Sunday, May 26, 2013

Changing of the guard

As we approach the midpoint of spring, a new crop of flowers, wild and cultivated, is putting in an appearance. Before moving to some of the examples I photographed today, here is a last look at one of the last happy irises, shot twelve days ago, May 14. It was done at 155 mm with a 70-200. Sometimes you can't beat the flexibility of a zoom lens to get just the right combination of perspective and framing of an image.

Today I did some quick work with my 100 L, trying to create some "atmosphere". Here's a hydrangea in the foreground, with some other flowers in the background blurred into a color wash.

This fingertip-sized bud was asking to be featured and compared with the larger mature blossom near it. The image has not been manipulated in Adobe Photoshop®. I adjusted the raw file's "normal" parameters (exposure, highlights, whites, clarity, vibrance) in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom® to emphasize the impression made by the existing light.

I wonder if I'm the only user of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom who wishes that they had named the "Vibrance" adjustment "Vibrancy". At any rate, this is an excellent feature that Adobe introduced a few years ago. It permits raising (or lowering) the color saturation, but with protection of skin tones (of obvious importance for portrait photographers like me), and generally affecting blues and greens more than reds. Also, for all hues, the Vibrance slider can increase saturation of pale tones while leaving already heavily saturated colors alone, avoiding clipping. (In this context, clipping would mean that the value of one color channel may already be as high as it can go in certain areas of the image, so increasing the color saturation throughout the image would require pushing the value in those areas out of the possible range, resulting in color shifts and flattening of the luminance curve.)

My next version of this same photo did receive some "massaging" in Photoshop. I selected the background and made a new layer in overlay mode. With no change to the foreground, it adds impact through contrast. It may be too much for this one. In print, I would probably choose a compromise between the two versions.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Vacant fruit

When we see these seeds/fruits in spring, they usually have a wasp in residence. This one was vacant, making it a candidate for an indoor portrait. I used three Canon 600EX-RT (radio controlled flash units that can be positioned almost anywhere) to highlight as much texture as I could, as well as showing the microscopic fibers around the stem.

In the first shot, I allowed a slight depression in the front to drop into shadow.

In the second version, I went for a graphic look, using high contrast and an angle that made the most of a two dimensional shape.

For variety, here's a monochrome version, with a fingertip for scale.

The final image is a focus stack of six shots. When magnification is high, it isn't possible to get much depth of field. Flat objects like postage stamps are relatively easy to render with fine detail, but something with depth comparable to lateral dimensions is not likely to be manageable with a single shot. I focused first on the nearest point, then gradually focused farther out for successive images. I then opened the six shots in Photoshop CS6 and allowed the program to blend them, using the sharpest portions of each.

By the way, the background was a very high tech piece of equipment: a black sweatshirt.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Durham Symphony outdoor concert becomes an indoor treat

Sunday, May 19, the Durham Symphony was scheduled to play a free outdoor concert in Hillsborough, NC. Due to rainy weather, the concert was moved indoors, to a gymnasium at Cameron Park Elementary School. A sizable audience packed the room, and did not display disappointment at the change from the al fresco plans. As the official photographer, I have to admit to a little disappointment that I couldn't make use of the natural beauty of trees and grass for my backgrounds, but basketball hoops and lockers didn't pull my focus away from the musicians.

The change of venue didn't interfere with the pre-concert Instrument Petting Zoo set up by High Strung Violins.

Gym lighting is a challenge for photographers. I'll let the concert pictures speak for themselves.

It was very hot in the room, but the energy didn't flag.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Bleuets Are Wet!

Et aussi les framboises...
Hungry for something healthful? Just give me a moment to rinse the dust off these locally grown organic blueberries.

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Handy for throwing at the stage during premier performances of new music in an unfamiliar style.

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You wouldn't do that, would you? But what if you had been at the 1913 premier of Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) - do you think you would have been well-behaved then?
There's an excellent, short article about it here. A little more detail and a good explanation of the "riot" can be found here.

* * *

I suppose I should have saved this post for May 29, the centennial of that fateful day, but I photographed the berries today, so here they are. Also, I performed Rite of Spring last week, and besides, virtual fruit is timeless.

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(If you attended any of the three performances of the Rite by the North Carolina Symphony, I would love to see your comments below!)


