A rainy day, overcast sky providing that "giant softbox" look of light from almost all directions, and flowers highlighted by drops of moisture with no effort required on my part - what could be a more perfect invitation to wander about with a macro lens?
When apple blossoms spring forth around here, they only present one or two minor impediments to making a good close-up photograph. The branches are quite high, so getting a high enough camera position can call for a fully extended tripod (including center column, not ideal for stable support) and a step ladder (cheaper and less technical hassle than a remote viewing system). Also, they are prone to sway like crazy in the slightest breeze. So I played a waiting game this afternoon, and caught this at a moment of minimal motion.
[Canon 5D MkIII, EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS macro, f/11 @ 1/50 sec., ISO 320]
[...and none of the above is really important, but some of you like to know...]
I paid a visit to the Raulston Arboretum Tuesday, with one aim being to experiment with focus stacking. This is a technique that can enable shooting high magnification subjects (small objects shot from very close) with the whole subject, front to rear, in focus. Before digital photography permitted the blending of multiple exposures, the limitations of optics meant that only things which were pretty close to flat could be rendered fully sharp when the camera was really close. Think of stamp or coin photography compared to very tiny insects or flowers, which could be tack sharp in the areas closest to the lens but had to be allowed to "go soft" as their shapes bent just fractions of an inch further from the lens. Ah, the wonderful days of film photography!
Well, as often happens when I set out with one goal in mind, I became diverted to other pursuits along the way. However, my first image of the day did indeed involve focus stacking, though not of the sort I might do with a single tiny object. Instead, I found nice shapes and light at the top of a flowering bush, and wanted to capture that part of the plant with clarity, but wanted the background as soft as possible. I used the long end of a 100-400 zoom, near its closest focusing distance and widest aperture. This gave the desired background effect, but would not have come close to getting all of the nearby twigs and flowers in focus. Depth of field is very limited with such a long focus lens. So, I made three exposures (on a tripod), with each focused slightly differently. In Photoshop®, I then combined them to get the areas of clarity I wanted, a reasonable transition to softness, and the soft wash of color behind it all.
Lower in the same bush, bees were active. I couldn't resist sticking my nose in there and getting a few shots. No focus stacking possible with living, moving creatures!
These bee photos stand up to cropping and enlargement pretty well. Here's a version taken from the shot above.
Next I tried some of those tiny flowers that sometimes seem to call for heroic efforts to get them in focus. I did a stacking experiment, but in terms of artistic effect I decided I preferred these two straight shots (i.e. single exposures), with limited portions emphasized by their clarity while others were left blurred and highlighted the translucency and delicacy of structure.
The next flower was above my eye level, but a nearby staircase let me get a view from above. Here too, I tried a stack of shots to let me render the whole bloom sharp, but I like this version with detail and texture in the front and softness in the back.
To round out my journey, I studied a plant that became dormant over the winter and may or may not spring back from its geophyte. Here too, the idea of stacking shots to get every bit of detail in focus occurred to me, but I think that the gradual softening as leaves curve further away from the plane of focus helps to strengthen the feeling of depth and solidity.
I did make use of a bit of supplemental illumination from an off-camera flash, to emphasize the textures that were so much a part of what intrigued me. Here are three successively closer compositions:
I made a trip to the shores of Jordan Lake in the early evening, hopeful that the clouds would continue to be interesting and perhaps contribute to sunset color. I staked out a position near the exposed roots of this tree, and used it to block most of the still intense sun, which was staring me in the face. The young fellow on the left seemed to be skipping a rock on the water surface. The jet contrail balanced the shapes of the tree branches.
Satisfied that I had at least one good vantage point for sunset shots, I explored a swampy area behind me, which gave virtually perfect reflections and made this composition possible:
The shot above was converted to black and white, then given a differential toning of the shadows and highlights. Reclining nude?
Back to my chosen tree as the sun neared the horizon and the clouds swirled in the high altitude winds.
I caught a bird flying into a scene that I set up, but did not have time to alter camera settings to freeze the rapid motion. Had I prepared for the possibility, a pop of flash might have turned the anonymous silhouette into an identifiable species. I'm still glad for the movement it adds to the scene, though, and I think some amount of blur is appropriate to the mood. The paintbrush sky was amazing.
In this broader view, you can see that the orange tones were concentrated in a narrow band, contrasting with the blue that persisted.
The sun's last gasp may have elicited a gasp from me!
[Canon DSLRs and various lenses, all manual exposure settings]
An afternoon trip to my current favorite lake yielded a few fun photos. I set out mostly with the idea of getting some practice at catching birds in flight, and there were some chances for that. However, my first subject was a long lineup of turtles.
I saw three herons. It's not easy to get close to them, but I started my stalking with one camped out in a marshy section.
Coming in for a landing!
Another view of the turtles:
A flight path over mostly clear water! Far away though, so this next group of shots is heavily cropped despite being shot with 600mm focal length.
Keep away from my fishing area!
Turtle in motion:
And a duck in the distance to end my excursion.
[All photos shot with Canon EOS 1DX, 300/2.8 L IS II, with or without Ext. 2X III]