Do you remember me stalking a plant that wasn’t blooming and me not knowing what it was? Well today was my lucky day and I finally found it blooming. It’s columbine! Yay!! Another one I’d never shot before. I don’t remember even seeing it outside of books. Sa-weet.
The light was really spectacular, but the terrain was challenging. When I read in my guide book that these flowers thrive on rocky, wooded slopes I knew they weren’t kidding. I was at better than a 30 degree angle shooting these and on a barely covered granite slab; pretty unsteady. But oh, it was lovely.
I’m not 100% happy with the results, but I gained some valuable experience on my first attempt. I need a slightly deeper depth of field than I achieved here, and I’d like to change it up with some landscape oriented shots. Luckily there’s another plant in the vicinity that isn’t blooming yet, but will most likely do so next week. I also spotted tons of another wildflower I’ve never shot before, so it will be a double bonus. I think I’ll have to get there a little earlier than I did today though, so I can play longer. Oh and you can probably guess which lens I used. : )
In the course of a day I look at hundreds of photographs. By participating in Google+, forums, flickr, 500px and other photo communities it’s easy to do. One thing that has been getting my attention is that people don’t seem to understand white balance and its importance. Mainly I notice it when there is water involved. Blue waterfalls everywhere. Is the world running with mouthwash? Crazy. I also notice it in woodland shots that are clearly taken in daytime, but look really odd and blue. Too cold by far. Mostly it’s white balance which is nothing more than color temperature and can be easily adjusted. Correct white balance and overall color temperature is the most important thing in making sure your colors are accurate. Well, that and monitor calibration, but since you can’t correctly calibrate every monitor in the world, just do your own and let it go.
Folks who shoot in raw often don’t care about white balance in camera because they can always fix it later. To some degree I’m guilty of this, but try to match my wb in the field to what the light actually looks like. It’s tons easier to do it there than after the fact when you might be too removed from the moment to remember what your eyes saw. Most cameras have auto-white balance which is a place to start, but be aware that most cameras aren’t accurate. Here’s an example:
This is my friend Melissa coming down through the Magical Birch Glade in the NH White Mountains.
It was early afternoon and while there weren’t a lot of leaves left on the trees, there were quite a few. The light in autumn afternoons around here is golden and soft. At this time of day it’s not as warm as it gets later, but the yellow leaves made it more so. Take a look at the birch trunks…they appear sort of blueish. They didn’t really look that way. To anyone not with us that day, this picture would be fine, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. For an October day it was warm; in the 80s. Does this picture convey warmth to you at all? And that golden afternoon light I talked about, don’t you want to see it?
The first thing to do is to check your scene in the field and try to match it in your live view screen to as best you can. Probably you won’t get it exactly, but close is good. Try daylight, cloudy, shade, flash – all of them are different temperatures and you can see their effects in the LCD screen. When you get your shots into your computer the first thing to do is adjust the white balance. Many photo editing packages have set their tools in order of precedence, in other words they are in a rough order of how you should use them with white balance at the top of the stack. So with all other changes being the same between shots and only the white balance changed, here’s the Magical Birch Glade –
OK, maybe that one was too subtle. Check this one out.
This is the Little River in Twin Mountain where the Twin Mountain north trailhead is. It was taken just a few hours after the shot in the MBG; farther into that mellow warmth. You wouldn’t know it from this though, would you? This is really the bane of my existence when I look at other people’s images. Blue water. Blue rocks. Blue tree trunks. Come on people. Pay attention! Unless these things really were blue, adjust your white balance.
It’s easy to do. Most editing packages have presets like daylight and cloudy as well as a slider that will let you put the temperature somewhere in the middle. It’s not hard. And look what a difference it makes.
Check out the trees, too – the color pops a lot more and the whole scene is more inviting. Only the white balance is different between the two shots. Here’s another one that’s even more dramatic.
My husband and I went walking in a state park the other day. Unfortunately it’s been closed due budget constraints, but we jumped the fence (as everyone is free to do, you just can’t drive in anymore). What have I been banging on about in this whole post besides white balance?
