I was attracted to the hosta leaves in my Fall Curves piece by the colors. They grabbed my attention while I was searching for evidence of fall in the garden area near the bell at the Aiken County Historical Museum. I considered every leaf with good color and no visible damage (including some with darker yellows), but they were all missing one key aesthetic ingredient. I wanted the entire image to be filled with nothing but hosta. That is, I didn’t want dirt, grass, moss, other leaves, a tree, or anything else being visible in the background. This scene was the only one where another hosta leaf filled in the gap between the two sides. My artistic vision was to create a naturally abstract composition by placing the main leaf in the frame so that the arches and lines flowed out and away from its center. I liked the design and the sense of depth the focal point and placement provided. There is quite a bit of dew on the foreground leaf and that wetness produced some nice highlighting. The high level of detail allows surface textures, bumps, dents, and individual dew drops to be seen.
Occasionally I come through the stage area on my route around the Rye Patch and Hopeland Gardens. On the morning I discovered the trumpet vine in my On Stage piece, that was the course I was taking. Just as I came out of the building, the bright colors on the left-hand side caught my eye. Their angle and position made them even more attractive. Perhaps because the flowers were on the stage, in my mind’s eye, they looked like they were happily singing in full throat with their mouths wide open and teeth showing. I liked being able to capture features all the way to the back of their windpipe while the background leaves and vines consist mostly of shapes and colors. The high level of detail allows surface textures and tiny individual hairs along the petal edges to be seen.
I was both attracted to and intrigued by the wet bud in my Autumn Rouge piece. I thought it looked like azalea, but it was confusing since they are normally long gone so late in the year. In fact, they are usually done before the end of spring. I discovered it in the big, back garden at the Aiken County Historical Museum along the southwest corner of the wall. Several small bushes were blossoming so I searched around them until I found an identification sign. I learned that they are Encore Azalea (specifically Autumn Rouge, which cleared up the blooming time schedule). I liked how wet it was and all of the water drops as well as the gorgeous colors. For aesthetic reasons, I maneuvered the camera into a position that put the background flowers far enough away from the subject that no details remained while keeping the depth of field as deep as I could. The high level of captured detail allows surface textures and individual hairs and dew drops to be seen.
I discovered the cluster of newly sprouted leaves in Foliation while roaming around my back yard. I loved the greens, of course, but I also felt that the design they formed was attractive and graceful – especially the arched top and curly tips. Artistically, I felt that using the trunk of the tree for a background was much more appealing than the grayish ground cover from just about any other angle. Luckily, the leaves were far enough away from the bark that it simply dissolved down into colors with no discernable wood features (even while using a higher F-stop). Additionally, I felt that the light browns of the hairs, at the tips, and highlighted in and around the various surface areas helps tie the backdrop browns to the piece’s subject. Finally, I liked the rib-like striations in the leaves and was pleased with how visible they are. The high level of captured detail allows individual hairs and surface textures to be seen.
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.