I’ve written about the wonderful flora diversity within Hopeland Gardens previously, but I still find it very cool that while Aiken is about three hours south of the mountains, you can find flowers that are normally located in the Upstate region here in our little town. I’ve known about this area of mountain laurel for a long time, and I’ve searched through them for possible subjects many times over the years that I’ve lived here. But I wasn’t ever able to time the blossoms right or able to find an aesthetically pleasing group of blooms that I could use to create a composition. As photographers, that’s why we have to keep going back as many times as it takes – persistence will pay off. On this particular spring morning, a very nice set of flowers and buds were waiting for me to find them and compose my Kalmia piece. They certainly are attractive, especially with the lovely bright pinks. It’s no wonder that, according to my father, they were one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers. The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
I believe that the blossom in my Standout piece is rose of Sharon. When facing west, this tree is to the right of the purple rose of Sharon (the same one that produced the bud in front of a bloom from a previous post) next to the wall in the Aiken County Historical Museum. I’ve noticed that they have comparable blooming schedules and their flowers have similar designs. This bloom was positioned by itself with lots of space around it and, more importantly, behind it (the background was clean all the way across Laurens Street to the trees on the other side). The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
I was attracted to the rose of Sharon in my Budding piece by the strong dark purple colors in the bud. This tree is very close to the west wall on the other side of the big back garden at the Aiken County Historical Museum and has had some very nice blooms over the years I’ve been shooting there (some of which have been featured in posts on this blog). After discovering the bud, I searched for an angle that would allow the background to be completely filled with a bloom. Because of the very shallow depth of field when composing physically close to the subject at two times life-size, I was able to dissolve the bloom down to simple colors. The high level of detail allows individual hairs on the bud to be seen.
After having worked the Chocolate Garden, I returned to the Butterfly Garden to give it a better going over. I had basically picked the low hanging fruit in the morning, but after lunch, I didn’t feel as pressed for time. That allowed me to go a little slower, take additional time to examine more perspectives, and create multiple frames of any given subject. Luckily the shooting conditions were quite favorable for midday (i.e., I had a diffused sky with periods of rain and not too much wind). I loved the size and gorgeous red colors of the buds in my Butterfly Garden Buds composition. I maneuvered around them until I could find an angle that 1) allowed me to keep the buds separated, and 2) have them originate from the top right corner and come down and out into the frame. Thanks to the high level of detail, surface texture and a rain drop can be seen.
Of the images I created featuring the flower in my Diagonal piece, I liked this one the best. I had a couple of initial objectives for this composition. First, I concentrated on the anthers and used them as my focal point. Secondly, I wanted a petal to run diagonally across and down the frame from left to right with the sharp tip ending near the lower corner. While I had resolved those two intentions, I felt that it could be improved with an additional change. I believed that it would be artistically stronger to force the majority of the filaments to originate within the frame (that is, to make it possible to see where they were coming from vice entering the frame from outside of it). So, I found a perspective that brought them back while maintaining the aforementioned goals.
I concentrated on the structures above the unopened disc florets in my Slit composition. In my mind’s eye, the center area reminded me of an eyeball, and the opening it has brought to mind a pupil. It felt almost as if Mother Nature had created a flower that could look back at its admirers. I positioned the lens to where the diameter of the eye used just about the entire height of the frame while the first one third line (using the rule of thirds) runs right through the pupil nearly splitting it in half. That also allowed the disc florets to create a fuzzy ring around the eye and exposed some petals.
While exploring Hosta leaves at the Aiken County Historical Museum, I discovered several that had blooming flowers. However, none of them satisfied my aesthetic eye like the group in my Hosta Buds piece. Because I wanted to place as much as I could of those gorgeous greens in the frame, I worked the camera around until I found a perspective that let me utilize a hosta leaf for the background. Equally (if not more) important was keeping the two buds from touching each other and providing them with their own space (which increased the challenge of finding the right angle). I liked the rain drops and felt that they added a nice touch of additional visual interest. I got lucky with them as a quickly moving shower had just recently passed through the area. The high level of detail allows surface texture to be seen.
The bright red colors called me over to the canna lily in my Points composition from across the south lawn at the Aiken County Historical Museum. While it has an almost abstract feel, I liked the concentration of buds with the single flower. When you are shooting real close to a given subject, the depth of field can be extremely shallow, but as you increase the distance between your lens and the subject, the zone of sharpness expands. Composing while using a higher F-stop can result in background objects being visible. In severe cases, the background can cause an image to become cluttered and confuse the viewer since they may not understand what the subject is. To please my aesthetic eye, I do my best to avoid busy backgrounds, and this was one case where an adjustment was required. This lily was fairly close to leaves, vines, and other flora in the background. To dissolve those things down into colors, I dialed back the F-stop to a smaller number. That is yet another example of the many artistic tradeoffs I’ve posted about previously. You have to consciously decide how much subject sharpness you want to give away to get the background you need. Once again, if you find yourself in this situation, your Depth Of Field Preview while using your camera’s Live View capability is quite valuable because you can use it to judge when you’ve produced the desired amount of blur. Of course, there are processing tricks you can use to achieve similar results, but I believe in getting it right in the camera. To me, the final result is always better, and you’ll spend significantly less time processing.
