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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!