Before we start, note that the May assignment marked the end of the six month batch of assignments which our sponsors WebSpy kindly provided prizes for. All of the prizes are now sent out, and the new prizes for the next six months batch of assignments have been announced. Topping the list is a new Sony Alpha NEX-5 Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with an 18-55mm Lens. I am seriously considering picking up one of these babies myself. Great camera!
For second place, we have an X-Rite ColorMunki Photo, to ensure that your entire digital workflow is calibrated, from capture to print. Also helping with part of that is the third prize, which is an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. In fourth place, I have thrown in a Fine Art Folio of the winner’s choice, from my collection of folios that you can see at mbpfolios.com. And in fifth place, I’ve also chipped in a Fine Art Print of the winner’s choice, to be selected from any image in my online gallery at martinbaileyphotography.com. I’ll put a link to the blog post with the prizes listed into the show-notes. Thanks again to WebSpy for continuing to sponsor the assignments and enabling us to provide such great prizes!
May Assignment – “Flowerscapes” Winners
So, let’s take a look at the May Flowerscape Assignment winners now. In third place, was Allen Oneal, with his wonderful flowerscape image, “Artistic Handcuffs”. Now, Allen didn’t provide a back-story, so all we have today is my thoughts on the shot, and the first thought is that I have no clue as to where the title of this image came from. I’d be saddened if it is some sort of a reference to being forced to create art that Allen didn’t want to create, just to stay in the running for the six month prize, as Allen was one of the prize winners, due to the success of this and some of his other great images. I hope I’m just reading too much into this, but I can’t find anything else in the image that I can relate to handcuffs.
Anyway, it is a beautiful image, and most certainly a flowerscape in my definition of the term. The orange flowers, probably poppies, stand out really well against the green background, and the smaller white flowers add a nice contrast as well. I also really like the grass seeds that we can see in the bottom right corner. I found myself working with seeds like this during my May Flowerscape shoots, so I can really relate to this additional element. They add a certain graphic texture that flowers and flower stems alone don’t necessarily have.
Flowerama (© Allen Oneal)
From a Flowerscapes perfectionist point of view, the only thing I would have done differently here is to try to frame the image so that the long flower stem in the background didn’t run diagonally across pretty much the entire length of the image. It’s not a huge problem, but I personally find that distracting. Otherwise, this is a great effort on Allen’s part here, so congratulations on a very worthy third place.
Next up, in second place we have Dan Newcomb’s take on the theme, with “Under The Moonlight”. We do have a great back-story from Dan, so here goes with that before I jump in with my comments.
Under the Moonlight (© Dan Newcomb)
Under The Moonlight Back-Story
I’m thrilled to have placed in the top 3 for this assignment. I know it was an unconventional take on the theme and I really didn’t know how well it was going to be received. Dennis definitely deserved the win with his awesome photo. Now that’s a flowerscape! There were so many absolutely silky smooth images, it sure motivates me to try them again in the near future. Thanks to each and every one of you for the votes! Thank you Martin, and of course WebSpy, for sponsoring the really cool prizes.
When I read the theme was flowerscapes and looked at the sample photos, I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. Martin is the undisputed master of this kind of photography and with his skilled technique he almost makes it look easy. I’ve only shot flowers a few times and those were macro photos. I’m way out of my comfort zone on this one. I really don’t know flowers all that well. I could probably name only 6 or 7 flowers and identify maybe half of those by site.
Over the next day or so a vision popped into my head. It was a shot of two flowers with the moon in the background. The two flowers would be in an embrace with a third being dejected off to the side. It stuck with me for the next week or so until I decided to open paint on my computer and attempt to draw it. Here is the image I drew.
Flowerscape Diagram (© Dan Newcomb)
It’s not the best drawing; I guess that’s why I’m a photographer. I believe the idea popped into my head because of a podcast I had heard a few months back. I can’t remember who the famous photographer was but he basically said every subject in a photo can have gestures even if they are inanimate objects (I’m sure I butchered what he actually said). I had been thinking of that lately and I suppose two and two makes a fake scene with fake flowers.