What are we trying to photograph, folks? Light of course. And nothing is more wonderful than soft, warm late afternoon light in October. It’s truly special. Believe it or not that’s what I saw in the shot here. But the camera doesn’t see like the brain sees and so it’s off. Way off. If you weren’t there of course you wouldn’t know, but the whole point of sharing photos is to bring other people into your world. To show them a little of what you experience and find delight in. Personally I don’t find much to delight in with the before picture. Straight out of the camera be damned. Now for the correction –
Now that’s the scene that made me stop. The trees and their shadows, the couple and the light all made me stop and shoot. Look at that light, would you? It’s lickable. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
I’m not going to get all wordy with these posts. I’m shooting like mad, but can’t process efficiently because this old laptop of mine is just not enough for the new technology. Luckily a new one should arrive today. In the mean time, here’s a couple more from recent outings –
My eyes aren’t always turned downwards, finding tiny details to show to the rest of the world. No, sometimes I pretend I’m a landscape photographer. Here are a sunrise at the coast and a sunset at a lake. Unfortunately there were no clouds in the sky for the sunrise, but when I saw the clouds yesterday afternoon, I knew they’d light up well.
Back to your regularly scheduled program. More nature stuff.
I am a bit bummed at the moment because I came upon a very active great blue heron rookery the other day and my old 300mm lens isn’t up to the task. Most of my old legacy glass is still very good when paired with a digital body, but not that one. I kind of knew it going in since it’s not a high-end lens to begin with. My 180mm would probably give better results, but it doesn’t have nearly the reach I need. So I’ll just go there and watch the birds instead of photographing them. There are probably 30 nests with sitting birds all in one tight little area. Strangely it’s not noisy except for the grackles. The herons make those croaky noises when mates greet each other at the nest, but that’s it. The babies are barely old enough to stretch their heads up to be seen, but when they’re older they will probably be noisy. Here’s a semi-ok shot if you don’t look at it much larger than this.
There’s always next year when hopefully I can afford a decent long lens.
Wildflower season continues to be productive although I my patience is really being tried by the black flies and mosquitoes. Why oh why do bug season and wildflower season have to coincide? Many times I bail on a little scene because the bugs drive me out. Once while photographing my first ever coltsfoot and that was really a bummer.
Fringed polygala are one of my favorite wildflowers. I used to pick them as a kid and give them to my mom along with many other ragged little offerings. In this little scene they look to be playing a game of Blind Man’s Buff.
Another pink beauty is bog laurel. With a name like that you wouldn’t think it, but look how lovely it is. The blossoms are very much like sheep laurel, but the leaves are different, they remind me of rosemary. From observation it seems they start out a more intense pink and fade as the blossoms age.
This next one I’ve never photographed before and these were the only blooms I saw all day. I’ll try for something better when they are more abundantly blooming.
Both painted and purple trilliums were out yesterday, but mostly painted. Here’s a couple at different stages along their life cycles. Lately I’ve been working in more dappled sunlight to my wildflower shots and I like it a lot when I can pull it off. Part of what makes the woods magical is that dappled sun winking in and out of the undergrowth. As the trees move into full-leaf, it will be even more spotty. I like the sun on the petals and the shadows. The second one was in full shade, but the way the wilted petals drooped so perfectly, I just had to stop and bear the bugs until the breeze died down.
And a shot of rhodora in the afternoon sun. While waiting for a particular heron’s mate to return to the nest, I shot these gorgeous little flowers in dramatic lighting. They’re so primitive yet intricate. Like little explosions; fireworks in the form of flowers. They don’t bloom long though.
And so you don’t think I’m all flowers all the time, here’s some fungus –
This last one was really fun. The largest of these is 1cm across (3/8 inch) and so delicate I hardly dared breathe on them. There were hundreds on a stump in the woods and their intensely cheery color just drew me to them. My friend Melissa and I get trapped by time-sucking mushroom logs quite frequently and this one was no exception. I did have to wait a bit for the sun to pass and create shade with my hands, too, but it was worth it.
So that’s it probably for a little bit. We’re leaving for California on the 21st and I’m still nervous that I’ll choke at Mono Lake and at Bodie the famous ghost town. But I’ll give it my best and hope for it as well. It will be a break from New England woods and wildflowers at least. Mountains here I come!
Just a quick post of some more unusual shots I’ve taken lately. No, I haven’t abandoned my hyper-literal, documentary style, but I had some fun and thought I’d share.
It’s sometimes VERY hard for me to see in abstract. My brain’s not wired that way, but I sometimes go out of my head.
I can’t help myself. I’m a nature and outdoors photographer. That means I shoot a lot of wildflowers. Yeah, it’s a cliche, but sometimes they are just so lovely I can’t pass them by. This year I’m trying to capture the quality of light as well as the flowers themselves and so far it’s been pretty good, like the purple trillium shot from the last post. Here are some more.
