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

Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 4 of 4

The gallery below features the last of the four sets of hydrangea photos I started posting earlier in June. These blooms are Bluebird Hydrangeas, which I planted several years ago at the edge of a shade garden surrounded by holly ferns and hostas, where they seem to be thriving. The presence of the holly ferns created a lot of dark green in the shadows, and provided a unique background for the sixth and seventh images.

For these photos, I put some extra effort into getting appropriate focus where I wanted it, and I experimented with casting light from different directions to learn how that affected the images. The clusters of tiny, unopened blooms were challenging because they extended several inches behind the white petals, creating some confusion for the camera (and the photographer!) with even the slightest motion. I added some last minute sharpening to those sections of the photos only, so that those clumps would take on some shape rather than appearing as mushy blobs of alternating colors. To add light, alter its trajectories, and create a little drama, I simply placed an LED lamp in varying positions near the plants until I got an effect that I liked. All in all: great fun!

Here are links to the previous three sets in this series:

Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 1 of 4

Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 2 of 4

Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 3 of 4

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 3 of 4

The gallery below features another fifteen images of new blooms on three Blue Billow hydrangeas that I previously wrote about here.

I aimed for precise focus on the green bud at the center of each of these blooms, with only partial success. Holding a spring breeze responsible for the slight softness seems like a good strategy; though in reality I would have probably had better results by pulling back a foot or so then cropping half of the extra content out of each one. The tiny center bud is only about the size of a pencil eraser, so getting it in focus with the camera hand-held was a challenge. When working with a macro lens, also, I often find this to be true: subjects like these blooms will come out at least as good, and often much better, If I step back rather than lean in, and will still “fill the frame” appropriately once I get a look at them in Lightroom rather than basing the composition on what I see using the camera’s viewfinder or LED screen.

That’s actually the approach I took in the fourth gallery — of Bluebird Hydrangeas, which I’ll post soon — and it worked out a lot better. In my ideal version of the photos below, both the center and most of the adjacent petals would be tack-sharp. I liked the compositions so worked these photos using typical Lightroom adjustments and Nik Collection filters anyway; hopefully what they lack in focus in some cases becomes less significant if the compositions and lighting are technically decent.

These blooms are more open than those in the previous set, and most (but not all) of the green tint that I described there has faded into white or pale blue. The last photo is just weird — like a landscape from the distant planet Hydrangea — so weird I couldn’t bear to part with it and posted it just for fun.

Select the first image to view larger versions in a slideshow. The previous gallery is here: Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 2 of 4; and the first one with some additional notes on how these photos came about is here: Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 1 of 4.

If you use Lightroom and were interested in the B&H EventSpace webinars I described in that first post, you might want to check their June and July offerings, where several new Lightroom webinars have been scheduled, along with a couple new post-processing sessions.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 2 of 4

The gallery below features fifteen images of new blooms on three Blue Billow hydrangeas that I planted toward the end of April. The three plants were a gift from a friend of mine; friends who buy me plants are my favorite kind! The plants had two weeks to establish themselves before they were subjected to a ten-day heat wave with daily temperatures in the upper 90s, no clouds anywhere in sight for that entire period, and of course not a drop of rain. May is normally a time of moderately warm temperatures here; and it’s during May and June that plants push out most of their new growth, strengthen their stems, and expand their root systems — which typically puts them in good shape for the onset of summer. They don’t expect to be shocked by temperatures 15 to 20 degrees above normal for nearly two weeks in the spring!

If you’ve ever owned hydrangeas, you have probably seen how stressed they get with too much sun and heat: the leaves lose their color, turn slightly translucent, and begin to wilt. No amount of watering ever seems to change that; though it does help them recover color and strength to weather another hot day. Even though these hydrangeas were well shaded, most of the blooms shriveled up and fell off; but the plants seemed to have survived and are continuing to spread out in the garden.

I took the photos in this gallery over several days prior to the heat wave, catching each bloom in slightly different angles of sunshine and adding supplemental lighting of my own. I was definitely experimenting with light, shadows, and contrast here: I again used an LED light attached to my camera, kept it at a high intensity, moved in as close as I could without falling into the plants, and under-exposed each of the photos by at least two stops just to see what would happen. While I often try to expose for dark backgrounds behind my subjects, I don’t usually try to create photos with contrast as high as these. After underexposing in the camera, I only added a fraction of the exposure back in Lightroom and reduced most of the highlights — which is where the starker contrast and emphasized shadows seemed to come from. I do like the extra detail that this approach brought out: it revealed lines and textures in the opened blooms that you don’t really see with your eyes — but I think I would try to diffuse the light more if I ran this experiment again.

