I’ve previously written about magnolia buds and blossoms and how fascinating I find them. They go through so many transformations and stages that it’s almost like having several species growing in the exact same spot. The flower in my Tentacles piece wasn’t very far off the ground. In fact, it was low enough to where I could get very close to it and compose at two times life-size. My artistic vision was to concentrate on the pistils because in my mind’s eye they always remind me of octopus arms. When framing it, I decided to include a couple of stamen layers along the bottom for context, which also increased the naturally abstract feel I wanted to create. Though the depth of field is really shallow, hairs on the surface and around the pistils can be seen.
Hopeland Gardens has three rectangular fountain areas that, as legend has it, are actually the foundation of the original Iselin home. The largest one of them normally has soothing, bubbling sounds coming from the water being pumped out of the fountains in the center of it. In addition to pleasing your auditory senses, it has good sized pots on each corner that usually have some type of flora in them. I’ve composed many images from those flowerpots over the years, and I discovered the leaf in my Wet Christmas piece growing from flora that was planted in one. I was attracted to the scene by the Christmas colors (reds, greens, and whites), but the naturally abstract qualities were an even bigger impetus. My artistic vision was to put the two larger veins running diagonally through the frame. Aesthetically, the position felt best when the center of the crossroads where all of the veins meet was placed near the upper, rightmost crossing line using the rule of thirds. The wet surface helps bring out the saturation and increases the abstract feel.
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’ve previously written and posted about the inoperative fountain system in Hopeland Gardens as well as being an opportunistic wildlife photographer. All of the compositions in this post come from the upper fountain area and feature the same subject – a leopard frog that apparently wanted me to create works of it. I was amazed that the frog let me get so close to it because normally they are very cautious and jump before you even get to see them. I did move as slow as I could and continued to work my way up to these poses, but it almost felt like the frog simply wasn’t scared of me (for some unknown reason) and had no intention of fleeing no matter where I placed my tripod. I did have a similar encounter with a young alligator once down at Magnolia Springs State Park near Millen, GA, but it has been my experience that sessions like that are extremely rare.
I was able to maneuver the tripod into a position where I was directly above the leopard frog for my Primed piece. If it knew how nervous I was that it would jump, it very well may have. I felt that this was a unique opportunity (if for no other reason than you just can’t ordinarily get this pose with a live subject without having used some type of unethical technique). I was also thinking that its leg muscles must be locked and loaded and ready to fire in the blink of an eye. I loved the green, elliptical patches mixed in with the rest of its body camouflage, and the duckweed roots draped across its body. Due to the vertical orientation, I made the aesthetic choice of placing it very near the center of the frame horizontally. The high level of detail allows textures to be seen.
By the time I had composed Lounging Leopard I was feeling pretty confident that this frog was going to let me create anything I wanted. I had been deliberate and was careful when lifting and setting the legs of my tripod down both on the cement walls of the fountain and especially in the water near the frog. One thing I did that may have helped was to pull the tripod up and away from the area when major leg adjustments were needed. I had to use my experience and estimate the angles, height, and required leg positions for the next composition. Having a ball head makes that a little bit easier because if you don’t quite get the legs into a good configuration you have some additional movement available by changing the orientation of your camera. Aesthetically, I got as close to the water as I could so that I was nearly at eye-level to the frog. Putting the perspective at your subject’s level helps bring them into a more intimate setting. Keeping in mind that it is also important to give your subject some space to look into within the boundaries of the frame, I placed the eye so that it was nearly bisected by the leftmost one third line, using the rule of thirds. And vertically, the eye is just below the upper, leftmost crossing line. As with any wildlife subject, the focal point was put on the eye, which has a reflection off from its surface consisting of a little bit of sky and some trees that surround the fountain. Once again, the high level of detail allows textures to be seen.
I got in as close as I could for my Leopard Head piece. Having a longer lens certainly helps in a situation like this because you can create a full frame image without cropping or chasing your subject off due to the proximity of the lens. At this distance, tiny details in the eye and on the skin are revealed. For example, I love how the pigment in the skin has a type of sparkle in some areas. Texture can be seen here as well (e.g., bumps on the outside of the eye socket and raised areas just behind the eyes) thanks to the high level of captured detail.
My Global piece is all about the big bubble, and it is so much taller and larger than the previous bubbles that the extremely shallow depth of field isn’t deep enough to keep the bottom of it within the zone of sharpness. That being said, one of my artistic goals was to ensure that the smaller bubble on the left-hand side stayed within the frame. Fortunately, doing that placed the subject so that the rightmost one third line, using the rule of thirds, pretty much bisects it. I also positioned it very close to being centered vertically. The specific spot in the pool where this was composed was out in the more open area, and, as such, it benefitted from the blues in the sky reflecting off the surface.
To increase the apparent depth of field for my Bubbles On Bubbles piece, it was focus stacked. That allows thousands of tiny bubbles on the surface to be seen while keeping the larger bubbles within the zone of sharpness. While not as bright as the tones in Global, this also had the advantage of picking up more of the blues from the reflection of the sky. The shadows and particles that surround the bubbles remind me of how gravity pulls in nearby objects as planets form. In fact, throughout the entire time during the composition of these works other bubbles on the surface of the pool (some of which I had planned to use as subjects) were growing, merging, and even popping as they floated around.
