Monthly Archives: July 2019

What’s Left of Spring

Daffodils photographed using a “find a pattern and break it” compositional technique

Back in February, as winter was turning to spring, I made a promise to myself that I would get out more often to photograph the flowers that would soon be blooming in the Washington region’s many gardens.

Tulip photographed using a shoot-through technique

Predictably, life, work, travel and study got in the way and undermined my good intentions. Yet, I did manage to get out on several weekend mornings, mostly to Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland, a favourite haunt of mine for photographing flowers.

During my many hours in the gardens, I spent most of my time standing around not taking photos, seeing nothing and devoid of any ideas about how to go about the task.

Multiple exposure moving the camera in a circular pattern after each exposure to create a swirl

Flower photography used to come easily to me. When I first got back into photography about ten years ago, flowers were the first subject to which I was drawn and were where I learned the skills of digital photography. Because I was photographing flowers regularly and taking workshops with talented professional photographers, such as Joshua Taylor, Corey Hilz and Mike Moats, it seems my eye became practiced at seeing good compositions. I had no difficulty in deciding which technique to use when photographing a particular flower or garden scene.

Close-up of a clematis, taken with a 105mm macro lens

What I learned from the many barren, miserable hours I spent standing around in the cold early-morning light in Brookside Gardens this past spring is that, through lack of practice, I have lost that facility. And, so, I have only these five images worth showing from all my spring flower photography efforts, each of which took far more thought, effort and time than is apparent from looking at them.

And this last one isn’t even a flower.

Cherry tree in bloom, with reflection

 

 

 

 

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Old Trucks in Infrared

Mail Pouch Barn and 1935 Ford three-window coupe, discovered in Pennsylvania.

Having recently upgraded my hardware to a new MacBook Pro and software to Adobe Creative Cloud, I was sorting through old RAW files when I happened upon several infrared photographs of old trucks that I took back in 2012.

The McKenna truck.

These photographs were all taken using a Nikon D200, converted to 720nm, that I bought used from Tony Sweet. Because the D200 has only a 10MP crop sensor and no Live View, I wasn’t expecting much of these images but was pleasantly surprised by the quality of some them. So, I decided to re-process the original RAW files, using the additional knowledge of IR post-processing that I have gained in the interim. These are some of the results.

While the first image of the Mail Pouch Barn and old Ford sedan has the most successful composition (the balance between the main compositional elements seems to work well), I was particularly pleased with the post-processing on the second image of an old Ford truck, previously owned by the McKenna company, as one can see from the lettering on the driver’s side door.

The E. P. Martin truck.

When capturing this image, I first set a custom white balance in-camera (the D200 is the last of the Nikon DSLRs that allows this). In post-processing, I ran the Khromagery infrared action in Photoshop, then adjusted the individual color channels to achieve a pleasing balance between the cool blue/grey of what’s left of the paintwork and the warm red of the rust on the top of the bonnet, then desaturated the rest of the image to bring out those colours.

Tony commented on the McKenna truck image a couple of days ago, describing it as “not too bad”, which is the nearest thing to a compliment I’ve ever had from him. I was hoping for an upgrade to his famous “not too shabby” rating, but fell short.

The third image, of a Ford truck formerly owned by “E.P. Martin, Plumber”, is from the same truck graveyard at Point of Rocks, Maryland which, sadly, is no more. In this case, the RAW file did not offer the same promising base colours after the IR conversion, so I processed it as black and white.

With all three of the truck images, I used the Detail Extractor filter in Nik Collection 2.0  selectively on the paintwork to bring out the texture and applied the Glamor Glow filter selectively to the vegetation to accentuate the characteristic luminous look that greenery takes on when photographed in IR.

One of the most welcome developments in the photography software industry recently has been the French company DxO’s takeover of the Nik Collection from Google, who bought it from Nik of Germany some years ago and, having obtained Nik’s innovative U-point technology that it wanted for use in its smartphone apps, decided to cease maintaining the software. For a while, photographers were faced with the bleak prospect that this indispensable suite of plug-ins would become unusable. DxO recently issued version 2.0 of the Nik Collection, which I immediately bought (the upgrade price is only $60) and used in processing these images. All the suite’s original functionality is still there, plus DxO has added a set of “recipes” to accompany each filter, so the software feels similar to how Topaz Labs’ plus-ins function. I haven’t explored the recipes yet, as I have my own way of processing images in Nik, but plan to do so in the future. My images tend too look rather samey, so I’m hoping the new recipes in Nik 2.0 might offer me a way to break out of the post-processing rut I’ve been in for a few years now and develop a different look.

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First Lotus Images of 2019

On the first morning in July, I made my annual visit to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in northeast Washington to photograph the lotuses.

Lotus bloom and bud

It was a really tough morning for flower photography. The sky was bald and cloudless and the sun came up fast and harsh, splattering the lotus ponds with the kind of bright, ugly light that drains flowers of their rich colours. To make matters worse, a blustery wind kept buffeting the gardens, so a lot of time was wasted waiting for the wind to calm before tripping the shutter. Inevitably, this also required re-composing the image, as windblown flowers, especially lotuses with their heavy blooms atop long, spindly stems, never end up in exactly the same place once a gust of wind has passed.

Open lotus blossom shielded from direct sunlight with a diffuser

Although I reached the gardens before 6:00am, I had only about 30 minutes of good light before I had to start using a diffuser to shield individual blooms from the harsh sunlight in order to photograph them, as I did with the above image. Blooms further out in the ponds, that I couldn’t reach with a diffuser, I photographed with an infrared camera and a 200-500mm telephoto lens (see final image). Infrared works best in bright sunlight, though the resultant images don’t achieve the pleasing, natural look of colour photography.

Partially-opened lotus blossom in sweet, early-morning light

Having such a short period of good light to work with in such huge gardens presents the photographer with the challenge of rushing to find good compositions before the light deteriorates. For me, at least, this is an uncomfortable feeling, as I work slowly when taking photographs, particularly photographs of flowers, which require close attention to detail to achieve successful compositions. I can easily spend 30-45 minutes photographing a single flower, experimenting with backgrounds, different angles, compositions and focal length lenses.

Lotus photographed in infrared in bright sunlight

I hope to get back to the gardens on another day when there is some cloud cover but, in summertime in Washington, that is a rare event.

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