May happened to be a rather busy month and time just flew. I was hoping to get it done on the weekend before the deadline but I ended up going out of town and wasn’t able to shoot. Late Sunday night I realized I only had one more day to shoot. On Monday after work I grabbed a 50 pound bag of sand to make the hill. I stopped at my favorite dollar store and picked out two styles of fake flowers. One was a rose style but I couldn’t tell you what the other one was. Because of the no cutting & pasting rule I knew I would use a photo for the background. When I got home I printed a 24×37″ picture of the moon. The only problem was I hadn’t used the printer in a few months and my gray cartridge had ran out and the photo came out looking mostly black and white. I carried on and taped it on a piece of Styrofoam. It had been raining all day but suddenly the sun started shining. I had second thoughts about the whole setup so I grabbed my camera and headed for a park. I searched a few different locations and only managed to find a couple of semi decent flower scenes. I used my 300mm f2.8 and my 50mm f1.4 to get the shallow DOF. It started raining again but I managed to get a few possible keepers. When I got back home I checked the photos and only ended up with one possible keeper.
Flowerscape (© Dan Newcomb)
I decided to continue with the setup shot. I put a 3’x3′ chunk of wood on a short table. I didn’t want to pile the sand too high so I took a garbage bag and stuffed it with rags, shaped it like the hill and placed it on the wood. I poured about 1/3 of the bag of sand over top of it. I then propped up the photo behind it. After that I placed the flowers where I wanted them and set up my D700 with the 70-200 f2.8 lens. Up to that point I didn’t have a plan on how I was going to light the scene. I didn’t have too much room behind the set so I decided to try light painting. I took my multi LED flashlight and tried a few test exposures. I always like to shoot at the lowest ISO possible and with that camera it meant 200. I quickly learned I needed to stop down a bunch as I was blowing away the scene. F10 seemed to work so that is what I went with. By this time it was about 2 hours until the deadline.
The flashlight had a rather wide beam so I taped an empty toilet paper roll over the end. This helped a lot when trying to control where the light was pointing. Over the next 40 minutes I tried different painting angles and varied the amount of time I exposed each part. For the light coming from the moon I had the flashlight just above the moon and pointed at the subjects. I stopped to upload the photos twice to see the exposure and focus was OK. The photo that I ended up using was taken 1 hour before the deadline (the time on my camera is an hour off, I’ll have to fix that). In total I probably attempted the light painting 30 times until I finally had it right. In post I did a little burning a dodging and played a bit with the saturation. The cool thing about using the LED flashlight is it gave my moon a blue hue. That was a bonus!
I uploaded the photo right at the deadline. I forget who wrote this but someone said a few months ago that the last photo usually posted for an assignment is Mr Nikon. Well as I replied at the time, it’s not planned as some sort of strategy; I just always seem to run out of time. I definitely felt rushed on this one. If I had more time I would have set up the scene a little better. I wanted the track marks left behind by the flowers on either end to be more pronounced. The right one looks more like a shadow. I also would like to have the left flower in more of a question mark shape. It is what it is I guess.
I must say that I was very nervous about posting this photo. I really didn’t know how the voters would receive it. Different isn’t always good. It was about as far away from the examples as possible. Fake scene and fake flowers. I am amazed it placed so well with all the wonderful flowerscapes that were posted. Thank you all again for the votes! It was just enough to keep me in the top spot for the 6 month totals. I feel very honored and it means a great deal to me. In the end I’m happy I stuck with my original vision. It was a great 6 months with lots of challenging themes. Now onto the next 6 months!
Thanks so much Dan for the detailed back-story! Dan also provided a link to a short video on YouTube, in which he shows his set up and an example of how he did the light-painting. I’ll put a link in the show-notes and on the blog for those that are interested. I do suggest you check it out.
Now, I have to be totally honest with you here, I actually didn’t vote for Dan’s image this time, for the reasons that Dan points out – this isn’t a Flowerscape and they aren’t real flowers. I didn’t say that they had to be, so I’m certainly not worried about Dan’s approach, and as usual, I really like the way Dan takes the themes and takes them to the extreme. I should also say too that I love the photograph, but I decided to select and vote for images that were real Flowerscapes.
I am as ever though totally impressed with the amount of work that Dan puts into the assignments, and his vision is simply incredible. The most important thing to note here though is that you, the community, voted enough to put Dan’s image in second place, so really Dan, congratulations on your placing for this shot, and for winning the overall six month assignment. From the first few months it seemed obvious that you were going to be placed, although many people did give you a run for your money, and it was a close call in the end, but you really deserve your win.