So far so good. Others are out, too, like wild oats and gold thread, but right now I’m concentrating on shooting flowers I don’t have good images of yet and I have some of those. More are coming like lady slippers, lilies, irises and fringed polygala (one of my favorites) and so more cliches are headed your way. You’ve been warned!
Before I take on writing a Black and White Photography 201, I’m going to share some more junk drawer photos. Well, this first one isn’t from a drawer, but a forgotten cabinet over the fridge. In a clean-out binge I found a bunch of weird booze we stuck there for some reason. Pepper flavored vodka. Dark rum (which we did use to make Bananas Foster, so all was not lost). Cheap -n- nasty whiskey. A keepsake mini-bottle of lousy “champagne” from a wedding in 1996. Crap really and why we even kept it is a mystery. I attempted to take the stopper out of a bottle of Tia Maria liqueur, but got this instead –
Isn’t that great? It was worth keeping around just for this shot which coalesced in my head for days before I shot it. Sometimes I need to let things percolate before I shoot. I put the bottle in the front window once the sun went behind the house. With all the snow it’s still fairly bright and a little Lightroom magic brings out the best in it, I think.
These next few are from the junk drawer proper though –
Ok, so maybe they aren’t junk, but it’s amazing what you accumulate in drawers. I have more ideas brewing and am just waiting for my cranky 90mm macro to cooperate to do some more. The shots above were done with the 12-60mm zoom which lets me get close, but not really close enough for some things.
Like these firecrackers for example, look how close a macro lens gets –
Each one is 3 1/2 cm or 1 1/2 inches long and they’re all probably duds. I’ve always been fascinated by the hidden details of everyday objects, but haven’t taken the time to explore it properly. It makes for a good indoor project, especially with the great winter light we’re getting now. Plus I’d like to improve my technique with my old manual ring flash so you’ll probably get to see more junque in future.
From time to time I go meet up with a few other local photographers. We are all part of the same flickr group and it’s pretty much the same core of people who go to them. We usually try for a sunrise. Winter shooting seems far more popular. Probably because sunrise is at 7am instead of 5. Sunday was such a day. Of course I got about 2 hours worth of sleep the night before. I hate that. Couldn’t get comfortable. I’m coming down with something and kept coughing. The cats kept bugging me. It was brutal. After getting up and reading for a while, I finally went back to bed and was able to sleep for a couple hours. After a bit of a Plan A snafu, we ended up at Adams Point on Great Bay (one of our usual locations) and I got this –
Jeff and I trekked across the meadow heading for the milkweeds hoping for some interesting side light close-ups. I wasn’t feeling it though. Didn’t like any of the compositions I was able to get and didn’t feel like changing lenses for the 10th time (I should have brought my 65-200mm zoom, but had the straight 135mm f2.8 instead – mistake!) so switched tactics instead. Looking up out of my tunnel vision, I saw this beautiful vista. The sun had crested the treeline, but it wasn’t very high and so there are still shadows on the snow. I love the blue of those shadows against the soft pink of the sunlit snow. And the vertical lines of those naked milkweed plants break up the horizontal in an interesting way. The rolling hills and the trees give interest all through the shot. And the sky is equally soft all adding to a hushed, tranquil feeling. Think of it as anti-HDR.
Instead of using my graduated neutral density filter in the field (because my hands were already cold enough) I decided to use the same tool in Lightroom. I added just a little bit of underexposure and saturation in the sky and treeline. Just like a physical filter would have given me. Normally I like doing things in camera, but I just didn’t have the where-with-all yesterday.
I still haven’t gotten a decent sunrise or sunset at this location. Every time I go the sky refuses to cooperate. No clouds or no color. It’s like a conspiracy. Luckily there’s plenty of stuff in the foreground to work with. Here are some from previous shoots –
Boring sky with no clouds, but plenty of color…just look at it reflected in the ice there. That shot is almost straight out of the camera. A little contrast adjustment and I think some sharpening. Now look at this next one – great clouds, but zero color. Sunset bid almost fail. Luckily there was enough interest in the sky for a monochrome. I walked around until I got some other elements to include and later had to climb up that oak tree because the bank was too muddy and slippery.
As a whole, I think they work well to showcase some of the reasons why Adams Point is a nature preserve and also hosts a marine lab. It’s not going anywhere and the pack ice is forming, so one day maybe I’ll get my wish – good color, good sky, pack ice and fog. A girl can dream.