The main reflecting pool (i.e., the largest one with the water fountains in it) in Hopeland Gardens has flowerpots at each corner of the rectangular shaped pond. I’ve written a previous post about how the grounds keepers usually have some type of flowers or flora display in them, which is why I normally make my way to that area each time I’m on site searching for subjects. The bright flowers in Potted caught my attention as I wound around one of the flowerpots. My artistic goal was to fill the frame with as many flowers as I could while being close enough to capture the patterns in their throats and pollen swollen anthers. Additionally, I wanted the background to be as dark as it could be so that the flowers would pop against it. To find a suitable scene took a couple of passes around each of the flowerpots before returning to the one that initially caught my eye. I then had to locate a group where the flowers were closely crowded together and experiment with various framings until I found one that I desired. I focused on the stigma and anthers of the flower in the lower left-hand corner of the frame and got lucky that the distance to the camera’s sensor was nearly identical to the flower in the upper right-hand side. Which allowed both of the flower’s throat areas to fall within the zone of sharpness. The high level of detail allows texture and tiny hairs to be seen.
Sometimes you just have to give nature some help, which was the case the morning I composed the pieces in this post. While surveying the area where I had found one years ago, I discovered two gladiolus plants next to each other that were lying flat on the ground. They were both dead to the world and did not have the ability to stand on their own. I have no idea what happened to them though an animal may have knocked them over, or perhaps it was the wind, or maybe their blossoms just got too heavy to hold up. At any rate, it seemed like a real shame to have that much beauty going to waste. One stalk was fairly tore up and the flowers were not in good shape at all, and the second had a couple of pretty decent looking blooms as well as others that were being overrun by ants. I picked up the better of the two so that I could examine the flowers a bit closer. After I felt that a composition existed, I tried to get it balanced or propped up high enough to where I could comfortably get my lens on it, but that didn’t work – it just fell right back down again. So I got my plamp out and, after cleaning as many of the ants off from it as I could, I connected one of the clamps so that it would keep the plant from falling over.
After effectively bringing the plant back to life, I searched for an artistically pleasing flower. For my Reincarnated composition, I placed the center stalk of the stigma on the upper, leftmost one third line, using the rule of thirds. Then while keeping the stigma at that location in the frame, I maneuvered the camera around to where the anthers had approximately the same amount of space to their respective side. I focused on the stigma because it felt too prominent against the pink background to ignore. The extremely shallow depth of field didn’t allow much else to fall into the zone of sharpness, and I wouldn’t argue too much against this being classified as naturally abstract. However, the uniformity of the filaments, anthers, and stigma stalks (i.e., three, three, and three) helped convince me not to do that. The high level of detail allows tiny hairs and texture to be seen.
While scouring the best remaining, ant-free blooms, I found one that I liked. I decided to move the plamp into a position that would continue supporting the weight of the stalk and hold the flower steadier since the wind had started to pick up as the morning ticked away. I focused at the top of the stigma here as well and that worked out pretty good considering the angle of the anthers. I like how they slowly fade away. I was also pleased with how the filaments blended right into the background of my Stance piece because it creates the illusion that the anthers are floating. Tiny hairs and texture can be seen here too thanks to the high level of detail.
Sometimes we have to work on a subject (or a group of subjects) over the course of several weeks before getting exactly what we want out of it. Even if you produce many different pieces and you aren’t happy with any of them, don’t give up when you know that there is a composition just waiting for you to find it. That’s the story behind my Flame On piece.
The subjects here were new to Hopeland Gardens, and I had been working about six of them every time I wandered the grounds. I tried numerous framing options and had taken home lots of images that I subsequently rejected. I would usually work them for a few minutes during a visit before moving on, so they were, in a manner of speaking, bothering me (i.e., I couldn’t quite get what I desired, but I felt it was there someplace). And every time that it didn’t work was difficult because they were very attractive to the color junkie in me due to their brilliant colors. The interesting thing is that you have to view them at the right angle. When the morning sun backlit them, the reds and pinks in the leaves lit up like flames and drew me in as if I was a moth. Each time that I reviewed and threw out images, I would come away with a better idea of what I wanted to try during my next opportunity. On the morning this was composed, I was sure that I could find an angle and position that would allow me to create what had eluded me for a couple of months. After cleaning up a few spider webs that were flailing around, I finally got the right lighting and wind conditions and found a distance and perspective that pleased my inner artist. I wanted to fill the frame with as many of the gorgeous flame-like leaves as I could, which, in and of itself, produced a more abstract feel. I considered the randomly placed dew drops a nice little bonus.