The raspberries also got soaked. Don't let that give you ideas about doing "Bronx cheers" at concerts! In creating that link, I learned this can be described as an unvoiced linguolabial trill. Ah, the wisdom I gather in writing this blog!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Flowers and fungi

Sometimes April showers bring May showers, and mushrooms along with flowers. I found these in a school yard yesterday.

Leader of the pack.

Lopsided beauty.

Fenced in.



Broken Symmetry.

All of the photos were made with a 70-200/2.8 lens. Most were shot wide open at f/2.8, except the mushroom was done at f/8 to extend the gritty detail a little further, and "Broken symmetry" at f/5.6 for full sharpness of the flower on the right.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Goldilocks and the Four Focal Lengths

Having photographed irises lately with 600mm (extremely long!), 100mm, and 15mm (extremely short!) lenses, today I settled in with a "normal range" 40mm. An extension tube allowed me to get close for the first two shots. The third shot was intended simply as a record of the triumvirate blooming at once, lording it over the other plants, but in the end I liked the atmosphere enough to include it here.


Saturday, May 11, 2013


I have been trying to keep up with flowers blooming in our neighborhood, hoping to capture some of them when they are fresh and photogenic. If I can't put in the time to do an exploration of details with a macro lens and a tripod, then I look for quick ways to create a fresh perspective. This shot was hand held. A fisheye lens (180ยบ angle of view across the diagonal of the frame) let me get within a few inches of the Bearded Iris while still showing the trees above and the ground below.

The Iris almost seems as connected to the trees as to its own stalk. I decided that was enough reason for a pretentious title: Aspirations. The flower aspires to be as tall as a tree. I aspire to create photographs worthy of the subjects I find. We both have a distance to go...


Friday, May 10, 2013


We walked a greenway and adjacent neighborhood this afternoon, and I carried a 70-200 f/4, perfect for any mid-sized flowers that passed by. One that became almost stationary long enough to be photographed was this rose. I'm not really that self-centered, but sometimes it's useful to think of my camera - rather than the earth I stand on - as the inertial frame of reference. Then too, there's the opposite case, where a subject is moving rapidly across the landscape and I pan the lens to follow. This can almost freeze the subject while blurring the background into a representation of high velocity.

But I was talking about a rose before I distracted myself. Here it is. Oh, and once again, because I've put a horizontal photo near the top of this post, you may want to collapse the blog archive list that flops over the right side of the picture.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

More irises

When I photographed a freshly bloomed Bearded iris May 5, I didn't think it would last very long, and I was right. A day or so later, it was knocked over by a heavy rainstorm. Here are two more shots I did that afternoon. The first was done with the same lens combination as the photo in my previous post, a 300 mm telephoto plus a 2X tele-extender.

This higher magnification shot was done with a 100 mm macro lens.

Today, four days later, another one has opened. I moved in very close for this (same lens as above) and waited for any vibrations to settle to a minimum. The light was dim (it was almost 6:30 pm EDST), the exposure time was 1/4 second, so of course the camera was on a tripod.

This flower was being visited by a fly, whose red eyes provided a nice color contrast. A little cooperation for a change! It remained stationary for the long exposure.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bearded Iris

This large Bearded Iris was far later in blooming than various smaller irises around it, not to mention similar ones I've seen in passing around town. Yesterday, it "suddenly" opened in the late afternoon. I feel very lucky that I had a chance, today, to photograph it while it was still fresh and beguiling, and the light was soft and beautiful. How could I dislike rainy weather when it yields such results? It was also fortunate that the wind didn't reach the point of tearing delicate features.

Composing the picture was a matter of seeking a view that would show a lot of curves, a mix of overlap and edges for dimensionality, balance of weighty shapes and negative space. I don't think about these things while shooting, or rather they mostly flit around in my subconscious. After years of explicitly critiquing my own work in these terms, I'd like to think that some benefit is beginning to show up in my "automatic" choices. At any rate, this is something that I'll always be able to work on, no matter what happens in the realm of camera technology.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

April showers bring May flowers, even indoors

Black and white seemed best for this one. There's not much color interest anyway, and going monochromatic allowed me to focus attention on subtleties of shape and texture.