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 had been watching the mullein in the front garden near the south wall at the Aiken County Historical Museum basically all season. I reviewed several possible compositions using the initial plant from that area, but wasn’t able to find anything that felt right or was aesthetically pleasing enough. Not long after the first plant had finished blossoming and turned an ugly brown, a new, larger one sprouted up just a couple of feet from where the original one grew. Each time I made my way through the museum grounds, I would inspect the new plant, but even though it felt like it held a composition, nothing was found. The soft, hairy (some might even say fuzzy or furry) leaves were attractive especially when they were covered in dew drops. On this particular morning, I created a couple of works facing east, but they still weren’t exactly what I was looking for. In fact, one of my artistic goals was to eliminate background colors caused by dirt and/or pine needles and fill the entire frame with greens from its leaves. So, I decided to go around to the other side of the plant and see what it offered. While facing west, I discovered something that I had not seen during any of my prior museum outings. A new cluster of tiny leaves had sprung up near the center of the plant. For my Mullein Core piece, I placed that group of leaves on the lower, rightmost crossing line, using the rule of thirds, and used them as my focal point. I was pleased with the result, gratified that my persistence had paid off, and pleasantly surprised with the happy feeling it has (though that is likely due to the large leaf in the background that appears to have a face with closed eyes and a wide smile).
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.
As I was walking through the Rye Patch Rose Garden looking for subjects, I discovered a naturally abstract scene that I couldn’t pass without further investigation. The Rose Garden is an enclosed area with two side entrances that each have a swinging door. Within the garden boundaries are hedges that are usually neatly trimmed in a rectangular shape that further segregate the various areas. On top of one of the hedge rows was a web that was completely covered in dew. Upon closer examination of the area I subsequently captured in Dew Veil, I was struck by how I could see the leaves underneath the web while at the same time the drops of dew created a mask over them. It was a curious effect and almost felt as if I was looking at leaves that had been embedded in glass. I found a group of leaves that had a couple of tips poking up and out of the web as well as other leaves surrounding it in an artistic manner. I then placed that group in the frame so that the rightmost vertical one third line, using the rule of thirds, nearly bisected them. To achieve side-to-side sharpness across the entire frame, a technique known as focus stacking was employed. The high level of captured detail allows web strands and a whole bunch of tiny dew drops to be seen.
Hitchcock Woods is an amazing resource to have right in our city, and I’ve written about it in previous blog posts. That being said, I don’t usually hunt for subjects within it using my macro rig. But, this particular morning I didn’t have any luck finding something to point my camera at on the grounds of the Aiken County Historical Museum so I decided to hike down some of the horse trails to see what I could find.
The leaf in my I Heart Nature piece immediately drew me in primarily due to its shape. After all, the heart symbol is a universal ideograph that represents love, and, being a nature lover, I had a strong desire to capture a scene expressing that sentiment. I also found the greens quite attractive. In fact, one of my artistic goals was to find an angle that allowed me to fill the background with as much green as possible while avoiding the creation of darker brown areas where the dirt on the ground could be seen behind/under the leaves. Additional aesthetic concerns were leaf placement (both angle and position in the frame) as well as depth of field control. I put the leaf in the sensor on a diagonal so that it wouldn’t feel static or centered even though I gave the subject about the same amount of breathing room on either side and kept the distance from the top of the frame nearly equal to the space at the bottom. I sought as much detail as I could get in and on the leaf’s surface, but I also wanted the background to quickly fade away. When there is sufficient distance from the subject to the background, depth of field can be increased while maintaining good bokeh, but when objects in the background are close to the subject, you have to compromise. In this case, I had to open the lens incrementally until I found the right amount for this composition (i.e., where I was getting as much detail as possible from the subject while simultaneously decreasing features of the background leaves). This is another time where your camera’s depth of field preview really pays off because you can use it to dial in the setting while you observe the effect across your work. Even though I reduced the depth of field, the high level of captured detail allows surface texture to be seen.
