Lantana Bonanza! The Sequel

This is true: I often buy plants for my garden based on how I think they’ll look in photographs.

When I saw these Landmark Citrus Lantana at a nearby garden center and knew I had a couple of open medium-sized pots on my back-yard steps, I snapped them up and gave them a good home. I figured their flowers would start opening within a few days – given that the steps get plenty of sunlight during the day – and they didn’t disappoint. The overall shape of the flower is very similar to the Chapel Hill Yellow Lantana, of course, but in addition to variations of yellow and orange colors, these flowers also show purple and magenta in the emerging and center buds, surrounded by yellow and orange petals as the flowers open.

I followed a similar process for selecting images for this post, choosing these sixteen from about 80 that I took and reviewed for adequate exposure and focus. On most of the photos, I used several Lightroom graduated filters – tools that are now among my favorites to apply during closeup and macro work. In those photos showing a single flower bud, for example, I created separate graduated filters from all four sides of the photo through to the center, adjusting exposure and reducing clarity on each of the four filters to dim and soften the background.

I then emphasized the flowers as focal points by increasing overall exposure slightly, adding a touch of light, and increasing saturation and luminance for purple, magenta, and orange to pop those colors. For some of the photos that show wide-open buds in bright yellow, I dropped yellow saturation a bit, as the yellow caught a lot of light and looked a little harsh and over-exposed with raggedy edges. The light was pretty good when I took these shots – which helped with depth-of-field and focus – but I did apply additional sharpening to give some of the flowers a bit of extra punch. As a final step before exporting the images from Lightroom, I removed a few spots where pollen on the leaves caught a sharp jab of sunlight, though there wasn’t much of that kind of spot removal to do since recent rains left the leaves sparkly clean.

Before uploading the images, I always rename them with sequence numbers at the beginning of the names (like 01-DSC04636.jpg, 02-DSC04549.jpg, etc.) so that they’re names represent the order I want them to appear in the blog post or slideshow. That way I can preview the slideshow before uploading – using Adobe Bridge or another photo viewer – simply by having the viewer display the images in file name order. This always saves me some time when creating a media gallery for the blog post, since I’ve already decided on a sequence for the slideshow images and I can easily add the images to the gallery by file name.

This slideshow is loosely arranged by similarity, and you can select any of the photos below to begin viewing larger versions. My previous lantana slideshow is here: Lantana Bonanza!

Thanks for taking a look!

Stalking the Baja Daylily

Sounds exotic, no? This is where the elusive Baja Daylily lives, in its own pot in front of my Chapel Hill Yellow Lantana.

I took several sets of similar photos over a period of three hours yesterday, to see (and capture) the variations in morning sun on the lily’s flower, and to learn how the shutter speed and aperture could be changed based on the intensity of the light. Lighting is optimal at the center of my courtyard from about 8:00 AM until 11:00 AM this time of year: it brightens the area without creating harsh shadows or causing blowout of detail surrounding the subject where something in the background catches too much light (which can be difficult to adjust out of the image).  The light also helped, I hope, with focus: one trick I use when taking closeup or macro photos is to set the camera’s shutter to continuous advance, to increase the chances that I’ll end out with a sharp image — since camera shake or a little breeze can easily throw a close subject out of focus. When doing this, I usually end out with four or five nearly identical images each time I take a shot and have reasonable success of being satisfied with one or two. I could use a tripod, but I have fears of knocking it over, and it’s harder to flower-stalk while having to reposition a tripod.

Since I was taking these at home, I headed back inside after each set and imported the photos into Lightroom. I reviewed these sets at least twice. First time through, I deleted any that struck me as out of focus or had some other problem (like my dog’s tail in the frame, lol). I tried not to dwell on any of them during the first cut, but just reacted to an immediate impression of the focus quality. On subsequent passes, I took a closer look at those remaining and threw out a few more based on their lack of clarity or sharpness. Since I wear eyeglasses with progressive lenses I have to be careful to look at the photos on screen at the correct angle, otherwise I end out convincing myself that an image is clear when my glasses are causing an illusion of sharpness that isn’t there. Out of four trips into the back yard and about 200 shots, I ended out with 75 photos to mess around with in Lightroom. That’s surely one of the big advantages of digital photography, how you can just keep trying and learning, trying and learning … and the only thing it costs (well, except for the gear and the software) is your time. For me, it ends out becoming a workflow or process not unlike creating the draft of a piece of writing: you start by letting your ideas flow, capture them as best you can, then begin iterations of reworking and improving based on the skills and tools you have.

And then … and then….

After lunch, I started picking through the 75 remaining photos, with the general idea that I wanted some for this blog post viewed from straight-on, left side, right side, then zooming closer and closer into the center of the flower. I ended out eliminating two-thirds of my photography work from earlier in the day. The remaining photos required some spot removal, a bit of cropping and straightening, minor adjustments to exposure or color, and sharpness adjustments to guide your eye to the focal point of the image. This is only the second time I’ve taken a set of RAW photos instead of JPEGs and I could definitely see the advantages for shots like these, especially when I intentionally under-exposed some photos to get a longer depth of field and when I cropped some with negligible loss of detail.

That was fun! Thanks for reading and enjoy a slideshow by clicking on any of the images below.

Before and After: Red Brick with Ivy

I took this photo of the side of a building near Fishkill, New York. Click on the picture for a larger version, then come back and read more….

Below you can see the original photo and the photo above side by side. There were dozens of white spots in the original, and I removed them one at a time using Adobe Lightroom. That took a while, as you can probably imagine, but I think it helped give the photo some character it didn’t have before, emphasizing the green and yellow leaves without the distraction of white chips in the red paint. The ivy leaves were also out of focus in the original; sharpening adjustments helped the ivy pop out from the red background. I overdid some of the sharpness adjustments, possibly; but I wanted to see how much I could improve the appearance of the leaves and keep the brick background as red and smooth as possible. Besides spot removal, sharpness, and noise reduction, I reduced the saturation of aqua, blue, and purple colors in the photo — which were not that apparent to the eye but eliminated some inconsistencies in the appearance of the red paint on the bricks.

Click either of the pictures to compare a larger before-and-after view.

I added a “Lightroom” category to this blog, so you can see other posts where I’ve written about using Lightroom by clicking this link.

Thanks for reading!

Twisted Trees and Woodlands

The Point Au Roche State Park in northern New York contains a nature preserve with hiking trails, covering about five square miles along the shores of Lake Champlain. The hiking trails take you through distinct landscapes that change dramatically as you walk from the nature center entrance to the lake, and include a marshland (see Frogs on Logs, whose pictures were taken as the frogs soaked up some sunshine in the marsh);  areas full of shrubs and wild vines; a peaceful pine forest with a thick bed of discarded pine needles covering the forest floor; and shoreline trails where the effects of the wind blowing in from Lake Champlain have a unique twisting impact on the trees growing nearby as well as on the remnants of those that have fallen and broken.

I’ve always enjoyed exploring woodlands; there’s nothing quite like entering the shaded quiet of a few acres of pine trees as a hush falls around you. Sometimes I’ll walk the same trails both with and without a camera. Without a camera, I think I get a better sense of the scope and complexity of the woodlands. With it, I tend to look closely at the details: shapes, colors, textures, and contours that — for me — evoke a sense of what that space was like to stand in and observe.

I have several thousand pictures of this area. I pulled out a few, continued my Lightroom experiments and jazzed them up a bit. Enjoy!