"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

A Profusion of Irises: Sun-Kissed Shades of Orange

From The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

Historically, flowers have been admired and used decoratively, adding their scents and beauty to our lives. But nineteenth-century women, especially those living in France and England, were caught up in a formalized culture of flowers, often painting elaborate floral scenes. Some claimed that the symbolic meanings given to flowers were an unstated universal language to be studied and used….

“Articles, pamphlets, and entire books on the symbolic language of flowers first appeared in Paris and other French cities around the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15)…. The most important event that codified the language of flowers was the publication of a Parisian book in 1819 by Madame Charlotte de Latour, a pseudonym. Most scholars agree that the author’s real name was Louise Cortambert (1775–1853), the wife of geographer Eugène Cortambert. The Latour book, Le Langage des fleurs, listed flowers by their seasons, and meanings that single blooms or a mixed bouquet would convey between friends or lovers…. 

“Orange-colored flowers signified hope….

According to Wikipedia, there are over thirty shades of orange — and these iris blooms I found in some filtered sunlight at Oakland Cemetery seem to show off many of them. The first gallery positions the irises in their natural surroundings; for the second gallery, I removed all the backgrounds — which gives the swatches of sunlight on each bloom an extra little glow.

Select any image in either gallery to see embiggened versions. You can then choose “View full size” to get a closer look at the color and detail.

The previous posts in this series are:

A Profusion of Irises: White Blooms on Black Backgrounds

A Profusion of Irises: Black (Iris) Friday!

A Profusion of Irises: Iris No. 1

Thanks for taking a look! 🙂

A Profusion of Irises: White Blooms on Black Backgrounds

From “The Onset of Spring” by Elizabeth Lawrence in The Writer in the Garden, edited by Jane Garmey:

“When the daffodils are waning and the tulips coloring, dogwood and pearl bush, flowering almond, snowflakes, and the early white iris are at their best, and trees and trellises are dripping with purple wisteria. Then spring is in full flower with tulips, lilacs, and flowering crab-apples, followed closely by peony, iris, and mock orange.”

From The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

“Color is one of the main signaling strategies flowers use to beckon their pollinators. Floral colors also serve as filters, selectively attracting specialist pollinators to certain blooms while eliminating others. For many of those pollinators, the brighter the better, which must be why floral colors, especially those created by the petals, are among the most highly saturated colors found in nature. Technically speaking, saturation is the strength of any given color in relationship to its own brightness. The purest, most highly saturated colors are of one or a few close wavelengths and contain almost no white light (the combination of all wavelengths), while unsaturated colors appear faded or washed-out because white light has diluted the colors. Saturated colors can be equated with their perceived intensity.”

Hello! Below are a few photos of white irises I found while iris-hunting at Oakland Cemetery a couple of weeks ago. Click here or page down to view the galleries.

As I’ve written here before, I use both Lightroom and the Nik Collection for developing my images. My general workflow includes culling RAW images in Lightroom to eliminate those I don’t plan to process, then working through Lightroom panels to adjust sharpness and noise, optimize exposure, remove spots, and improve overall color saturation and luminance. For black-background photos, I use Lightroom graduated filters, radial filters, or brushes to “erase” everything around the subject by reducing exposure, whites, and shadows to remove all the color.

Once I’m satisfied with the appearance of a photo in Lightroom, I edit the image in several Nik Collection tools, using Color Efex Pro to further enhance contrast, color, and detail. The Nik Collection tools don’t update RAW files directly, so on first launch they create a copy of the original RAW file (which is added back into Lightroom). I have a recipe (or preset) in Color Efex Pro for seven filters I use most often:

  • White Neutralizer, which brightens and removes any color cast from whites.
  • Brilliance/Warmth, which enhances individual colors and has a setting called “perceptual saturation” that adds a touch of depth to the image.
  • Tonal Contrast, which affects the color and contrast of image detail in such a way that I often use it to soften backgrounds and make them appear more out-of-focus than they were in the original RAW file.
  • Pro Contrast, which also enhances contrast, but in a way that increases the texture of key details in the image.
  • Darken/Lighten Center, to brighten areas I want to draw your eye to, and darken others (especially color-filled background elements).
  • Reflector Efex, which simulates the effect of directional light from a flash or reflector on selected parts of the image, that I usually use to brighten shadowed areas.
  • Levels & Curves, which provides tone-curve adjustments (similar to those in Lightroom) that I use specifically to remove excess cool-blue color cast that my camera tends to produce.