I sequenced the photos to show how the colors changed as the days went on: as the buds grew and the flowers opened, the petal colors shifted away from green and yellow, to white or light blue with swatches of green, to end out mostly white with a very slight blue cast or occasional flashes of purple. I think that’s one of my favorite things about closeup and macro photography of plants and flowers: you get a look at color variations that just don’t register to your vision, but once you see them your awareness of color is enhanced by that knowledge. The shift to white seems to be a function of the age of the bloom more than the size: even the tiniest flowers turned bright white when they were a few days old — which may suggest that the plant was signaling its attractiveness to pollinators once all the yellow and green faded away.

Select the first image to view larger versions in a slideshow. The first of these four hydrangea galleries and some additional notes on how these photos came about is here: Exploring Photography: Hydrangea Gallery 1 of 4.

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!

Clarence, The Bearded Iris

From Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions:

“Gardeners are keen observers of what is required to grow healthy plants of all types and sizes. New strategies and solutions to the problems presented by cultivating living things are often contemplative acts. These actions will hold gardeners in good stead as we face climate change – an unprecedented phenomenon that amplifies all those conditions that can make or break our gardening success. Deep reflection on our strategies in tending our lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables will be required to manage and adapt to this latest – and biggest – challenge.”

This flower’s proper name is Clarence Bearded Iris; but we’ve known each other a long time, so I just call him Clarence.

I planted a dozen of these irises in my front yard garden about five years ago, and this year they surprised me by barely blooming. It went like this: with very warm temperatures in early January, the iris’s leaves filled out and they shot up a few blooms in a couple of weeks, about three months premature. Then we had a cold snap that lasted about a week, then it rained for days and days and days, then the chilled and soaked blooms dissolved before the photographer got a shot at them, then the plant went dormant.

I’ve noticed that certain flowering plants — lilies and lantana, for example — stick to their approximate spring bloom time regardless of winter weather conditions, whereas others — like irises and hydrangeas — seem more likely to bloom early if winter is warm and the ground never freezes, but then get knocked out if fluctuating temperatures lead to a few days near or below freezing. It’s tempting to think that lilies and lantana are more suited to global warming gardening (pdf) than irises or hydrangeas, but maybe in time the latter will make accommodations.

However!! I was looking through some archived photos the other day and found a couple dozen — including three I had posted previously — that I’d taken of Clarence in April 2016. Some day, I imagine, I’ll stop finding photos I forgot I’d taken … but that day isn’t here yet. A bit of tweaking in Lightroom got me to the proper colors for this beauty… though the original files were .jpgs (I’ve only been shooting RAW for the past year or so), and there were some challenges getting the exposure, highlights, and shadows to my liking.

I’ve been reading about proper iris care, and suspect that these plants are ready to be dug up, divided, and replanted — a task that should be undertaken in late summer or early fall. So that’s on my gardening calendar (well, I don’t really have a gardening calendar, but I’m sure I won’t forget) and maybe next spring there will be a whole new batch of Clarences standing up tall for the camera.

I’d also been looking for some good information about gardens and their history — not the history of specific gardens or of garden design, but histories of the plants we use in our gardens. Whenever I plant something new, or photograph something I’ve planted, or post about it here, I always wonder where that plant came from, how far back in human history it’s been in gardens, how it’s changed over time, and so on. It’s not as easy to sort that out as you might think; though we may try to rely on search engines to splash such details onto our screens, searching for specific plants usually yields more about the plant’s growing characteristics or its relationship to other plants in the same family. And, more often than not, the commercialization of search engines means that research takes a back seat to brand marketing, and many sites simply repeat — with slight variations — the same information available on other sites that want you to be aware of their brands.

But then I found this fine book…

… which provides concise ecological and cultural histories for each of 133 plants and flowers that are commonly used in gardens. I learned, for example, that Clarence is a member of the iris germanica family of bearded irises and his ancestors often grew in monastery gardens in the Middle Ages; that bearded irises were bred systematically in Germany beginning in the 1800s; and that these irises were popularized in America by immigrants of German origin that imported them or brought them across the Atlantic. As an entry typical of all the plants covered in the book, the author devotes four pages to irises generally, their historical usage, cultural significance, and descriptions of variants that are unique to specific geographic regions. So far I’ve found references to about twenty plants currently in my garden, and I can now use this book as the starting point for additional research (and writing).

Click for larger pics; thanks for reading a taking a look!