. I printed this out one night last week at 13×19” and it literally had the hair on the back of my neck standing up, and invoked one of those mad scientist types of laughter as I checked out the detail. The dragonfly is incredibly sharp, and really stands out well. There is a flower between us and the butterfly, making it appear sort of semi-transparent, adding to the whole dreamy effect. The shutter speed for this shot was 1/50th of a second, and the ISO 100. It was a lovely still day, so I didn’t have to contend with the flowers blowing around in the breeze.

Dragonfly with Butterfly

Dragonfly with Butterfly

Although we’re going to go on to look at two more shots, to continue to explore my thought process as I work the shot, this is my favourite. Of course, you don’t always know that you have nailed the shot, and unless you do, I advise you to continue to shoot, as long as time and energy allow. You never know when you are going to improve on your last shot. Sometimes you don’t improve on it, but you can continue to make images of value. Other times, your best shot is so obvious that you know you can pack up and go home, but there are times when it just isn’t obvious, so I keep shooting. After all though, we’re still only talking about a 25 minute session at the end of a day shooting something else here. Still, I think when I do my wrap up of 2008 in December, you will see this as one of my top 5 shots for this year, without a doubt.

Dragonfly and Cosmos

Dragonfly and Cosmos

The dragonfly was staying put, just rotating his head around a little every so often, so trying to increase my portfolio with both vertical and horizontal shots, I flipped the lens around in the tripod mount ring, and started to look for a vertical version. If you get both this shot and the next, image number 1936, up on your computer screen together, or flip back and forth between them now, you’ll see that I have moved back to the left by around a meter or so. In the horizontal or landscape version, there simply isn’t enough in the scene to make the shot interesting. Just a dragonfly alone is wasting an excellent opportunity to make something special. As I rotate around to the left though, it brings in that pale pink flower on the left and the pink flower behind the white one in the last shot, into the left and right sides of the image, in the foreground and background. I’ve mentioned before about taking care of your bokeh, and this is a prime example. Just because something is out of focus, it cannot be ignored, or you’re wasting opportunity. Note too that at this point, I dropped the 1.4X extender or teleconverter between my camera and lens, so I’m shooting at 420mm now, to get in even close and maximize on the elements in the frame. The dragonfly is still over there on the right side, sitting patiently while I finished my shots, and the foreground bokeh has lots of interest with the patches of colour. There are lots of nice semi-focused cosmos flower in the background too, and plenty of detail across the plane of focus.

Finally, in image 1937, now that I have the 1.4X Extender on, I swung a little to the left again to re-include the two purple cosmos flowers from the earlier composition, but this time they are taking up the top left corner, and there’s some nice patches of colour in the bokeh below that along the left side. This is not as good a picture in my mind as the second one we looked at, but still pretty nice with lots of shapes and stuff to look at, and even with the extender, the dragonfly is still incredibly sharp here. As the light dropped, I was shooting at 1/20th of a second now, with F4, the maximum aperture with the extender fitted, so still pleased that there was no wind.

After a Hard Day's Work

After a Hard Day’s Work

I wanted to quickly recap that I am most definitely exposing for the highlights here, which is pretty much a norm for me now. As the light drops, you have to make a choice as to whether or not to show the subject as it is, getting gradually darker, or allow the light to build up a little more, lightening the shot. Sometimes, I use the darkness to add mood, as I recall doing when shooting the Red Crowned Cranes in near dark at the end of 2006. For this sort of shot though, waiting until the sun is below the horizon and allowing the still illuminated sky to light the scene with much less contrast, then using the exposure to bring the colours back out, really works for me. So despite there actually being less light, I still expose the shots so that the histogram just about touches the right edge. This helps to give this dreamy effect, along with the bokeh from using the lens wide open or close to it.

I think that each of these images does stand up by itself, or I wouldn’t have uploaded them to my gallery, but also I thought it would be worth walking you through how the shots evolved through what turned out to be what I think is the best of the batch, and moving through and exploring other possibilities. As I say, sometimes you just know when you have nailed it, and others, you need to explore other possibilities, just to make sure.