I’ve written about the large reflecting pool in Hopeland Gardens in previous posts, and my regular readers may have surmised that there are others on the grounds. In fact, there are four different pools. Two of them are near the main pool and can be found on either side of it, while the other one is lower and south of the main pool. The lower pool is long and not as wide, and it doesn’t have a fountain feature. On the morning I composed the pieces in this series of posts, the lower pool was nearly completely covered with green algae. Upon a closer examination of the surface, I discovered lots of bubbles and interesting naturally abstract scenes.
I was attracted by the bubbles and the random strands of algae in my Frothy piece. Most of the surface has a chaotic – all over the place – feel which tends to cause areas with structure (i.e., the more defined, circular nature of the bubbles) to be highlighted. I found it to be an interesting mixture of organization within disorder, and, as I’ve previously mentioned, I like dichotomous abstracts.
There is still a good bit of disarray on the surface of my Greenie piece, but with the focal point being on a larger/taller bubble combined with an extremely shallow depth of field, it quickly lost much of its detail. One of my artistic goals was to keep the swoop to the left of the bubble within the frame. I placed the bubble to where the leftmost one third line, using the rule of thirds, cuts through it a little to the right of center. Though not centered vertically, both the upper and lower one third lines dissect the bubble as well. I love discovering happy little aspects during post processing, and, in this case, the reflection on the bubble that resembles a smile (giving it a similar appearance to a smiley face) was an unexpected treat.
The big leaves in the swampy area at Hopeland Gardens make wonderful subjects in the fall when their colors start to change. I have written about and posted several examples over the years because I love the patterns that can be found as they begin to expire (e.g., Fire Veins, Lava Leaf, and Closing In). When they are backlit by the golden tones of a morning sun, as the leaf in my Cessation piece is, they are able to elevate my excitement to another level. As I scan their locale looking for subjects to investigate from the trail at the top of the berm between the swamp and the pond, backlit leaves with these colors act like a beacon that my eyes immediately lock on to. At that point, there is a limited amount of time available to create a composition. The window is short lived due to the fact that the sun has to rise above the trees that keep the swamp partially shaded, and by the time it does, there is very little golden light remaining. I loved the last vestiges of Chlorophyll in the green pockets and tracing around the outline of the yellows and oranges, and I was captivated by the thought that Mother Nature will paint a different pattern on every leaf that reaches this stage of life. This leaf is very likely the only one that will ever look exactly as it does. The high level of detail allows texture and tiny leaf veins to be seen.
While exploring the grounds of Hopeland Gardens looking for magnolia seed pods, I discovered a group of mushrooms that were growing out of a stump that had been cut during the spring. I had inspected the stump earlier in the year (when the saw dust was still fresh) looking for stump art that Mother Nature may have hidden inside the tree, but didn’t find anything. I loved how tightly they were packed together in a relatively small area, and, because of that, my artistic goal was to fill the frame with as many of the mushrooms as I could. I worked several angles and produced many other compositions (some of which are available as stock only pieces) before creating Toadstools. Though serendipitous, I also like how their sizes decrease from top to bottom and left to right. The high level of detail allows tiny hairs and texture to be seen.
NOTE: I hope my regular readers and those who know the difference will forgive my placement of mushrooms into the Flora category. I know that they aren’t technically considered flora, but I don’t currently have a fungi category, so for now, that’s where they fall in my website’s structure.
I’ve previously written about the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum that is within the Hopeland Gardens boundary, but I had never created any compositions from the dogwood trees beside it. On the morning I composed my Dogwood Berry piece, the abundance of red berries called me over to that area. While fall hadn’t officially started (at least on the calendar), some of the leaves were already displaying their seasonal colors. After locating a berry that was near a colorful leaf, I found an angle that allowed me to place the berry on the right side of the frame while centering it vertically. That arrangement opened up the left side of the frame so that the leaf colors could be pulled into the background. My artistic goal was to keep as much as I could of the berry’s surface area in sharp focus, which is challenging using a single image because the camera’s sensor plane is flat and the berry is round (i.e., there will be falloff as the surface curves away). The high level of detail allows tiny hairs and texture to be seen.
I’ve previously posted about the fountain system in Hopeland Gardens that used to have flowing water in it. For most of the summer, the larger, upper portion was nearly dry. We had enough rain and run off to put some water in the basin, and it didn’t take long before the duckweed covered the entire surface. By putting part of my tripod in the water I was able to compose my Duckweed piece from directly above the aquatic plants. I was attracted to how random (in size, angle, and position) the fronds were as well as how they formed an unmistakably abstract pattern. Another random aspect of the composition is that they aren’t all perfect. In fact, it appears that some of them have deteriorated or perhaps they’ve been eaten by some type of a bug that stripped their surface away and caused veins to be exposed. While small in size and sandwiched between leaves, I also liked the reflections of trees and clouds on the water.