Whether on the street or in the garden, the goal is to capture what can not be easily percieved. Sometimes it requires a keen sense of human observation while at other times a mere exploiting of the differences between the camera and the human eye. In all cases, it requires judgement – a highly critical evaluation of what makes the subject interesting to observe. For street photography it is about discerning the perfect moment in time with gesture and composition. With images like these flower macros, it is about finding an element elevating it to the point where it cannot be taken for granted.
One of the messages we hear about professional photographers (and many artists in fact) is that they should concentrate on a single thing. You are encouraged to pick your poison – Landscape, Portrait, Flower, Still Life, Street. But as an amateur I can enjoy a 50mm walk through downtown LA on Saturday and enjoy a close up and personal 100mm stop and smell the roses stroll through Huntington Gardens Sunday.
A funny thing happened during our photo walk through Limekiln State Park in Big Sur.
After working a stream off of one trail, we doubled back and headed up a second trail and ran into this lush grove of flowering trillium and clover. We were all a bit tired and hungry. This was day 3 of our photography workshop and we’d been chasing the light up the coast most of the morning running on the standard photographer’s breakfast of granola bars and snacks. In addition, working landscape photography is a difficult task for me. It is something I am working on, but I’m more at home on the sidewalk as a nimble street photographer then a tripod-laden, rock climbing, landscaper.
However, I have been working flower macros for the better part of the last three years with a great deal of emphasis on lining up the planes of objects and using narrow depth of field (as influenced by the spectacular photography of Martin Bailey). So when we found this patch of trillium and clover, while the others decided it was time for lunch, I, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to do a little ego boosting by falling back on something that was more familiar.
I pulled out the 100mm macro, droped by tripod to the ground (I have a Gitzo Explorer tripod that can get you right to ground level) and starting lining up interesting layers of leaves and flowers. When I got to processing them I wanted to do something special and so chose this deep B&W style to bring out their textures and focus the light right onto the blooms.
As we head into wildflower season, I’m thinking about how I can add to this collection.
Yucca Bloom by I Nancy, on Flickr
Each week, I change the wallpaper on my work computer with a recent image. The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate any recent image to see if it has holding power for me. Can I stand to look at this image for the whole week? The process is simple. On Monday morning, I surf on over to my flickr account, pick one of the images I processed and posted during the last week, view all sizes at the largest resolution (usually 1024 on the longest side) and “Set as Desktop Background”. My work computer is not a very ideal place to look at images. It is not calibrated, not in good lighting, and is often projected through a business-purposed projector for meetings which reduces the resolution dramatically. There are images that I have taken down after a day, many where I notice a flaw (or two) that often can either be adjusted in post or convince me that the image is not up to snuff for any serious showing, and a few rare images that I don’t want to ever take down.
This is one of those rare images that I’ve been staring at for almost 2 weeks and it hasn’t lost its luster in my eyes. It is calming, simple, and complex all at the same time. I have grown fond of the white-on-white look and when I can find this in nature, I like to take full advantage. As I worked the plant, I noticed that in certain angles, you could see just one little, yellow, stamen peeking out from surrounding white petals. I liked this peek-a-boo act and the depth it added to the image. Playing with super shallow depth of field, I knew that this had to be the focus point, at it had to be in focus. I placed it in a powerful spot in the image and adjusted the angle to provide pleasing patterns. Even at f/7.1 the depth of field was pretty shallow given my distance to the flower (right up to it) and the distances between the layers of pedals. The bits of purple and green in the image come from areas of the stem showing in between pedals and I liked the contrast and contours they create.
I knew this year, that I wanted to get some interesting images of the local Yucca blooms. they bloom in a big stalk right out of the middle of a set of pointy spears. After the bloom they turn to these big seed pods. I have been concentrating over the past year on really working my subjects. Taking images at different scales and different angles. Here you can see a couple of the other images from this years season of yuccas blooms. These other images are beautiful and capture details in the blooms that most people never take the time notice. However they are not mysterious enough for me. Before the summer is out, I will also take a try at the seedpods.
Yucca Bloom by I Nancy, on Flickr
Yucca Bloom by I Nancy, on Flickr
A Little Dragon by I Nancy, on Flickr
Last weekend, Hutch and I went exploring to Figueroa Mountian in the local Los Padres National Forrest. Last year the wildflowers were tremendous and we hoped to find more of the same this year. We had a beautiful 70-degree day with a few light clouds. Even with all kinds of rain this year, the flowers were disappointing as it seems that this springs dramatic cycles of hot and cold weather has stunted their growth.
We did find a nice field of goldfields with some beautiful, if hard to get to, chocolate lilies (more later). While wandering, looking for the perfect set of flowers, I found little horned-toad crawling in the grasses. To give you a little perspective, the yellow flowers are just tiny goldfields just couple inches high. Mr. Horned was probably no more than three inches long. Here he is stalking through his jungle. Check out the reflection of the wildflower landscape in this little guy’s eye.
Back to the chocolate lilies. This is the first I’ve every really seen of the chocolate lily and they are a challenge to photography due both to their small size and the fact that they bloom facing down toward the ground. They are only about an inch or so in diameter. This is definitley a get on your belly and crane upward sort of shot. Here I was lucky to be able to underneath this cluster with some nice back-lighting, They are quite beautiful and were pristine the day were were there.
My Chocolate Lily Sweet by I Nancy, on Flickr
It is always difficult to pick out your “best of year” images. Last year I started and never finished. This year, at the prompting of my friend Hutch, instead of picking out my best, I’ve picked 9 images that explore my 2010 photography journey with friends. I am an active member of two local photo clubs and, since I must mostly plan my photo outings, there is hardly a significant image where I haven’t also shared the experience with one of them. Happy new year to Hutch, Connie, Jerry, Judy, Roy, Anne, Rachel, Suzanne, Mike, Darrel, Randi, Jeannie, Chuck, Allyson, Art, Joni, Susannah, and of course Chick.
