I had been keeping an eye on the colorful, newly planted coleus in the big, back garden at the Aiken County Historical Museum since I first discovered them. In fact, I had looked at several different possible compositions on a previous trip, but couldn’t quite get everything that I wanted so I hadn’t captured anything. At the time I created my Scimitar piece, the plants themselves were less than two feet tall and had fresh looking leaves with nice colors. While exploring them for enticing patterns, I came across one that reminded me of the type of blade that a pirate or genie might have. I placed the leaf in the frame so that the sharp tip and bottom left hand side had about the same amount of distance to their respective edges. I then found an angle that allowed most of my subject to be surrounded by the enhancing background colors of the leaf directly beneath it. I placed the focal point on the tip, and by keeping the sensor plane aligned with the leaf, as much as I could, I maintained sharpness across the surface. The high level of captured detail allows texture and tiny hairs along the edges of the leaf to be seen.
When I moved to Aiken there was a huge Deodar Cedar tree on the south side of the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. Not only did it have multiple trunks, the tree’s individual limbs were quite large (bigger than most of the trees in my backyard). What made it even more interesting was how the pieces had grown up and out in that location. The area they spanned could have easily been more than 20 feet across. By all indications, the tree was a very popular spot for families and visitors to create snap shots or vacation photos – especially since with a little effort you could easily climb into the heart of them and find yourself standing several feet above the ground. At some point a portion of the tree died and had to be removed. Then a really bad ice storm came through a couple of years ago. Aiken county was one of the hardest hit areas in the entire state and Hopeland Gardens took a serious blow. Among the casualties was their Acacia, too many limbs to count, and what was left of the much beloved tree. Fortunately, when the original paring was done, a portion of the tree was preserved, and, as a form of remembrance or dedication, it was used to create wooden benches that are placed near where the tree originally stood.
As a color junkie, I’ve been attracted to the surfaces of the benches for a while, but never found a composition that I was happy enough with to press the shutter. With my Benched piece, that problem was overcome. I liked the line that runs to and around the knot and, for aesthetic reasons, decided to place it diagonally so that it split the frame. The center of the knot was placed near the bottom right one third crossing line, using the rule of thirds, but then bumped up and to the left a bit so that more of the diagonal line would remain in the frame. The high level of captured detail allows rings and surface textures to be seen.
I just realized, as I was writing this, that I ended the season at the exact same place I started with an identical type of flower. Patsy’s Garden in the Rye Patch Rose Garden had been recently replanted with pansies. Artistically pleasing specimens were fairly sparse, but this one stood out. I liked the colors (of course), but the tiny dew drops made the difference. The petal surfaces are nearly completely covered resulting in a sparkling effect. Aesthetically, I placed the green heart in the center of the flower just below the bottom one third line, using the rule of thirds, and used it as my focal point. The high level of detail allows surface texture, individual dew drops, and individual pollen pieces to be seen.
The leaves on the tree where my Fall Berries piece was created can be quite colorful in the Fall. They were, as they have been in the past, loud enough to call me over from across the lawn at the Rye Patch. I searched around the tree for artistically pleasing scenes. I wanted good colors in the leaves and at least one berry. For the scene I settled on, I liked how the dark colors of the berries contrasted nicely against the brighter leaves as well as their mixture of purples with the blue reflections. Aesthetically, I found a perspective that kept the berries from touching each other. Then I placed the left most berry on the first lower left crossing line (a little off center), using the rule of thirds, and used it as my focal point.
