Let’s talk about light for a minute. This is a photography blog after all, right? So here’s where I wax on and on about the blue hour or the golden hour, ok? Or maybe the drizzly overcast day that’s perfect for waterfalls.
Nope. Not this little gray duck. Sure, I love that light and it is a dream to work with, but what if you don’t have it? Pack it in? Give up and go home?
Work with it. Make it work for you.
A lot of photography blogs talk about vision, too. Bleah. Vision. Yeah, you have to have it and an understanding of how to work with light, but not just one kind of light. All kinds. The better you are at dealing with different situations, the better photographer you will be. You will have more “keepers” and more fun. I mean, who wants to go out in the dark all the time? Or on rainy overcast days that are just pretty blah? There is a time and place for that, but a gorgeous, sunny day can be equally rewarding for you and your camera. Especially after a long, gray winter. Spring days are just made for sun and I’m here to tell you it can work. Really.
So, where to begin. I went out in April on one of the only sunny warm days we had because it was too beautiful to be inside. The spring ephemerals were blooming and because the canopy hadn’t filled in much, there was mostly direct sunlight on the forest floor. No leaves to filter and soften it. Nope. Some was direct and harsh.
Did you shudder just then? Direct and harsh are two words most photographers have nightmares about. Oh yeah, very nightmarish right?
So lets go back to vision for a minute. My vision for this shot was the backlighting. Bloodroot is perfect for this because of those leaves and that the flowers, while fragile, have great presence and structure. Because I didn’t have even lighting, I needed to find scenes that worked with the direct sunlight I had. How could I showcase these beautiful wildflowers under these conditions? Backlighting immediately sprang to mind and so I worked pretty hard at cleaning up this next little scene in order to really play up the individual and highly specific beauty of bloodroot. I also waited on the light quite a bit. When I was finally ready to shoot the flower was in the shade of a tree and so I had a light snack while I waited for the earth to turn and give me what I wanted –
Another tip for working with this light comes in the processing. I use Lightroom, but most other software in this category will allow you to control the highlights in the shot. I dimmed them just a bit so that the detail in the petals came back, but not so much that they don’t appear white and crisp.
Going back to the idea that you need a flower with substance in this kind of light, take trout lily as an example. They cry out for backlighting!
Backlight isn’t the only direct sun that can work for wildflowers. How about sidelighting? Early meadow rue grows like crazy around here and each flower looks like some kind of crazy lampshade from a 70s pizza parlor and I love them. You literally have to stop breathing to photograph them; they’re that sensitive to the least movement of air. But wow, they’re so unusual that I always have to give it a go and when I saw these in some early morning sun, I braved the mosquitoes.
Just look at the texture of those little stamens! And the petals, which mostly go unnoticed, those even get a bit of attention. Of course the background has to be right for this kind of thing, too. Often it has to be in shade in order to get the subject to stand out. A little patience and observation can pay big dividends.
Last let’s take a look at frontlighting. It’s probably the least popular because it tends to blow out the highs and lows in any image and can make things look flat and harsh. A challenge! I accept.
I love the hardiness of spring ephemerals. They often sprout and bloom when we still get temperatures below freezing and it doesn’t seem to bother them at all. They’re delicate yet tough and when I spied this little cluster of spring beauty, that idea came into my head. To me the light illustrates the duality of the flower. It is quite tiny and delicate in appearance, but can withstand the harsh Wisconsin springs.
Yup, that light sure is direct, but the shadows are really great at showing texture and structure. Again, it needed a darker background to work and I did a bit of pulling back in the highlights so that you can see those petals in all their stripey pink glory. Oh and that ant totally photobombed me.
So there’s how I work with direct sunlight in wildflowers. I hope that the next time you have a sunny day on your hands you don’t hide indoors with your camera or go out in nature without it. There is beauty and distinction to be found out there if you look for it and know how to make it work for you.
You know how you can walk past something again and again and not notice it or what it is, but when you do you feel like a dope? I had that experience recently when I hit part of the Ice Age trail in search of a particular wildflower I knew was there, but ended up being bowled over by one that I didn’t.
Well kind of. Sure, I noticed its bright green, feathery leaves and thought them beautiful. The problem was when I noticed the flowers were long gone. Check out what it was –
I’ve long known about these guys and how they’re supposed to be so common, but I’d never seen them before. They were right under my nose the whole time, I just didn’t recognize them without their pants on. Once I did though, I spent a lot of time looking and photographing them. Here’s what they look like when they’re young –
As you probably can tell, they are in the same family as bleeding hearts. My guidebook tells me they are only pollinated by bumblebees since they are the only ones to have a proboscis long enough to get in there. I saw plenty of girls on them, but wasn’t lucky enough to capture one at work. Al Mullen was though –
Isn’t she great?? Early spring wildflowers are so important to bees emerging from hibernation like the bumblebee. They do not store food for the winter and so finding it quickly and in abundance is key to their survival. In return, they specialize in certain flowers and are key to that species proliferation as well. Wonderful how that works, huh?