On the whole concept of what I’m calling “flowerscapes”, I’m finding that now more than ever, with the resolution of the 1Ds Mark III, and that which many more will be enjoying soon with the 5D Mark II, I’m tending to enjoy the details within the details. I’ve enjoyed shooting these flowerscapes for some time now, but as we get more and more resolution, it is just so much more gratifying to peer, well, actually almost delve into the details of a good quality print. Although I still enjoy Macro work, I’m finding more enjoyment in looking at the detail in the dragonfly as a much smaller portion of a larger scene, than just a close-up of the dragonfly. It’s like the crane dancing in the distance in one of my shots from Hokkaido in January 2008. Having the resolution to be able to look up close and count all of the wing feathers on a bird only 12mm tall on a 13×19” print is just something else. It’s changing my photography, and the only thing that I am not happy about, is that the only way you can appreciate this in my photos without buying a print, would be for me to publish the full sized images on line. This I’m never going to do of course, but the Web version just does not do them justice, which is frustrating, but that’s how it is I guess.

Just a few more things to add before we close. One is that I’ve tagged a whole bunch of flower shots in my online gallery at martinbaileyphotography.com with the flowerscape keyword. I’ll put a link into the show-notes to display all of the tagged images. I’m not suggesting that you look at them all, but if you are interested, take a look at the thumbnails, and open a few that you want to see more of. The reason I’ve done this, and the reason I thought it might be interesting to you is just to see how our photography evolves over time. It was interesting to go through my flowers album and see which could be tagged. Actually having done an initial tagging, I went back through and removed the ones that just didn’t fit in the list, and there was a lot, despite me trying to shoot this sort of image for a few years now. I do another cull as I release this episode, as some that remain still don’t fit for what I’m dubbing flowerscapes. Another thing I noticed was how much better these shots have become since getting the 70-200mm which took them much further than my first attempts with my 100-400mm lens, then in turn, how much better these shots have become now I’m shooting many of them with the 300mm F2.8. People will tell you that it’s not about the equipment, but I can tell you, it’s all about the equipment, when you have a specific purpose in mind. I agree that we should not get hung up on gear, for gear’s sake, but if you have a clear problem to solve to realize your vision, then it may be that you have to pick up something to help you achieve that. These shots are simply not possible with your kit lens standard zoom. Sure, I feel lucky in that I am able to add lenses like this to my kit, but as I do, I realize more and more that it’s so much more about the equipment than many would like to admit.

So that’s it for this week. Let’s wrap it up there, with one quick reminder to look at the mbpworkshops.com Web site if you are interested in joining me in Hokkaido for a nine day photography tour and workshop shooting wildlife and winter landscapes in the best location for this type of photography on the planet. For those that cannot make the full nine days, there’s a drop out option in the middle of the fifth day, after the majority of the wildlife shooting is done. For full details, check out the mbpworkshops.com web site.

And with that, all that remains to be said is you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye-bye.


Show Notes

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Equinox Flowers Revisited (Podcast 158)

Equinox Flowers Revisited (Podcast 158)

September 23rd is a national holiday in Japan, to celebrate the autumnal equinox. Those that have listened to archives, or have been following this Podcast for a while might remember that I spoke about an Equinox Flower shoot two years ago, in which I showed you seven photos from a day at Kinchakuda in the Saitama Prefecture, shooting these enchanting yet somewhat strange looking flowers. Those shots were made on Sept 24, 2006, one day after my visit actually on the equinox this year. It amazed me then how impeccable the timing of these flowers was, to bloom right on the equinox, and obviously where they got their name from. Anyway, today, two years on, I want to take another look at some photos from my visit, and talk about my thought process while shooting, and some things that have changed over the last few years.

Talking of how things get their names, the place Kinchakuda gets its name from the shape that the river that flows through the area makes. Kinchaku means a pouch, like a cloth bag with a pull-string to close the mouth of the bag up, and da means a rice field. If you look at the shape that the river makes from above, you can see that it winds around the edge of a hill on the other side, making a shape very much like a pouch, or kinchaku, and in the middle there are rice fields. Now, there are fields of flowers surrounded by woods with the equinox flowers in them, but I imagine when this place got its name, the entire inside of the pouch shape was rice fields or some sort of farmed land.