I liked the mixture of hard points and softer round edges in my Skinny piece. The blend of the buds and petals create a nice contrast. This is the same subject featured in Points composed from a completely different perspective. While keeping the majority of the buds, I wanted to bring more attention to the flower. For the same reasons outlined above, I had to trade some subject sharpness for background blur here as well.
I liked how the petals far outnumbered the buds in my Red Canna composition. It’s interesting that this subject was quite close to the previous subject yet it had significantly more blooms. Though the combination of buds to flowers is nearly opposite of the earlier pieces, I felt that it had a nice mixture, and I liked how they filled out the frame. Once again, the proximity to background objects was a concern and subject sharpness had to be reduced by using a smaller F-stop. The water drops were from a quickly moving shower that started spitting just before I pressed the shutter a couple more times. I grabbed my gear and moved everything under the roof area on the south side of the museum until the rain stopped. The high level of detail allows pieces of pollen and rain drops to be seen.
Before I was run off by the thought of my equipment getting drenched, I had considered whether or not the prior lily subject could be shot at a higher F-stop. Since the rain had ended, I returned to the subject, set the area up a bit, and composed Lily Tower. Though I had to arrange some vines and use a plamp to hold the scene together, I was able to find a perspective and position the tripod so that there was a whole lot of space between the subject and the background (like 40 or 50 feet which was way outside the sharpness zone). I liked the background because it was a bit darker against the bright reds (thanks to an angle that had the lens pointed into the leaves of a background tree). The increased depth of field and high level of detail allows individual pieces of pollen and surface textures to be seen.
I had been keeping an eye on the subject in my Dusty Miller piece at the Aiken County Historical Museum for a couple of weeks. The plant had some cool looking round leaves that I thought might make a nice abstract, but I hadn’t been able to find anything that I liked. On the morning I created this, blooms had sprouted and pretty little yellow and orange flowers were popping out at the top of taller stalks in several spots. I walked around the flowers until I found a group that was artistically pleasing and had a viewing angle that allowed me to put them in front of a bush with dark red/purple leaves. Shooting at two times life-size with a shallow depth of field assured me that the background bush would create bokeh with very nice, complementary colors. The high level of detail allows individual hairs to be seen.
My Dusty Blooms composition is from a different group of dusty miller at the museum. I placed the camera over the top of a stalk and pointed it down into the plant. The blooms appear to be more mature and don’t have any buds. I love the blue tones that were reflected off the white surface of the leaves as it creates the impression that I used the sky or placed some type of material under them to achieve the background colors. The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
Although it is from the same plant, Cheery isn’t quite a vertical companion to Dusty Blooms. I did compose from above the flowers while looking down at them again though. But, since my artistic intent was to fill the frame with as many blooms as possible, I had to move the camera to a more suitable spot. The bright yellows and light blue background endow the piece with a sense of happiness.
Dusted is the abstract composition I knew existed, but that I had been unable to find in previous trips to the museum. Perhaps the plants just needed to fill out a bit more. It’s good to keep mental notes of ideas or plans that you have for a given subject and then continue to revisit them until you are able to create what you want.
The flowers in my Hopeland Azalea piece were fairly late bloomers. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we had a warm late winter and early spring so most of them had long since bloomed. Perhaps this specific type of azalea naturally blossom on a different schedule. Since I was a bit surprised to find such nice colors, I couldn’t hardly walk right past them without at least looking at them through the lens. I positioned the camera so that these little beauties filled the frame in layers from front to back while maintaining sharpness on the stamen and stigma. The high level of detail allows individual hairs, surface texture, and pollen to be seen.
The little flowers I discovered on a tree/bush in Hopeland Gardens had a fairly fragrant smell. The bumble bees were really into them. In fact, there were so many bees trying to collect pollen that it caused the limbs and flowers to vibrate and move. I patiently waited for the branch these were on to calm down enough to create my Bee Loved composition. The background is mostly an open area of ground/clay that was being lit by the morning sun. With only a single bloom open, I placed the left most bottom crossing line, using the rule of thirds, just above the center of it. That also allowed the buds to fit nicely into the frame. I then used the center of that flower for the focal point. Other aesthetic decisions were to bring the stem out horizontally, holding the buds and bloom on diagonals, and using the background as a natural vignette. The high level of detail allows surface textures and individual hairs to be seen.
The changes that magnolia go through during the seasons are pretty amazing. It seems that each year I find a stage of life that I haven’t seen before. I have to say that I wasn’t expecting anything like the bud in my Rat Tail piece when I happened to notice a furry growth on one of the magnolia trees at the Rye Patch. For aesthetic reasons, I placed it along the diagonal that splits the frame and gave the tip a little bit of room to sit in the corner. Even though the background was filled with busy leaves, the very shallow depth of field, when shooting at two times life-size, dissolved them down into colors. The high level of detail allows single hairs to be seen.