The Camellia flowers in Hopeland Gardens seem to be able to handle South Carolina winters quite well. Even when it’s still pretty cold around here, blossoms can be found. I composed the pieces from this post in early February.
In Timid Pink, the center of the flower feels like it is hiding behind one of the pink petals and is too shy to fully show itself. Even though the core may be bashful, there is still plenty of beauty on display. The colorful rolls cascading away from the focal point create a soft, soothing feel.
Though Pink Waves shares similarities with Timid Pink, it’s not quite a vertical companion. While it is the same subject, the perspective has been changed. In my mind’s eye, this composition felt like the round, orange core was dropped into a pink pool sending waves out in all directions.
Proudly Pink is a much more intimate look at a Perfectly Pink Camellia. That was facilitated, in part, by the open blossom which allowed a composition closer to the subject. For aesthetic reasons, I emphasized the pinks across the entire flower by using special processing techniques. That also helped foster a softer, comforting appearance.
When composing Smiling Pink, the first thing I noticed was what looked like a wide smile, almost a grin, on the surface of the flower’s center. That sets the tone across the entire piece because it seems quite happy. After letting the little flower’s delighted look settle in, it’s easy to feel that it has a personality. To me, it appears to have a pleasant attitude almost as if this Camellia was gratified to have been selected as one of my subjects and is wholly satisfied with its colorful petals.
While exploring the grounds of Hopeland Gardens on a winter afternoon, I discovered the subject in my New Growth piece. It felt so tender, fresh, and delicate while at the same time displaying an urgent desire to stretch toward the sky and begin contributing to the photosynthesis process. This pod had emerged from a small bush no taller than I am. I positioned my camera so that the dark red and browns of the brick wall in the shadows would help make the colorful and furry looking leaves pop. Composing close to it helped ensure that the background held only colors. Capturing a high level of detail allows individual hairs on the leaves, stems, and pod’s surface to be seen.
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.
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.
Hitchcock Woods is a wonderful asset to have in our little town. It is one of the largest urban forests in United States and is reportedly two or three times the size of New York City’s Central Park. Since Aiken is primarily known for its association with horses (even the street signs have horse heads on them), you will most likely come across a rider or two while hiking on the 70 miles of trails that run through it. Maps are available, and some of the trails will give you a good workout with their hills and loose sand. I’ve hiked every trail and even have a couple of favorite routes.
The pieces from the Chalk Cliffs area were composed during one of those ‘right place at the right time’ outings. This particular session resulted in an important learning opportunity where, as a photographer, you realize that your destiny with good light can be planned. I had arrived as the sun was setting, but before the golden hour started. I spent some time surveying potential locations and was elated when golden light began to fall on nearly everything in my viewfinder.
In the Hitchcock Sunset piece, I decided to showcase the magic light enveloping the horse trail and pumping up the oranges and yellows of the clay and sand. I used the crack running through the protruding surface feature (left, foreground) as a leading line pointing towards the trail. This also allowed me to pick up light beams coming across the scene from the foreground to the middleground as well as golden painted rocks with shadows from nearby trees. Sharpness from the foreground to the background was achieved by using a fairly small f-stop. Due only to illumination from the right light, the visual transformation was stunning, and I appreciated being able to witness it firsthand.
For Golden Light Site, there was no spectacular light show in the middleground. Since this was composed a few minutes later, the light was heading towards a more orange tone. Which was perfect for this spot because it really brought out the orange and yellow hues in the rocks and dirt. I used the tree in the foreground as an anchor and let the light and erosion channel create a path to the middleground. A fairly small f-stop was used here as well, to maintain sharpness from the little foreground stones to the pine needles in the background. I love the colors in this piece, and it is my favorite of the group.
Chalk Cliffs is a straight ahead, frame-filling take. It required a longer shutter speed to gather enough light to illuminate the darker areas of the cliffs. Capturing the details on the face of the wall and the subtle patterns within the fallen dirt was an important, character forming, aesthetic choice. The light painted highlights across the frame serve as visual icing on the cake.