On the image itself, I love the idea, of having the two flowers close together in front of the moon, and the third flower scorned flower down the hill, as sad as can be. You really told a story here. Also, although I though your flowerscape was very nice too, I think the risk you took in going with your fake flower shot paid off. I’m sure you’d have got lots of votes with your straight shot, but taking it to the extreme probably paid off, which shows that you know how our community thinks as well. Overall, you did a great job as usual. Congratulations once again.
In first place, we had Dennis Brennan, with a wonderful Flowerscape called “Chaotica”.
Dennis Brennan’s Back-Story
Wow – first place in this assignment far exceeds what I expected watching the images roll in over the month. At the end of the month, I was just hoping to get enough votes to not drop out of the top 5 in the 6 months standing. Thanks so much to everyone that participated. I am truly honored to come out on top in this one. Congratulations to Dan and Allen for their success – well deserved top spots. Dan’s image is (as usual) so well thought out, different and creative. Allen’s poppies are stunning and so well executed. Beautiful work!
Chaotica (© Dennis Brennan)
There wasn’t really any question for me where to go to shoot a flowerscape. As I’ve mentioned in previous assignments, I live in close proximity to an expansive and well maintained botanical gardens. I tried to reserve Sunday mornings in May to get there early and find a shot for the assignment. The first outing there was fairly bright early morning sun, so I headed inside to find some diffused light. I ended up with image below that I nearly chose for the assignment.
First Flowerscape (© Dennis Brennan)
The third and final outing was during a Lily Festival on the last weekend of the month. Again very bright early morning sun, so indoors was the better choice for more diffused light. Here is one keeper from that morning.
Lily Flowerscape (© Dennis Brennan)
It was the second Sunday that produced the shot I would submit. There were some low clouds and a bit of fog that morning so the light for flowers was looking great outside. The doors opened at 9:00 a.m. and I made a b-line for the area I had in mind. Looking up as I eagerly made my way to the “Flower Garden Walk” section of the outdoor gardens; I could tell I didn’t have long before the sun would burn off what was left of the fog that morning.
They rotate the plantings often, so there are usually different blooms to shoot with almost every visit. I let my eyes wander for a few minutes and came upon a wonderful group of mixed plantings. A mix of Columbines and some experimental Butterfly Bush – exactly the type of thing I had in mind for the assignment. The colors all worked so well together – the Columbines are the reds and yellows, and the blue/violet is the Butterfly Bush. The Columbines were just beautiful, with their form and the way the blooms sat in different directions, it almost created a sense of movement. Like little flowery creatures buzzing around in the bokeh soup. Ordered chaos at its finest! I set up a couple of different shots in about 20 minutes of shooting and luckily got something I could use before the sun broke through. Literally minutes later, the good light was gone.
Thanks again for all the votes! A big thanks to WebSpy for the prizes and for the continued support. And lastly, worlds of gratitude to Martin for not participating in this one. No way any of us would have had a chance against the master flowerscapist!
Hee hee, you’re too kind Dennis. I love your winning shot too Dennis. This is another one that really does qualify as a Flowerscape. I personally prefer the first example image that you provided. This to me looks cleaner and more orderly, but as your chosen title suggests, I can see how you concentrated on creating chaos in your winning image, and that paid off of course, with the number of votes you received, including my vote I should add.
I think the colors work beautifully here, with the violet color standing out nicely against the yellow, with those few splashes of well controlled red too – very nice indeed. Again though, being a bit of a Flowerscape perfectionist, I must add that I probably would have tried to frame this in a way that avoided that dead-head to the right of the frame, either hiding it behind something or framing a different part of the flower patch. Still, as I say, it didn’t stop me or the others voting for this, so it can’t be that much of a distraction. You made beautiful use of the shallow depth-of-field and came up with a classic Flowerscape. Congratulations on a very well earned first place, and for placing for a six month accumulated vote prize too. Great work all the way through these assignments!
So, I would like to thank all of you that took part in this and the last six months of assignments, and for all of you that take the time to select your favorites and vote each month. Remember that the next six months batch has already kicked off with the June assignment which is on Cityscapes, so do make sure you get out shooting for that, and see if you can’t get yourself one of the great prizes that we’ll be giving away in December. I’d also like to thank WebSpy again for their support of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast and for providing the Assignment prizes for the community. I really, really do appreciate it.
Dan Newcomb’s Light-painting Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-9ltgephj0
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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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
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
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
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
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.
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