Close-up photos in the last snow of February

I was darned happy when I got up and looked outside on the last morning in February. 

There was two inches of snow covering my yard and the temperature was just touching the freezing mark.  Oh, and it was Sunday and I had nothing that I was supposed to do but enjoy February 28th.

The morning had a slight overcast and there was a faint breeze. I thought the breeze might be bothersome, but the overcast was the ideal condition for photographing my garden. I mounted my large wireless flash on a sturdy light stand. That flash would give me control over subject brightness and direction of the light and allow me do reduce background light. Additionally, the flash stopped the movement caused by that slight breeze. 

I rarely walk out in my garden with a plan. I just wander and photograph whatever catches my attention. On this day the snow clinging to plants and rocks and other objects that reside in my garden created the perfect subjects.

I’ll mention that my sprawling garden isn’t just a place where plants grow. My garden is also a place that contains things I have found. Plants climb over old chairs, stepladders, wooden wheels, pieces of fence, old doors and windows, and many other discarded objects that I think might be fun to photograph along with the plants.

Regular readers know that I employ a flash whenever I can.  Using a flash means I choose the direction of the light that touches my subject. And as I just mentioned, a flash allows me to determine the brightness of the subject and the environment it’s in. 

Natural light is so restricting and if I didn’t have a flash I wouldn’t have bothered trying to be creative on that breezy, flat, overcast morning.  However, all I had to do was choose my subject, underexpose by two or more stops, position the flash so the direction of the light is where I want it and push the shutter.  (If my subject is to bright or the direction of light isn’t good I move the flash and try it again.) I usually test more than one aperture depending on the background and what depth of-field works best.  Lenses that are designed for close-up photography usually produce a pleasing bokeh and don’t always need the widest aperture.

For those that don’t know what “Bokeh” means, Wikipedia’s definition is. “Bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in out-of-focus parts of an image

For me, there really aren’t any rules for close-up garden subjects other than keep the camera steady and the center of interest sharp. And regarding the photos we can find in a snowy End-of-February (or March) garden I’ll finish this with a quote by the English novelist William Thackeray, 

“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”

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Photographers Must Remember to Consider the Background

Brewster copy 2  Spirit

Gracie 1

Fat Cat

chuck port copy

Looking Scout

Rikkonna 1

Much of the time photographers get so excited about the subject before their camera that they don’t pay any attention to anything else that is captured by the camera’s sensor when the exposure is made. Of course, things can be cropped out during postproduction, but what if the background is so busy that it obscures the intended subject of the photograph? The background can impact a subject in many ways and much of the time it interferes with the subject.

In the past I have written about composition, depth of field, and even bokeh. Composition can be as simple as creating an interesting photograph by using basic guidelines or compositional strategies for a balanced image. Depth of field is that area in front of and behind the subject that is acceptably clear, and bokeh refers to that portion of an image that is out of focus. Using those three mechanisms or strategies as a way to isolate a subject help photographers increase the impact their photographs have for viewers.

A serious wild life photographer once told me that it is important to have a background that is neutral and non descript. I had one experienced birder giving me tips on photographing Loons, explain that soft green water made better pictures than contrasty blue water. I think that this may be his personal opinion, but I have to agree that of the photos I took that day I liked way the green water looks better.

I recall a photographer who had exhibited his photograph in a local exhibition being angry because he didn’t get a mention by the judges on his photograph of an eagle posing on a branch. He had exposed it properly and displayed it sharply. He was so proud of his photograph of that bald eagle that he was unable to see the busy background and how it negatively impacted on the overall photograph. I believe the judges did see that.

My advice to that photographer would be to curb his excitement and spend some time examining his subject and its surroundings. Using the term, coined by Ansel Adams, that I mentioned in my 26 June 2014 article, he should “previsualize” the image for its best impact.

Compose and isolate the center of interest, and decide how to use the background to the best effect; whether the background should be in, out, or partially focused, or to have it clear or cluttered, and if it is appropriate for inclusion or to be excluded. A busy background distracts viewer’s attention.

Backgrounds present both opportunities and challenges to photographers. Here are four very simple suggestions other photographers have told me take into consideration to make the background work.

1. Check your background before pressing the shutter;
2. Pay attention to your shooting angle;
3. Use the aperture or the focal length to blur the background;
4. Fill the frame with your subject.
They are all great tips, or thoughts for us all to remember, and I personally like the words of Ansel Adams that fits well,  “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” And I’ll add, remember to consider the background.

I enjoy all comments. Thanks, John

My website is at http://www.enmanscamera.com

What is Bokeh?

Window Pane bokeh Sedum bokeh Wooden wheel bokeh

Wikipedia defines bokeh as “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light”. And my dictionary states; “bokeh, bōˈkā. “The visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens.”

Bokeh has become another one of those not-so-well-understood terms that has become over used, and in many cases misused, by photographers since recent technological advances in cameras have made the medium of photography so accessible and popular.

A young photographer walked into my shop last week and asked the question, “Do you have one of those depth of field lenses?” I knew what the answer was because that was not the first time I have been asked the same question.

The first time I was asked I thought there might be some new piece of equipment on the market and inquired if that meant a wide aperture that controls depth of field. That’s where the word bokeh came up. The response was, “Ya, depth of field, bokeh.”

In my classes I include a tutorial on depth of field and more than once participants have interrupted me saying, “Oh, so that’s what bokeh is.”

Actually, the word bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke, which means “blur” or “haze”, or boke-aji, the “blur quality”.  That’s right, not blur, but blur quality.

Wikipedia carries on stating, “However, differences inlens aberrations and aperture shape cause some lens designs to blur the image in a way that is pleasing to the eye, while others produce blurring that is unpleasant or distracting—”good” and “bad” bokeh, respectively. Bokeh occurs for parts of the scene that lie outside the depth of field”.

One of the problems with that word might be that photographers are applying it when trying to describe not only control over depth of field, but selective soft focus. Those new to these effects are searching for a quick term to define effects that they don’t understand.

The authors of www.picturecorrect.com write that there are, “fundamental differences between soft focus and bokeh. In soft focus photography there is an intentional blurriness added to the subject while the actual edges are retained in sharp focus, but in bokeh it is only an element of the image that is intentionally blurred. Additionally, bokeh tends to emphasize certain points of light in the image as well.”

Bokeh appears in the areas of an image that remains outside the focal region. Because of this the most common technique used to add it is a shallow depth of field created through a wide open aperture”.

Depth of field is, “That area, in front of, and, behind the subject, that is in acceptable sharpness.” In my experience depth of field is one concept that eludes many photographers.

I suggest photographers think of it as selective focus. Thinking that way will help one make decisions about how much should be in focus around the subject, and, of course, allowing bokeh to appear.

In my opinion, one need not be surprised or critical when someone says they want a “depth of field lens…ya know, a Bokeh lens”. Every medium has its slang or jargon, and. unless one has enough interest and energy to study a fast changing technologically like photography, I can understand the confusion using many of the new words.

As always, I do appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com