Something else that works is black and white for these flowers. Check it out!
The tonal range here just nails a black and white. The texture, too, adds a richness that I think is needed in a monochrome photo.
It’s great when I can just go out my front door and find gorgeous things to photograph. I used to do this back in NH when I had a much smaller yard and now I have even more to find and share. Like these beauties, all found in the yard –
This first one is really tiny. The stipes (stems) are as thin as thread and the caps a mere 1/4 of an inch across. They come up in the leaf litter and once you notice them it’s like a dusting of snow. The trick to finding mushrooms is to be still. Then they seem to come out of nowhere. Giving myself some time to look around and really see brought me to this pair of beauties. A couple of days later and they were gone.
During that same quiet few moments of looking, I saw this one and knew it to be a type of mycena. The blue tint really is there; no camera trickery. It fades as the mushroom ages so I’ll have to check earlier next year to see if I can find one in a more vivid state.
Once your eyes are attuned to mushroom hunting they seem to be everywhere and they don’t need to be as brightly colored as this one, but it helps.
All the IDs are my best guesses according to my several books and the internet, but some just elude me altogether, like this next one –
You’d think such a distinctive little shroom would be easy, but no. This next one is though.
It’s commonly known as the tippler’s bane because of a toxin it has that makes a person feel very sick if they eat them with alcohol, or follow them up with alcohol. Otherwise they’re quite edible and rumored to be delicious. The compound they make is similar to the one used in Antabuse, a drug prescribed to alcohol abusers. Interesting.
Whenever I see mushrooms the urge to photograph them is almost irresistible. I am getting better though. I don’t shoot EVERY mushroom I see. The light has to be good, the setting and the angle, too. If the shot doesn’t come together in my head, I admire and pass it by. So here are some that made the grade.
Identifying mushrooms is tough. Mostly because they change so rapidly and any photographs are dependent on when they were taken during the fruiting body’s lifecycle. It’s crazy. I have 4 books now and sometimes I still can’t figure things out, so don’t take any of my IDs as concrete. They’re just my best conclusions based on what it was growing and the characteristics of the mushroom itself; color, shape, gill structure etc.
These first two are boletes, a type of mushroom that has sponge-like cells instead of traditional gills and are easy to spot because of that, but it can still be tricky. I think this second one might be Austroboletus gracilis, but I’m not certain. I have my eye on a few more books that look to have fantastic photos so maybe I can get better in future.
Some mushrooms can only be positively identified under a microscope and a few kinds of russula fall into that category. This next one is probably russula emetica aka The Sickener and yeah, it’s poisonous. But it could also be russula cessans, paludosa or pseudolepida or several others that fruit on the ground, grow in similar woods and are native to North America. Crazy, but check out how similar these two mushrooms are, but different.
Little yellow waxcaps, hygrocybes, are tough to distinguish, too. These first ones I think are hygrocybe ceracea, but might not be. Whatever they are, I can’t resist shooting them. Especially in moss with bonus sporophytes!
This one proved irresistible to a passing slug. It was in full sun, but quickly moved to a nicer pose. I should have cranked the ISO a bit. Hard to believe a slug can move fast enough to be blurry!
And then there are the LBMs. That’s Little Brown Mushrooms. There are dozens and dozens of these and so similar that I have no idea what this little beauty is.
I found it growing inside of a dead log and did some clean up to get that shot, which I personally love because of the placement and the tilt of the cap. It seems to have a personality, which is saying a lot for a fungus.
All of my shots are cleaned up in the field to some extent. One of the most important things to remember when doing close up or macro photography at this magnification is to watch your backgrounds. Things out of your line of focus can sneak in and steal attention from your main subject. I find sticks to be really a pain. They sometimes show up as bright, light-colored lines in the background and so I remove them. Grass can do the same thing sometimes. Often I’m not even aware of them being in the shot because I’m concentrating on my main subject and they’re not critical to focus. So I use my live view screen to look at the image in 2D so I can catch these little gremlins. I also sometimes use a diffuser/reflector to either reflect light onto an image to even out shadows, or to put an object into shade that’s either in direct sun or dappled light. It’s a useful tool to have and one that isn’t heavy and doesn’t take up too much space so I bring it every time I go out.
I probably don’t even need to say it anymore, but all these images were taken with the OM 90mm f2 macro lens mounted on my Panasonic Lumix GH3. I still love this combination and that lens barely comes off the body these days!