I seldom use all seven of these; it just depends on the image and what I decide I like while making adjustments with each filter. There is also some overlap between results you can achieve with the Nik Collection and those you can achieve with Lightroom; but the two tools use different techniques for enhancing photos, and (for my purposes) the Nik Collection targets colors in subtle and effective ways that can be very tedious to accomplish in Lightroom. For the photos in the galleries on this post (and for several dozen other iris photos I’ve updated with black backgrounds), I tried to render whites that were nice and crisp, and create color variations that contrasted well with other parts of the photo, and so that you’re eye would register fine lines and details in the shapes of the flowers.

Park all that for a moment.

When I finish post-processing and exporting the photos from Lightroom, I use an app called FileBrowser on my iPad to review every one. I got into that habit a couple of years ago, after discovering that I could find flaws in a photo that I still needed to correct, typically spots that I didn’t notice on my computer monitor or color variations that didn’t look quite right. These perception differences occur because mobile devices use different color spaces and screen resolutions than monitors do, and, of course, it’s easier to inspect an entire photo on a small screen held closer to your eyes than it is on a monitor. With black-backround photos, tiny areas around the edges of the subject or elsewhere in the frame that I missed while brushing in the darkness are much easier to see on the iPad, but I also noticed some artifacts appearing when I created pure black backgrounds that surprised me.

Here’s a screenshot from my iPad showing one of the photos from the galleries below. If you look at the bottom of the image and move your eye up, you’ll see that the black of the iPad screen and the black background of the image are different, and there are slightly off-black horizontal pixels running from the bottom toward the middle of the photo and, less obvious, a halo around the flower itself.

At first I thought it was just my eyes reacting to the contrast between the white flower and black background, or the iPad’s overall brightness, or the room lighting, or maybe a ghost in the machine. I had completed about fifty black-background photos of Oakland irises for this ongoing project, though, and found the off-black shading on all of them — with the intensity (especially of the halo effect around the flowers) varying quite a bit, but very evident on many of the photos. And, you know, some things you see you just can’t unsee … so I decided to try and figure out why this shading was occurring.

Here’s the RAW image in Lightroom after I completed exposure and color adjustments and darkened the background, with the exposure cranked way up so I could determine if the ghosting was occurring in Lightroom. As you can see, the background is pure black, showing no artifacts.

Here’s the same image, after passing it into the Nik Collection’s Color Efex Pro and returning it to Lightroom, also with exposure cranked up. Here you can see the artifacts clearly: the shift to light gray running from the bottom of the photo to the middle, and the concentric halos around the flower.

So now I knew that Color Efex Pro was creating the ghosting effect; but since I had applied as many as seven of the filters to each photo, I didn’t know which one was responsible. To figure that out, I started over with a couple of the photos, passing each one through Color Efex Pro, applying only one filter on each pass, then checking the results in Lightroom — and determined that the horizontal shading running from the bottom up was from the Reflector Efex filter, and the concentric halos came from White Neutralizer.

I interpret this — possibly inaccurately — to mean that these two filters are altering the red, blue, and green pixels (especially evident on the halos) to create their effects, gradually decreasing in intensity as they transition away from the targeted part of the photo. If the background wasn’t black — meaning, if it still contained colorful elements in shades of red, blue, and green — then the filters would simply alter the intensity of those colors and not show any sad effects. Having learned what causes this ghosting, I need to avoid using these two filters on my black-background images… which also means I need to re-process about 40 photos — argh! — so am headed back into my “darkroom”. See you in a couple of days! 🙂

Select the first image from each set to see larger versions; and try “View full size” if you would like to get a closer look at the color and detail.

The previous posts in this series are:

A Profusion of Irises: Black (Iris) Friday!

A Profusion of Irises: Iris No. 1

Thanks for reading and taking a look! 🙂

A Profusion of Irises: Iris No. 1

Haiku by Matsuo Basho in The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

Come on let us see
all the real flowers of this
sorrowful world.

After the dream
how real
this iris!

I’ve made enough progress with post-processing iris photos I took at Oakland Cemetery in April that I decided I would start posting some of them. Well, in this case, one of them. This beauty produced a huge blossom, about six inches across at its widest points; and if you stare at it long enough, you may feel like it’s in motion, the petals waving at you in a spring breeze. The colors — blends of dominant purple shaded with blue — are the most common iris colors, and this flower’s large size shows them off well.

