From a photographic perspective, one of the best things about Hopeland Gardens is its amount of diversity. I think the folks that designed the layout and selected species loved color as much as I do. Most times during the year you can find something showing off colors. Though their decorations had long since been put away and stored for the next year, the cone-like shape of the bloom in Emergence reminded me of a Christmas tree light. As if nature set out to prove that it could compete on equal ground with any man-made bulb, or perhaps she was not yet ready for the holidays to end and decided to extend the show into February. For me, it felt more like the flower was forcing its way out of the protection that had kept it safe and warm during the winter thus producing a visual announcement that spring was right around the corner. A high level of detail brings out the surface texture on the flower and the pod, and the individual hairs help make it feel like it’s wearing a winter coat.
I was drawn to the subject in Fat Bottom because of its color and shape. The roundness of the pod’s bottom and the tip of the flower with its folds and winding were especially attractive. Composing physically close produced a background devoid of anything but colors and allowed a high level of detail, including individual hairs and surface texture, to be captured.
Like the subject in Magnolia Bloom, some blossoms I saw that afternoon were completely free from winter coverings and had shed their pods. While not yet fully unfurled, I felt that it still beautifully signaled the coming of spring.
I saved the best for last. Intense is my favorite from the Hopeland Gardens Pansies. Upon working this composition into the viewfinder, I was almost giddy. This was one of those creations where you immediately believe it has the potential to be special. The intensity of the focal point combined with the colors feels like a spot light forcing attention on the center of the flower. The clear, bulb-like structures appear to be powered here as well and have that light emitting quality. Once again the two times life-size zoom has an undeniable impact and the high level of detail creates visual exploration impulses (especially in a size where the details can be appreciated). I love the colors, and the purple highlights feel nicely complementary to the reds. The perspective allows you to see the flower’s heart tucked into the background while helping to bring your examination back to the surface where the main attraction is.
I had named this piece The Furnace before even pushing the remote button. Upon seeing it in my viewfinder, the yellows and reds immediately looked like flames. I felt that the heart of the flower was like a furnace burning bright with flames shooting out all around it. I was instantly attracted to the fire and the gorgeous colors surrounding the center focal point. It provides another example of this little flower’s ability to focus your attention almost as if you were a pollinator. This too was created at two times life-size which tends to be impact enhancing. Additionally, the detail is incredible all the way from the clear, bulb-like structures to the sparkles in the white area near the center that make the flames look like they have white hot embers. How cool is nature? Did I mention that I love creating macros?
Radiating Yellow feels more like it is pushing out instead of pulling in. It’s like this little flower’s heart is forcing the yellow from the center out into the petals, cutting channels through and into the brown and black areas. This one also has that starburst or sunflare quality to it emanating from the center focal point.
While The Beauty Inside features the same subject as Radiating Yellow, there are many differences. This isn’t just its horizontal companion. First, the light is a bit different due to the perspective change, but the biggest difference is the amount of detail. I don’t often focus stack, but this subject provided an excellent opportunity to do so. The upper focus point was on the clear, bulb-like structures and the lower point was on the heart of the flower. Combining the two allows you to experience a level of detail that cannot be captured without this technique. It still has that radiating quality, but the ability to see the hairs and surface texture on the flower’s heart adds another dimension. I felt this piece personified some of the reasons why someone might consider taking a closer look at what’s on the inside of flowers.
As thrilled as I was with the works from Part 1, when I saw the Purple Glow composition through the viewfinder, my excitement jumped to another level. The focal point just radiates and made me feel like I was looking at some kind of a neon sign for attracting pollinators. The clear, bulb-shaped structures appear to have magic powers or are either energized, electric, or light emitting. Fantastic! This was created at two times life-size and has incredible detail on the petal surfaces all the way down to the hairs in the very heart of the flower. The magnification enhances the impact and almost forces you to pay attention to an area of these little flowers you may not have ever seen.
To me, I felt that Exploring Purple was happy. Maybe it was because I was overjoyed at the artwork I was creating, or maybe it’s the way the orange in the center forms an arc that reminds me of a smile. Perhaps it is due to the way the center petal is shaped as though it is waving while sending out good vibes. More than likely it was just me being very pleased to have found such fascinating subjects to explore.
Purple Affinity is another one that contains the crystalline or jewel-like particles scattered around below the center of the flower. I also felt that the white in the petals acts as a highlighter in attracting attention to the center or heart of the flower.
I love creating macro pieces. Simply put, I am fascinated with the possibilities that a macro rig offers. It is very challenging both photographically and technically. You have to deal with a setup that usually demands more light which translates into longer shutter speeds. The problem with that is the closer you get to any given subject the more ANY movement is amplified. Sharpness cannot be achieved if motion occurs and being blurry is not a desirable attribute. Further, shooting in morning light is preferred because it produces vibrant colors and the heat of the day hasn’t yet stirred up the wind. But doing that causes a reduction in the overall amount of available light – meaning you need to increase the time your shutter stays open even more. It is a constant battle between competing elements that requires compromises to resolve.