Sea of Red #1

Sea of Red #1

Let’s take a look at the first shot from the day, which is image number 1914. For those of you that are new to the Podcast, just a quick mention that if you are listening to the Enhanced version, you will now be able to see the image on your iPod screen or if you are listening in iTunes, you will be able to display and then click the thumbnail in the bottom left to show the image on your computer. If you listen to the mp3 version, and want to follow along with the image, find this episode on the Podcasts page at martinbaileyphotography.com and click on the thumbnails, or enter the number that I call out for each image into the “Go to Photo” field in the Podcasts menu at my Web site and hit enter or click the Jump button. That will magically transport you to the page that displays the image we are talking about. So once again, right now we’re looking at image number 1914.

Here we can see an equinox flower singled out against the trunk of a tree. In my usual style, I’ve used a very shallow depth-of-field to isolate the flower further. This was shot with my 300mm F2.8 lens wide open, at F2.8. Note that I positioned the flower in the top left third intersection. I know that the rule of thirds can be overdone, but it is still a very effective way to think when composing a shot, and very much worth bearing in mind. Centering things rarely works. Also here note that there is a second trunk in the distance, that fall on the right third line, adding balance to the top of the image. The rest of the shot is pretty much just a sea of bright red bokeh, which is the out of focus areas of the shot. There are gaps in the foreground flowers though allowing us to see the green stems of the surrounding equinox flowers, which I really like too.

So, as I said in the introduction, I’d like to talk a little bit about what’s changed over the last few years, and this has actually come up in the forum again over the last few days in response to a question from a forum member. It was also on my mind recently following hearing fellow Photocast Network Podcaster Paul Giguere talk about LiveView in a recent Focus Ring Podcast. When I first heard that the 1Ds had LiveView, some of you will remember that I slammed it, saying that I would never use it. It seems that the person that asked the question in our forum had never used it either, and Paul mentioned that he would not use it, because he couldn’t imagine composing shots on a DSLR with the camera held out in front of him, using the LCD like a compact digital. This is exactly what I thought too, before I had it. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I still don’t use LiveView to hold the camera out in front of me to compose the shot. Unless the camera is in a very awkward position and I simply can’t get my eye to the finder, and an angle finder won’t work either, I pretty much always set up the shot using the traditional finder, and I’ll get focus to where I think it needs to be too like this. But, it didn’t take me long after buying my 1Ds, my first camera with LiveView, to figure out that this was a serious focusing aid. Especially when you are working with very shallow depth-of-field, as I often do, you can jump into LiveView, and fine tune the focus manually, by zooming in to 5X or 10X magnification on the LCD, and turning the focus ring on the lens. I mentioned this is Episode 139 as well, but it really is a big help when focusing on stuff that you might otherwise miss. Of course, autofocus will get you close, and often spot on, but having the ability to check and fine tune definitely helps.

Spider on Orange

Spider on Orange

After shooting a horizontal version of the last shot too for posterity, I walked a little further along the path through the woods with the flowers in, and stumbled across image number 1916. A few meters into the flower patch there was this spider, just hanging around, lying in wait in his web. I put my 1.4X extender onto my 300mm lens, giving me a focal length of 420mm at F4, and composed this shot so that the background was all red equinox flowers, and the spider’s web ran diagonally down the frame, exiting exactly on the bottom right corner. I stopped down the aperture a little to F5.6 so that some of the strands of the spider’s web were also visible, and again used LiveView to fine tune the focus to get the spider as sharp as tacks. I was using Highlight Priority, so my ISO was raised to 200, but I needed it anyway, as my shutter speed was pretty low here, at 1/25th of a second. The breeze was blowing the web slightly, so I really didn’t want to risk going any slower than that, and indeed a few of my shots suffered some subject motion blur, so I was pushing it a little here. Of course, I was using a tripod, so camera stability was not a problem. Anyway, one thing to note is that the red flowers, being lit by the sun were pretty over exposed but because they were so out of focus the highlights and the reds combined to just make the background go more into an orange colour than red, which makes for a nice bright slightly mottled background for this shot. I had to over expose the background of course, so that I could get the spider with those beautiful yellow markings with the splash of red on the abdomen correctly exposed. I could have used a spot of flash, but firstly, I didn’t have one, and secondly, I could get away without it, and when that’s possible, I usually don’t bother with flash.