I had been keeping an eye on the colorful, newly planted coleus in the big, back garden at the Aiken County Historical Museum since I first discovered them. In fact, I had looked at several different possible compositions on a previous trip, but couldn’t quite get everything that I wanted so I hadn’t captured anything. At the time I created my Scimitar piece, the plants themselves were less than two feet tall and had fresh looking leaves with nice colors. While exploring them for enticing patterns, I came across one that reminded me of the type of blade that a pirate or genie might have. I placed the leaf in the frame so that the sharp tip and bottom left hand side had about the same amount of distance to their respective edges. I then found an angle that allowed most of my subject to be surrounded by the enhancing background colors of the leaf directly beneath it. I placed the focal point on the tip, and by keeping the sensor plane aligned with the leaf, as much as I could, I maintained sharpness across the surface. The high level of captured detail allows texture and tiny hairs along the edges of the leaf to be seen.
The leaves on the tree where my Fall Berries piece was created can be quite colorful in the Fall. They were, as they have been in the past, loud enough to call me over from across the lawn at the Rye Patch. I searched around the tree for artistically pleasing scenes. I wanted good colors in the leaves and at least one berry. For the scene I settled on, I liked how the dark colors of the berries contrasted nicely against the brighter leaves as well as their mixture of purples with the blue reflections. Aesthetically, I found a perspective that kept the berries from touching each other. Then I placed the left most berry on the first lower left crossing line (a little off center), using the rule of thirds, and used it as my focal point.
I normally try to get as much depth of field as I possibly can, but sometimes I have to dial back the F-stop setting. As I’ve posted about previously, photography is about concession management. The wind picked up just as I began exploring the leaves. With the sun not yet able to provide much light through the surrounding trees, I needed several seconds of exposure time. But, Mother Nature insisted on rustling the leaves with a breeze coming on shorter intervals than what I required. To come to an equitable agreement with her, I dropped my F-stop down to F/11 which cut my exposure time down to two seconds. Voila, everybody was happy. And, as a bonus, the background leaves nearly completely dissolved down into simple colors. Even with a shallow depth of field, the high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
I found this wandering Jew nestled between the gorgeous green leaves on the north side of the circular driveway at the Aiken County Historical Museum. I searched for a section that wasn’t too ate up, had an artistically pleasing pattern, and the ability to fill as much of the frame as possible with leaves. I then placed the flower of the wandering Jew on the top left most crossing line, using the rule of thirds, and used it as my focal point. I really liked how the dark purple and green complement each other and create an attractive scene. I think the gardener that planted this section also believed that the two colors would work well with each other. The high level of detail allows surface texture, individual hairs, and individual dew drops to be seen.
I liked how the berries in my Beautyberry piece resembled little purple balls. Taken together across a much larger area of the bush, they produce a fairly large area of color which is what initially attracted me to them. I searched in and around the bush until I found a branch that had an artistically pleasing layout of berries. I also liked the way the gorgeous green leaves provided support by being at both ends and in between each of the three berry tiers. The high level of detail allows surface textures and individual dew drops to be seen.
While wandering the grounds in Hopeland Gardens, I was just east of the reflecting pools when I noticed a bunch of things falling out of the bushes. I was too far away from them to tell what they were, but dozens of objects were suddenly falling. At first I thought maybe they were blooms that had served their purpose and were being discarded, but it was strange so I stopped, listened, and watched a bit more intently. It was green tree frogs – hundreds of them! Obviously, they’ve really made a comeback. I haven’t ever seen that many at Hopeland Gardens, and I can’t recall ever seeing a concentration of them like that (even at the swamp where I could count on seeing lots of these little guys). That area was literally crawling with so many of them that they were crowded. I think that the frogs in my Froglets piece haven’t been out of the water that long. Their heads and backs are rounder and softer looking, they were small, and, if you look closely, you can still see a partial tail.
They apparently climb up onto the leaves, vines, and branches, and then when something scares them, they just jump down into the bigger leaves and ground cover below. I lightly walked around and found a few that decided they liked their perch and were going to stay put. I had to move real slow (you could say that I needed to sneak up on them) to get in place. Of course, I estimated where the height of the tripod should be and already had it set so it was a matter of being very careful with both approaching them and positioning the tripod. Making the setup more challenging was the fact that the frogs were in the shade while the rising sun was starting to really light up some of the nearby flora as it began to filter through the trees. In order to avoid taking too much light away from the frogs (or blowing out portions of the background), I had to find a perspective that let me shoot into leaves and bushes not yet too brightly lit. I think that’s one of the things that I love about photography – you constantly have to determine solutions that solve little problems (most of which have aesthetic consequences).