The techniques utilized aren’t easy in a studio under perfect conditions, but move outdoors and you crank the difficulty level up beyond the comfort level of many photographers. Have you ever noticed how rarely the wind is dead calm? Using various types of flash can help overcome some of the aforementioned concerns, but I prefer to compose using only natural light. I’m not trying to make creating my artwork exponentially harder; I just like naturally lit scenes way more than those produced using flash (even if a diffuser is employed). While it can be frustrating, the rewards are almost always worth it. An amazing and wonderful world is normally hidden from our view. You may give a quick glance to a flower while walking past it or create a work of one at a distance that allows viewers to see the entire thing, but have no idea how exciting, interesting, or beautiful it looks on the inside when viewed at full magnification or higher.
I enjoyed excellent conditions the January afternoon these were composed. The light was diffused and flat thanks to heavy cloud cover. At the same time, there was very little wind. This was my first time creating macro pansy art, and I was quite intrigued by what I was seeing. I started my exploration just outside the Doll House while city workers were busily removing the Christmas decorations from Hopeland Gardens. I love the colors in my Doll House Pansy piece; especially the purple highlights and how the browns morph into oranges and reds as they approach the yellows. Using a fairly small f-stop helped keep a high level of detail all the way down into the very center of the flower and allowed the crystalline particles that look like little diamonds or jewels to be visible while at the same time capturing the surface texture. The darker arcs emanating from the center focal point create a feeling of tension.
My Velvety Ruffles piece shares some of the same color qualities that Doll House Pansy exhibits, but the mood is decidedly different. The darker arcs no longer carry a sense of tension, instead they convey an open feeling of stretched out arms that seem to welcome you to look closer and examine the subject’s inner beauty. The purple, velvety highlights along the flower’s ribs also help draw attention to its center. The yellow and orange arcs that flow out from below the center remind me of a starburst or sunflare and, once again, provide focal point emphasis. Detail and sharpness in the piece was also an important aesthetic goal and being able to see the individual hairs both in the center and on the surface help establish that.
My Flutterer piece gave me the feeling of a flower with the ability to flap its petals. The subject is the same as the previous two, but the viewpoint has been zoomed out so that the left-hand edge of the brown area can be easily seen. It felt as though it was declaring a type of freedom and that it would no longer be satisfied with being stationary.
The final piece in this blog post is Fire Wings. This is the same subject as the last three, but this one is zoomed out even further with a perspective change. Similar to Flutterer, it reminded me of a butterfly and was composed so that both the left and right wings are visible. This view also really allows the color transitions from the browns into the yellows to be seen across the majority of the surface. Even though it wasn’t created as close to the subject, a high level of detail was maintained.
While vacationing in Boone, NC, I was walking around the grounds at the Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis, NC when I came upon a composition that I could not deny. I love cabins and when they are in or near the mountains, they’re even better. Their old cabin, known as the Loom House, feels like the epitome of mountain living. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent many vacations in the Blue Ridge Mountains staying in cabins, but to me just the sight of one brings back feelings of excitement and reminds me of adventure, recreation, hiking, and sightseeing. I love the hand-made qualities of this one and how inviting and relaxing the two rocking chairs on the front porch look. I felt that the big trees and barn in the background added authenticity and made it feel charming, warmer, homey and well-loved (as if it held more than a hundred years of good memories).
While vacationing in Boone, NC, I was walking around the grounds at the Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis, NC when I discovered a scene that felt simultaneously serene and inviting. The way the chairs were positioned on the dock made me feel like it was someplace I could just sit and relax while listening to and watching nature around me. If I had been staying there, I would have wanted to grab that pole and cast my line out to see what I could catch. I maneuvered around to where I could add some color into the composition via the Orange Jewelweed, and created my Ole Fishing Hole piece.
I was encouraged to enter some of my artwork in a contest hosted by the South Carolina State Parks known as the Artist In Residence (AIR). Never having entered any contests (or having shown my work to anyone outside of friends and family), I was pleasantly surprised upon winning a slot. Being a recipient gave me a free one week stay at a cabin in Santee State Park in exchange for a donation of my work. It was a fantastic opportunity, and I brought back more than 1,400 images (it was like a photographic vacation). I spent most of my early mornings within the state park boundaries, but I used the remainder of the days to discover areas of the National Wildlife Refuge that I did not previously know existed (e.g., Bluff Unit, Dingle Pond Unit, Pine Island Unit, and the superb Cuddo East).
I wanted to add some sunrise compositions to my body of work, so I used Google Maps to get a feel for spots within the park that offered the possibility of a good view before I left home. I planned to explore the Lake Marion shoreline for an area that had some foreground interest while being positioned to catch the sun coming up. After checking in, I used the remaining daylight to do some scouting and found a pretty good location just off from the connector trail that runs from the Cypress View Campground to the Bike Trail.
From a photographic perspective, the first morning was a bust. The sky was so choked with clouds that color couldn’t even be seen through them. As far as an outdoor nature experience goes, I enjoyed myself regardless of not creating a single composition.