Select the image to see a larger version; and try “View full size” if you would like to get a closer look at the color and detail.

Because many of the iris blooms were so large, I used narrow apertures (f/14 or higher) to get as much of the bloom (from front to back) in focus as possible. Doing so brings in a lot more background elements at the same time, of course, so as I’ve been working through the photos, I’ve made decisions about whether to keep the background as shot (which works well for an isolated bloom or a bloom and its leaves), blur it (which you will see in some future posts), or remove it entirely. The iris shapes and colors fare really well against total black, so I picked out about half of the 120 photos for background removal — despite how long it takes to “unmask” the twists and turns of the flower petals and get the final result right.

Below are side-by-side variations showing the original image of the iris, followed by the black-background version. I used Lightroom’s spot removal tool to repair some defects in the petals, though happily didn’t have to spend too much time deleting offending pollen bloblets from the flower. I also made exposure and color adjustments in Lightroom — and applied some contrast and detail filters in the Nik Collection — to lighten excess blue shades (partly a darkening or saturating effect from using narrower apertures) and add a bit of additional texture. To remove the background, I dragged a Graduated Filter across the entire image; set Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks as shown below; then used the Erase brush to reveal the bloom while leaving the background black.

Select the first image if you would like to compare the before and after renderings.

One down, 120 to go! Thanks for reading and taking a look! 🙂

Lily of the Nile (Baby Pete): Gallery 1 of 2

Several times each week during the month of May, I took a series of photos of a lily that I added to my garden in April, as a way of chronicling its growth. It’s a variation of Lily of the Nile, a hardy plant that builds clusters of blooms on tall green stems, and so far has produced about a dozen such clusters since I got it. I don’t know why it’s called “Baby Pete” — but I assume someone somewhere had a good reason for that.

According to Wikipedia, a Lily of the Nile may live 75 years. Which means! When I’m in my 120s, I’ll still be taking pictures of this plant — by then most likely with my eyeball camera and macro contact lens, followed by post-processing with Adobe Lightroom sensors embedded in my fingers, then direct uploading from my networked brain stem. Good times!

No special notes to provide about how I processed these photos. I made use of radial filters as I described in Before and After: Yellow and Green (and Lightroom Radial Filters) then passed each one through Nik Collection’s Color Efex Pro, mostly to remove color cast and improve contrast. This first gallery shows the plant up to the point where the flowers were just starting to stretch open; in the next gallery, I’ll show the clusters in bloom.

I’m working on the companion piece to Before and After: Yellow and Green (and Lightroom Radial Filters) where I’ll write about how I used Lightroom’s mysterious Tone Curve panel, and add my contribution to the general confusion on the web about what this function actually does. I’m also working on 134 photos of the four kinds of Lantana in my garden, the images that I kept after culling about six hundred that I took of those plants.

134 photos! Argh! This may take some time….

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 1 of 4

For several months now, I’ve been regularly attending photography webinars offered by B&H Photo Video, the well-known retailer of photo and video equipment. B&H broadcasts these webinars on their own B&H EventSpace site as well as on Livestream, where they also archive past webinars under their Livestream B&H EventSpace account. You can watch these past events with a web browser from their Livestream page without a B&H or Livestream account, though you need an account with B&H to register for future events and receive notifications when they’re about to start.

The live seminars are typically presentations by a photographer or subject-matter expert and are available for a broad range of topics, from macro photography to portrait photography to social networking to using tools like Lightroom and Photoshop, and are all free to attend in person or online. Events are added frequently, sometimes less than a week before they’re scheduled to occur, so I’ve been checking their website regularly and have registered for several new ones taking place in June.

I believe its always valuable to hear what photographers have to say about how they do what they do, and each of the presenters I’ve watched showed passion for their work as well as eagerness to share their knowledge with others. Even if they talk about something you think you already know, hearing someone describe their thought process helps fix it in your mind and make you more aware of the method or technique when you’re shooting. There is, also, a lot to learn from photographers working in areas other than those you think of as your favorites. While I tend to focus more on macro and nature photography, for example, I learned a lot from how portrait photographers work with lighting or interact with their subjects; or how other photographers prepare their images for posting on the web or printing.