I’m a big proponent of keeping your eyes out for stuff that’s a little out of the ordinary and little details that most people miss. An example of this might be image number 1920. As I wandered along, I noticed this little mushroom hiding amongst the stems of the equinox flowers. It was quite close to the rope that marks the edge of the flower patch, and keeps people out, so my 100mm Macro would have gotten me too close. I went with my 24-70mm F2.8 lens for this shot, at 70mm, so that I could capture the feeling of giant stems surrounding this little, somewhat unsuspecting mushroom. With the camera hand-held, and very low to the ground here, I used the Angle Finder C to compose the shot, looking down into it from above the camera. I shot this at F3.2 and I raised the ISO to 400 to get a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second. I wanted a relatively fast shutter speed because I was shooting hand-held, and even though I had my forearms on the ground for stability, I had my hands in a bit of an awkward position to get this composition. I also cropped the top 5 or 10% of the shot away, because I found the parts of the red flowers that were more in focus in the foreground to be a little distracting. With this crop all of the red is soft and out of focus, enhancing the feeling that the tops of these flowers is pretty high up, maybe higher up than they actually are.

Mushroom Among Giants

Mushroom Among Giants

Again, keeping an eye out for something that stands out, every so often there are white equinox flowers, which make a nice change amongst the red ones. Here, in image number 1921, I used the 70-200mm F2.8 lens at 200mm to get in pretty close to the white one, and give me lots of nice bokeh around it. I actually stopped down to F4.5 for this, as I was still pretty close, and wanted much of the white flower inside the depth-of-field. I positioned myself with a patch of red in the foreground for that nice patch of dreamy foreground bokeh too, and of course across most of the left of the frame there’s a tree trunk, which to me adds some balance, like a dark side to an image with a bright other side. There’s some nice texture in the bokeh of the tree too. If you are wondering why I changed lenses three time here, when I shot the last image at 70mm with my 24-70mm F2.8 lens, then used the 70-200mm F2.8 lens for this shot, bear in mind that the 70-200 does not have a particularly close minimum focus distance. The 24-700mm can focus as close as 38cm, whereas the 70-200mm cannot focus any closer than 140cm, or 1.4 meters. So, for the last shot, without going to macro, the only option was the 24-70mm.

White Equinox Flower with Tree

White Equinox Flower with Tree

Let’s move on to image number 1923. The tree trunks make nice graphic shapes as they jut out from the sea of equinox flowers. As people walked past, many of them looked at my composition with LiveView on my LCD, as I waited for the sun to hit just the right part of the scene before I tripped the shutter. Some people stop and ask if they can take a look and actually get right up and inspect the image, and others just take a glance, and around 5 people said as they walked past “including the tree trunks will make for a nice shot”. One elderly gentleman, seeing me with my 300mm F2.8 lens, said to his wife as they walked past, “you have to shoot these things wide angle to get a good shot”. I don’t mind this of course, and everyone unto their own, but I can’t help thinking that the majority of people were going home with just photos of the red flowers, with no other elements of interest in the frame, or really wide angle shots, which would be nice to see what the area looks like, but to me are not going to help you to appreciate the beauty of the flowers, and the graphic elements that these trunks can make. One other problem of course is that there are foot paths that guide people through these small woods, and it is very difficult to get anything wide without lots of people also being in the frame. For snaps, or as I say, to capture a sense of place, this would be fine, but for what I’m trying to do here, I really don’t see a point in going wide. Anyway, using the tree trunks like this really helps to add a graphic element and give you something to look at in addition to the flowers. They also help to guide our eye through the shot, so it is definitely worth considering adding these things strategically in your compositions. There was plenty of light at this point, so down to ISO 100, I shot this wide open at F2.8, with the 70-200mm, for 1/500th of a second.