I normally try to get as much depth of field as I possibly can, but sometimes I have to dial back the F-stop setting. As I’ve posted about previously, photography is about concession management. The wind picked up just as I began exploring the leaves. With the sun not yet able to provide much light through the surrounding trees, I needed several seconds of exposure time. But, Mother Nature insisted on rustling the leaves with a breeze coming on shorter intervals than what I required. To come to an equitable agreement with her, I dropped my F-stop down to F/11 which cut my exposure time down to two seconds. Voila, everybody was happy. And, as a bonus, the background leaves nearly completely dissolved down into simple colors. Even with a shallow depth of field, the high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
I liked the naturally abstract pattern on the leaf in my Closing In piece. I discovered it in the same swampy area of Hopeland Gardens that several other leaf compositions came from. In addition to the pigment pattern painted across its surface, I felt that it was a poignant depiction of the end of a life cycle. Very little of the original, healthy green of the leaf exists. Nearly all of it has been replaced by stages of dying and death. The yellows are the beginning of the end with the colorful oranges and reds of decay following close behind. The browns are next in the timeline and then finally black (colorless and lifeless). The green areas are trying to hold out, to continue providing their contribution to the sustainment of life, but they are losing and there is no hope of recovery. The inevitability is inescapable. The leaf will become nourishment for any number of other organisms and it provides a visual treat by presenting gorgeous colors on its way out. As if Mother Nature wanted us to see that even death has positive attributes. The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
Though Fall was only a week old, the flowers near the subject in my Fall Blooms piece were burned, wilted, dying, and/or just generally nasty. In fact, I initially walked right past them on my way to the rear of the Aiken County Historical Museum, and it wasn’t until I made my way back toward the car that I spotted this subject. I was surprised by how well this late bloomer was holding up and was impressed with its size (it was a bit larger than its neighbors). I loved the colors. Normally I see solid petal colors so having pink with white was unusual. The interior blooms, with their brilliant oranges and yellows, were also quite attractive. In fact, I used their five, furry, pollen coated arms as my focal point. That aesthetic choice gave just enough sharpness to create the cool looking abstract pattern in the very center of the flower. The high level of detail allows individual hairs and individual pollen pieces to be seen.
The cool looking design in my Puffed piece is the surface of a puffball mushroom at two times life-size. I found it near the butterfly bush on the backside of the Aiken County Historical Museum. I have to admit that curiosity, more than anything else, attracted me to the subject. I simply wondered what the surface looked like and, after having put the lens on it, discovered that a neat abstract pattern existed. It’s covered in tiny little groups of fibers that look like hair mountains with gaps between them that create the zigzag channels. The hair mountains have brown caps that appear to be singed like someone took a hot flame or a blow torch and ran it across the entire area causing them to melt and coalesce.
The furry little purple pods in my Fuzzy Was He piece attracted me to this spot of the big back garden at the Aiken County Historical Museum. The bottom portion of the velvet sage looked like a rather large circular weed which wasn’t very photogenic, but the hairy stalks that carried the tips above that area certainly were. The sharper pointed tips contrasted nicely with the softer round edges on the stem, and the dew drops added a bit more visual interest. I liked the curve of the stem and placed it in the frame so that some of the background stems would add additional patches of color. The high level of detail allows individual hairs and variously sized dew drops (some of which look like little bubbles) to be seen.
The stem in my Velvet Dew composition was out away from other stems. Which was good because it was also in a position that allowed me to isolate it against a colorful background of flowers. To achieve additional sharpness across the entire length of the stem, it was focus stacked. Focus stacking involves creating multiple images where the focal points allow overlapping zones of sharpness. The images are then combined using special software that understands where the sharpest areas in each image are located. Incredible details are possible using the technique, but it isn’t easy and requires conditions that are difficult (for my compositional style) to find in the field.
Artistically, I wanted the furry bloom at the bottom in the frame, as much color from the background flowers as possible, and, as previously mentioned, sharpness on the stem in each section. The focus stacking and high level of detail permits individual hairs and individual dew drops to be seen from top to bottom and end to end of the stem.
Though Fall was just a week old, the colorful leaf in my Blown In piece was a clear indicator that more color would soon be on its way. In fact, those colors stopped me dead in my tracks as I was walking up the sidewalk on the east side of the Rye Patch. The leaf contrasted nicely against the darker leaves on the small bushes that line that side of the building. It’s fair to say that it was conspicuous, though I wasn’t sure where it came from, and I didn’t see any other leaves with that much color (even after scanning the nearby trees). The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
When I found this leaf near the south wall at the Aiken County Historical Museum it was starting to change colors, even though Fall hadn’t officially commenced. The colors of the leaves on the bush where I discovered this had already transformed enough to call me over and, once there, forced a closer examination of them. I selected this one for a couple of reasons: I loved the random patterns of decay and the colors it provided, it was relatively flat (which when shooting at two times life-size at such a close distance is an important consideration if you wish to maximize the zone of sharpness), it had some dew on the surface to enhance the colors, and its location had limited impediments to access. The wind being calm was also another significant factor in obtaining my Fall Insinuation piece as I needed eight seconds of exposure time. The high level of detail allows surface textures and individual dew drops to be seen.