I’ve attended about a dozen of these webinars so far. All of them were excellent, and here are Livestream links to and brief descriptions of five of my favorites:

How to Develop a Unique Editing Style presented by Sarah Chaput de Saintonge:

Sarah describes her perspective on color theory, lighting, the ability of color to evoke emotions, and how she uses Lightroom to transform her images. Toward the end of her presentation, she suggests that everyone attending take a close look at some of their images and think about (or talk about, or write about) what they like about the images. That’s what prompted me to photograph and assemble these four galleries — the first one appears below — and as I publish them here, I’ll write about my thoughts on some of the images.

Are You Expressing Your Creativity or Just Pushing Buttons?, presented by Adam Marelli:

How could anyone resist a presentation with such a provocative title? Adam Marelli pulls the audience away from gear and tools to thought processes, describing what he thinks about when he photographs. Broadly separated into three mental models — point of view, form, and content — Adam presents a series of questions a photographer can ask about each one … not checklist questions, but things to consider and states of awareness to bring to any kind of photography or to post-processing.

Make Your Mark: How to Photograph Maker’s and Craftsmen, also presented by Adam Marelli:

Photographing craftsmen is not something I’d ever really thought about doing, but that may have changed after I watched this presentation. It’s the application of Adam’s ideas about photography (from Are You Expressing Your Creativity or Just Pushing Buttons?) to real world examples, along with discussion about bringing your own sense of curiosity and wonder into the field along with your camera; choosing the right gear for specific situations; and making the best use of just one or two lenses and natural light rather than over-thinking what you might need for a photo shoot. Adam grounds his approach in art history and cultural theory, creating a unique perspective in his presentations and writing about photography.

Artistic Macro Floral Photography, presented by Jackie Kramer:

Jackie starts from the premise that, with artistic macro floral photography, she is specifically not trying to represent reality, but is instead trying to create flower images as if they were stylized portraits, portraits that include complementary colors, textures, composition, and lighting. Taking that approach, she concerns herself much more with the relationships among elements of her photos than with their realism or even accuracy of focus. She also describes the idea of “shooting through” — a term I had not heard before but essentially means framing a subject with blurred foreground elements instead of the typical approach using blurred backgrounds or bokeh. She also describes capturing images of interesting textures she finds while on a photoshoot, and how she combines those textures with foreground subjects in Photoshop to create a unique composite image.

Close-up and Macro Photography: The Basics, presented by Lester Lefkowitz:

Lester’s presentation is a more technical discussion of macro photography, and an excellent refresher on topics like aperture and depth of field. He also discusses how different types of equipment — macro lenses versus extension tubes or closeup filters, for example — change what you can do when photographing close up, and the advantages and disadvantages of each one. He also describes how slight shifts in your point of view — especially shifting your camera and lens so it’s parallel to areas of the subject you want in focus — can have a powerful effect on the results you are able to produce, regardless of the closeup equipment you’re using.

Here’s the first of the four galleries, where I tried to use some of what I learned from these (and other) B&H webinars. The hydrangeas in this gallery have been in my back garden since I bought my house — about 15years ago — and every April or May produce mophead-type blossoms that have very muted colors on each of the petals. Since they came with the house, so to speak, and I didn’t buy them, I can’t differentiate them from the dozens of hydrangea varieties so just call them Anonymous Pastel Hydrangeas.

I had two goals with these images: first, to get as much of the blossom in focus as possible (which meant being intentional (and experimental) about aperture and depth of field); and second, to retain the softer, pastel-like colors in the final photos despite having emphasized sharpness and depth of field when taking the shots. The contrast between the blooms and the dark backgrounds might have been achievable with flash, but instead I used an LED light mounted on the camera to get a similar effect, and to get strong lighting (with a lot of highlighting) on the blooms. The extra light gave me the aperture flexibility I wanted; and while the RAW files appeared to have blown out highlights on the blooms from some break-all-the-rules over-exposure, reducing those highlights and overall contrast muted the colors so they looked more like the pastel shades you would observe if you saw these flowers in real life. After this minimal processing in Lightroom — as well as a bit of cropping and straightening — I applied a dash of Classical Soft Focus and Glamour Glow from the Nik Collection to further soften and polish the petals.

Select the first image to view larger versions in a slideshow. Thanks for reading and taking a look!