I was attracted by the blues and purples in my Wet Hydrangea piece, and I had been wanting to create an abstract macro composition that featured hydrangea for a long time. I searched over several bushes in Hopeland Gardens until I found a group of petals that just felt right artistically. The foreground petals as well as the layers beneath them were nicely laid out, and the wet surfaces both enhanced the saturation and increased the abstract feel at the same time. To bring a little sense of order to the scene, I placed the bud in the center of the foreground petals so that the rightmost one third line, using the rule of thirds, nearly bisected it. That also allowed the leftmost foreground petal to remain within the frame, which was an important aesthetic concern since it is the subject’s most prominent attribute. I also really like the abstract designs from the reflections off the petal’s wet surface. Then I used the bud as my focal point to amplify its relative importance. Because of the bud’s height, that brought many of the dew drops scattered around the petals into the zone of sharpness. The high level of detail allows texture to be seen.
The coneflower in my Centrifugal piece was so vibrant and fresh that I had to create a composition with it. For artistic reasons, I placed the center of the flower very near the center of the frame. That produced a feeling of expanding outward like a controlled explosion of colors. It also allows the sharpness to fall off in even amounts starting from the center, where the focal point is, and heading across the frame toward both sides. The morning dew enhanced the saturation and provided a good deal of satisfaction for my color junkie cravings. After processing this one, it immediately became my new favorite coneflower. Individual pieces of pollen can be seen thanks to the high level of captured detail.
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 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.
The unusual shape of the sap in my Spiked Drops piece is what attracted me to it. If you’ve been following my Tree Sap posts, then you’ll recall that there were two limbs that had been cut. This was under the smaller limb and was hanging down far enough that the extremely shallow depth of field, when shooting at two times life-size, reduced most of the background bark down to simple colors. Both larger drops have nice reflections and refractions. I loved the smaller tapered drop and wondered how it could have been formed in that manner without colliding with the larger drop and being absorbed.
Molten is the final sap composition I was able to create. I was surprised that a collection of sap so large still had such good clarity. Most of the sap runs had at least started to dry and were turning a milky color. These drops were lower on the tree trunk beneath the area where the larger limb had been trimmed.
I love the colors that the lowest drop on the bottom has pulled in and the color striations in all of the drops. They also have some very nice multicolored refractions and colorful reflections.
The pieces in this series of blog posts, taken as a whole, feel like some type of a project – especially since I became accustomed to shooting at their location. I was able to create compositions nearly all season long starting from the time I first discovered the limbs had been cut and the tree had sap running down it. When there wasn’t much to point my camera at on any given day, I knew that I could at least get something from the sap tree.
Prior to creating my Wet Hunter piece, I was exploring the swampy area in Hopeland Gardens where a couple of my favorite leaf compositions have come from looking for another leaf that had turned the right color and would be backlit by the rising sun. I didn’t find any cool leaves, but while I was searching, I looked up and this anole caught my eye.
Though I’ve posted previously about being an opportunistic wildlife shooter, the scene was simply too good to ignore. I created more than 240 images in an effort to get the best pose that I possibly could. I really had to work to get this. Multiple perspectives were needed because the rising sun occasionally brought too much light into the background which forced me to find an angle that looked into an area with better balance. Additionally, I used decreasing camera to subject distances as I worked my way closer by carefully repositioning the tripod. It likely would have taken fewer images under better conditions, but the wind was blowing the cattail around (which by extension was moving the anole), and my subject would not sit still for very long. It was frequently moving its head, and, when the head was still, the eye was moving all over the place.
I loved the dew drops all over its body, the position it was in, how the tail was wrapped behind the cattail leaf, the cattail head, the angle of the cattail leaf (diagonally up through the frame), and the nice colors. I love artistic nature pieces – especially work from the late Ronnie Gaubert (one of my luminaries). Ronnie had an ability to present nature as both documentary and beautifully artistic, and I think I may have been tapping into some of his influence that morning. This was my favorite of the several images I kept, and the others that made the cut are available as stock only. The high level of detail allows surface textures and individual dew drops to be seen.
My Meal Design piece consists of three basic components: a hibiscus leaf, sepal, and petal. I loved the design cut into the yellow leaf likely by some type of insect that had eaten it. I placed it in the frame so that the midrib would run diagonally while filling the bug holes with the colors of the petal behind it. With a bit of aesthetic luck, the ribs of the background petal were also running up the frame on diagonal lines. I couldn’t do much with the green sepal as it was connected to the petal, but I felt that it was fine adding just a touch of additional color to the lower corner. The high level of detail allows surface textures and individual fibers to be seen.