This image represents my first foray into seriously shallow depth of field macros. It was inspired by Martin Bailey, a nature photographer living in Japan. Martin is known for his incredibly beautiful low depth of field flowerscapes taken with 300mm and 400mm lenses at f/2.8. He graciously donated his image Lone White to your Thousand Oaks Photo Group picnic raffle. Whereas Martin often focuses on large gardens or patches of flowers in Japan, what I had at my disposal was smaller patches of wildflowers and blossoms. This image was taken on an overcast day in January 2010 the small Gardens of the World in the center of Thousand Oaks. On this same day I made the image Yellow Expanse which won 1st Place in Flowers at the 2010 Ventura County Fair. (And, no Randi, I don’t do flowers.)
2. Dawn Flight
Each winter for the last couple of years, I ask members of the photo group if they want to hit the Santa Barbara pier at dawn. Each year, something new emerges. In 2009 I made the image Misty Morning. This morning I was with Jerry, Roy, Anne, Jeannie, Hutch, and others. The year before I was working on the birds that fly around the water that catches in a deep spot just in front of the pier. I got nothing. This year, I was working with both long and slow shutter speeds. The birds and the sun cooperated in this abstract image of movement.
3. Fair Noir, Hot Dog
Who takes B&W images at the fair? I do, I do! At the Ventura County Fair with the usual photography suspects: Chick, Hutch, Jerry, Judy, Darrel, Anne, Roy, Rachel, John F., Susannah, and others. We would shoot and lose each other, then find each other, then shoot some more. My mission was to learn the power of the wide angle lens. I had no real intention of turning these into B&W, but when I got to processing them, the B&W brought out all the structure and contrast. I call this series Fair Noir.
4. High Anxiety
This was taken at the Camarillo air show, my first. There I was on the flight line with the TO Photo Group. I was sitting next to, and taking lessons from, the master air show photographer – Hutch. He was using his built-for-action 7D and clicking off frames at 8 frames-per-second – pbrrrrrrrr, pbrrrrrrrr. I was using a terrific 300mm image-stabilized lens that was lent to me by Roy. It was mounted on my built-for-lanscpaces-and-portraits 5dmkII at 3 frames-per-second – ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. Hutch would take a few, chimp, and exclaim his pleasure or displeasure (mostly pleasure) as well as the shutter-speed he was using. I was getting the hang of things. When Chuck Aaron and his Red Bull Helicopter aerobatic act came on I thought I was getting the hang of it as I listen to Hutch tell me how difficult it is to get the blades of the helicopter because they move so slowly. I start shooting and with each shot I lower the shutter speed: 1/250th of a second, 200th, 125th. I’m getting seriously close to loosing it hand holding a 300mm lens. Hutch tells me the secret of switching on the IS. Now at 1/80th, 60th – and eureka – High Anxiety.
5. Dancing Yucca
The guy they call Condor at the local Sierra club tells me that there are 4 hike ratings: Easy, Moderate, Hard, and Tanaka. Nothing deters Suzanne Tanaka from a good hike including winding roads and warmer than usual weather. Summer started late this year with an exceptionally cool July, but by August the heat of the summer was starting to bear down. This day we hiked the 6-mile Mishe Mokwa trail with Suzanne, Jerry, Connie, Chick and by happens-chance met Victor (a friend of Suzanne’s) at the trail head. By all accounts, this is a beautiful trail, but a little warm and we almost lost Jerry and Connie on this trek due to the heat. Dancing Yucca is at a spot about ½ through the hike at the top of a hill. It was a little drier, hotter, and dustier than this image would imply – ah, the magic of white balance.
6. Wall of Wave
What would a year of 2010 remembrances be without an image from The Wave? In late September the 6 Utah Trekkers set out on a week photo-adventure to various points in Utah and Arizona. The trip was built around a mysterious hike to a place called “The Wave” – an enormous sandstone chute out in the wilderness area of Coyote Buttes. They allow only 20 hikers per day and 10 of those permits are given by lottery 3 months in advance. We had but 18 chances to “win” and, our lucky charm, was the one-and-only Jerry “the King”. On September 29th Chick, Connie, Jerry, Mike, Suzanne, and I setout on the 3-mile, each way, trip over hill and dale, and sand dune, and red rock, and more sand, and did I mention the sand, and reached The Wave. It was an extraordinary sight and I wish I was able to do it justice with my lens, but an abstract will have to do.
7. Solitary Hiker
Did I mention that they day we went to the wave it was near 100-degrees? Here a solitary hiker rests at the mouth of the wave. Who do you think that is?
8. Lone Pine Peak
One of Jerry’s favorite places – Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills. When Jerry makes up his mind to visit Lone Pine, nothing stops him. This time he invited his buddies Mike, Connie, and me. It was just a short trip with one goal in mind, the sunrise in the Alabama hills. For people who haven’t experienced the desert southwest, this area must look like the moon with the brown rocks of the Alabama Hills meeting the blue peaks of the Eastern Sierras. The colors were just too distracting for this scene.
9. Happy Holidays – Are You Home Yet?
Even though I was on a landscape shoot, I just can’t stop myself from framing up the city scene. Well, kind of a small town scene. Well, can you imagine a more depressing Holiday scene than this? This is my pick for next year’s holiday card. Happy Holidays – Are you home yet?
I agonized over entering a flower into the Fair competition. Flowers and landscapes are by far the most entered categories (and Sunrise / Sunset I suppose). Also, a couple of years ago I made the now very famous statement to my friends “I don’t do flowers”.