The second morning, Mother Nature didn’t present what I had initially envisioned, but she provided an excellent option none-the-less. In my Surf’s Up piece, Lake Marion was riled by blowing winds and waves that were rolling to the point of producing white caps. Since the area that I planned on using was cloud choked again, I moved my tripod so that I could position the camera to where some color was able to break through above the horizon. Compared to an ocean or one of the Great Lakes, Lake Marion is fairly small which made me feel like what I was witnessing was unusual. It was captivating to hear the water crash into the shore and watch it fly up in the air. To show the power of the wind and waves breaking along the shore, I used a shutter speed that captured the spray.
The third morning, I decided to try a different location, but it was unproductive, so on the fourth morning I returned to the original site. Compared to the second morning, the mood was peaceful and calm. While clouds were blocking the sun, the magic light still found its way into my Socked In piece. Using the longest shutter speed possible without going to a special setting really brought out the feeling of tranquility. Because of the shutter speed, the lake is velvety smooth and the mixture of pastel colors helps convey the serenity I felt that morning. I love the raccoon tracks in the sand near the shoreline on the lower left hand side, and the logs and roots make a visually interesting foreground contrasted against the silky lake.
On the fifth morning, Mother Nature produced a constantly changing light show. The intensity of the light and the warmth it generated was welcome on that early spring morning. To create that feeling in my Shore Glow piece, I, once again, used the longest shutter speed to smooth out the surface of the lake and capture the reflection of light on its surface from the horizon all the way back to the shore.
Not even ten minutes had passed before I created Got Silk?, and the clouds blocking the light had continued to change and shift. More light was available but it wasn’t as intense, and that made the scene feel a bit cooler. To portray that, I switched to a horizontal orientation that allowed for more of the blues to come in and increased the shutter speed while keeping the lake surface somewhat flat.
After watching the light transform for nearly another half an hour, I created Lake Marion Sunrise. This was very close to what I had imagined capturing before arriving and while scouting potential sites. Watching the gold, orange, and red colors shimmer on the water was a real treat. I love sunrises. To me, the root system looks a bit like an oar fish with an open mouth and a large eye looking back at the viewer. I was pleased to be able to donate a print of this to the Santee State Park, and if you visit the Ranger Station, you’ll see it hanging on their wall.
I use two very basic guides as my criteria for what I’ll point my camera at for any given macro composition. The subject matter has to be either colorful or interesting. I can’t deny that I’m a color-junkie and color will, in and of itself, attract my attention quicker and easier than anything else. But, I also seek the unusual, different, or fascinating.
The first morning of my South Carolina Artist In Residence stay at Santee State Park, I noticed an odd looking formation poking out of a small pine tree. Since I was heading to the shore of Lake Marion in hopes of capturing a landscape shot, I made a mental note to examine it later. Upon returning to the car, I switched to a macro rig (a 180mm lens with a 2x extension) and proceeded back to the trail head to begin my exploration. I found the texture and color of the subject quite intriguing, and felt it had the appearance of a pumpkin (albeit embedded within a tree). Further, it didn’t feel like a friendly, happy version with a big smile, but was more morose perhaps even sinister or creepy.
To bring out the color and help the subject pop against an otherwise dull, light tan and brown background, I positioned a teal green shirt so that it would fill that space. By composing close to the subject, the branches and leaves between it and the shirt have very nice bokeh. Combining that with the dappled background light, created a more pleasing and aesthetically exciting back drop. A fairly small f-stop allows for an incredible amount of detail to be seen, especially in a larger size (e.g., the surface texture on the pumpkin and bark, orange dust, webs, and tiny particles). To gather enough morning light, I had to utilize a slow shutter speed. Asking Mother Nature to stay perfectly still for that long is nearly always met with indifference resulting in frustration for the macro photographer.
The ability to capture feelings, emotional response, or fascination with a subject is an artist’s top priority. It is our primary goal to compose a piece such that it has the ability to visually transmit those qualities to the viewer. I hope you see the pumpkin in the tree.
Hopeland Gardens in Aiken, SC is truly a photographic treasure chest. This spot has been and continues to be my go-to location for composing macro pieces. The Rye Patch is a ten acre estate immediately adjacent to Hopeland Gardens with its own rose garden. I normally search for suitable subjects by exploring both areas, especially since you can easily walk between the two. During certain peak blooming times in the spring, the azalea, rhododendron, mountain laurel, and other flowering plants and trees really spruce things up.
The bricks in my Hopeland Gardens Path piece lead to a small wooden bridge that spans a spillway from a water fountain and caries you along the blooms beside them. On the other side of the brick wall in the background is the normally busy Whiskey road. Hopeland Gardens is like a sanctuary right in the heart of the city.
The remaining pieces below are all straight ahead, frame-filing takes that showcase both the abundant blooms and gorgeous, old trees within the combined boundaries. It is easy to see why so many weddings (including my brother’s many years ago), receptions, and other events are held here and why wedding and engagement photographers choose this location as their outdoor backdrop. The Spring Arrives and Hopeland Spring Dress pieces were both composed within Hopeland Gardens while the Rye Patch Blooms piece was created just outside the Rye Patch along the path that runs from the main building to the rose garden.