Two Trunks

Two Trunks

Trunks in Sea of Red

Trunks in Sea of Red

Another example of using the trunks as graphic elements is image number 1924. Again shot wide open at F2.8 at 165mm, I composed this with a few tree trunks leading off into the distance, and actually going over to the green trees at the edge of the river that winds around this pouch shaped patch of land. I did shoot some smaller aperture versions of a few of these images, but really just always find the wide aperture versions more to my liking. I’d rather have my eye focused on one part of the shot, and the rest be soft, with shapes or dreamy bokeh making up the background and sometimes the foreground too. Much of this day was spend just waiting for small gaps in the hordes of people walking through the scene, and then snapping my shots in small batches as I could.

Equinox Photographer

Equinox Photographer

 

I couldn’t help refocusing and shooting image number 1925 though, as this guy stopped to take a few shots right between some trees in the back of my shot. You can see here how the path works its way through the flowers, and that is usually where there are four or five people walking through the scene. I shot these two images at ISO 200 for 1/60th of a second by the way.

Red Heads

Red Heads

The way the light plays on these flowers makes a huge difference to the shots. In image number 1928, I’d waited until the light was catching the flower at the top of the frame, but not hitting the flowers behind that. This makes the strands that are the stamen of the flowers stand out more, as we can see here. I have a few other versions of this shot where the light is totally different, and the shots take on a really very different feel. With the whole scene in shade for example, I increased the exposure to get the flowers all nice and bright, but the light was so even it didn’t really do a lot for me. For this I used the 100mm F2.8 macro lens, with the aperture set to F4 for 1/250th of a second exposure, at ISO 200.

Let’s take a look at image number 1931. This is another shot where I’ve included the tree turn, but was attracted to this shot by the way in which the flower seems to be peeking out from behind the tree trunk. Here again we can see that I’ve used the light catching the main subject, and the fact that the background is not directly lit to add contrast to the main subject.

Shy Equinox Flower

Shy Equinox Flower

There are some nice patches of brightly lit flowers at the top of the frame though. Finally, to see how this relationship changes, let’s also take a look at image number 1932, in which we can see the same subject, though I’ve moved in a little closer, but this time none of the scene is directly lit. I still like this shot, but you can see that it is much flatter in contrast compared t the last one where parts of the scene were directly lit. This was shot at F4 for 1/30th of a second, compared to 1/80th of a second at F4 for the last shot, which that means there’s one and a third of a stop difference in exposure between the two. I was shooting in Manual mode as I do most of the time, so the adjustments were manual of course, but I thought it was worth noting the difference.

From Behind the Tree Trunk

From Behind the Tree Trunk

We’ll start to wrap it up there for today. There are some 24 images that I uploaded from this day’s shoot in Kinchakuda, with the last five being of the Cosmos flowers that are in a few of the fields inside the pouch shaped area now. Cosmos flowers are one of my favourite subjects at this time of year, and we’ll probably take a look at these and some other shots from a shoot last Saturday in next week’s Martin Bailey Photography Podcast.

So, before we finish for today, one piece of news that I wanted to share with you is that I have started to use Twitter. I’m finding it pretty interesting, both to write a few comments about what I’m doing through the day, and also follow others, which is basically what Twitter is all about. Anyway, if you want to follow me, as they say, just type http://twitter.com/MartinBailey into your browser address bar, or go to Twitter.com and search for Martin Bailey. I’ll put a link into the show-notes too. It will give you a bit of insight as to what I’m up to through the week if you are interested. I look forward to adding you to the list of people that I am following too, so that I can see what you’re up to as well.

Also, note that I have completed the plans for the 2009 Hokkaido Photography Tour and Workshop, so if you are interested in joining us for the photography experience of a lifetime, take a look at mbpworkshops.com or mail me at workshops@martinbaileyphotography.com for details. Apart from that though, all that remains to be said is thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye-bye.


Show Notes

You can find me on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/MartinBailey

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