We were tired, hot, and almost out of water on the connector trail heading back to the car when I came across the little guy in my Boot Chaser piece. He was cool with his massive jaws. They are so big that he clumsily muddles around. I think I scared him because he stopped dead and stayed still long enough for me to compose a couple of images. But, it didn’t take long before some little ants, apparently not happy with his presence, started biting him and wouldn’t leave him alone. He tried to brush the ants off his back legs and even tried shaking to remove them, but, in the end, I think he got tired of being attacked and decided he was going to move along. I didn’t want him to go because I was hoping that the ants would give up and I’d be able to continue creating so I temporarily blocked his path with my boot. Which worked, but what was really strange was that he kept returning to it – even coming from as far as four feet away. If I moved my boot to the left (to give him an escape route), he’d come plodding over to the left exactly where my boot was. If I then moved to the right, he’d slog on over and return to my boot again. We played that game at least four times so I don’t think it was just a coincidence. Maybe he marked my boot with some kind of a scent or something so he’d know where he was. It was a neat encounter.
After working the area near the shelter where we had lunch, we hiked down a connector trail that leads to the Little Gap Trail. I discovered the bark in my Flakes composition on a side trail that leads down to the water. I was initially attracted to the bark by the abstract patterns, but the colors convinced me that I needed to find a way to fill a frame with them. I searched the surface until I found a section that piqued my artistic eye. My goal was to pull in as much color as possible with an interesting design while keeping as much of the rougher outer layer of bark out of the frame.
Near the end of June, we took an excursion up to Dreher Island State Park. We found an open shelter on Sweet Gum and claimed a spot. I did some scouting in the woods and along the shoreline before having a very good picnic lunch. After eating, I continued to explore near the water’s edge and came across some pine trees that had large areas of bark that had been stripped away (likely from a beaver). All of the images in this post are compositions featuring sap found on the trees in that area.
I loved the almost crystalline or icy look of the sap in my Fractured piece, but I was also attracted to the scene by the gorgeous colors underneath it. It felt quite abstract with the scratches, gashes, and gouges randomly scattered all across the surface. The most colorful areas reminded me of rock candy. My artistic approach was fairly simple; maximize the amount of surface breaks while pulling in the most color. The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen (the tiny stress/compaction lines are amazing).
The area where my Orange Cracks composition came from had some great colors. I was immediately drawn to the lush oranges below the white, flaky coating. The difficulty was that the surface of the sap was littered with the corpses of all different types of bugs. They apparently got stuck in the sap and then, because they couldn’t break free, died on the surface. New sap continued to drip down and cover some of the bodies so that they became embedded. Searching for a section that had good color and was relatively clean (and free of bug bodies), was challenging. This perspective brought to mind some type of tasty, frozen or shaved ice, orange drink or perhaps broken pieces of hard candy.
I was excited to discover the two, big, active drips in my Sap Channel piece. The coating on either side of them reminded me of cracked and broken sheets of ice in a river that looked like they could be flowing downstream. Artistically, I preferred the frame in a position to where the channel ran across and down it diagonally. While not possible to recognize in a static capture, I was able to see the sap trickle down the furrow. The high level of detail allows surface textures and reflections off the sap to be seen.
While hiking on a trail not far from the red mountain laurel, I discovered another flower that I had never seen before. Luckily the subject in Black Rock Mountain Trillium was right next to the stairs and not too far from the trail head which made it easy to get to after returning to my car and gathering my gear. I like the arcs and curls as well as the random sprinkling of color between the yellow strips of pollen on the stamen. The high level of detail allows surface textures, individual hairs, and pieces of pollen to be seen.
The change of perspective in my Beckon piece makes the curls seem as if they are drawing you in or subtly calling out, asking you to come closer. Their curvature creates a sense of pulling towards the center of the flower. The high level of detail allows surface textures, individual hairs, and pieces of pollen to be seen here as well.
A large swath of color caught my eye while out exploring the area during a long weekend stay in a cabin at Black Rock Mountain State Park in Mountain City, GA. Upon closer inspection, I was pleasantly surprised to find blooming mountain laurel especially in an unfamiliar color. I have seen both white and pink here in South Carolina and in the mountains of North Carolina, but the color in my Red Mountain Laurel piece was a new variety of the much beloved little flowers. Because they bloom in clumps that are roughly spherical (i.e., there can be several inches of distance between a flower in front and one on the side) and their cups can be relatively deep when working with a very shallow depth of field, a frame filing composition with sharp focus throughout can be challenging to find. I was able to resolve that issue by concentrating on a smaller group within a bloom that had a fairly full complement of flowers and buds. The high level of detail allows surface textures to be seen.
Wisteria Cluster was created during the first full day of my South Carolina Artist In Residence (AIR) trip. After spending the morning within the Santee State Park boundaries, I crossed the bridge over Lake Marion and went to the Bluff Unit NWR that afternoon. I had never been to any of the NWR sites in the area, but had wanted to for some time. Staying at the state park for an entire week provided an excellent opportunity to explore new territory, and I put my afternoons to good use by scouting for possible photographic locations. Bluff Unit has a visitor center, which I took advantage of by gathering trail maps, brochures, and other available information as well as talking to the man on duty in hopes that he might have some possible suggestions. Since my sunrise plans hadn’t panned out, I thought maybe being on the other side of the water might be the ticket to a nice sunset. In the interim, I explored the visitor center grounds and found several nice subjects. I was attracted to the color and shape of this group of flowers. The high level of detail allows surface textures, contours, veins, and individual hairs on the buds and leaves to be seen.
There are a couple of large clusters of cacti on the grounds near the main house at Redcliffe Plantation State Park. I never really paid that much attention to them during previous visits, but this particular spring afternoon, new, fresh cacti appeared to be popping up all over the surface areas of the older plants. They looked so full of life and color that I was forced to examine them closer. When I started composing, I found some to be quite compelling. For example, through positioning and the arrangement of its spines, the subject in Spiked seemed to take on a personality. I felt that it resembled Medusa with the ‘ready to strike’ thorns being her hair and taking the place of venomous snakes. It also appears to have captured her profile as she looks to the right with her head slightly tilted back. I positioned the camera to bring in as much of the fruit as possible (primarily to introduce some additional color into the composition). And, as a bonus, the almost blood red tone helps produce a more menacing quality as does the collar of needles around her neck.
The subject in Head Spears reminds me of a crazy kid or maybe even a teenager. One who would put so much gel in their hair that they could form head spikes. The captured expression seems to be one of momentary shock as if turning to look at the photographer while wondering “Who, me?”
I discovered the subjects in this post near the garden area at Redcliffe Plantation State Park. Perhaps on site demonstrations were previously performed to show example living conditions at the plantation during the time it was fully operational. If so, someone may have been growing it for use in a recipe, tea, or candles.
The grass behind the subject in Purple Cone worked really well and the piece has excellent bokeh. There are no patterns, shapes, or lines visible in the background – just some color gradations. I like the petals sticking up at the top of the flower, and they remind me of rabbit ears.
I was encouraged to enter some of my artwork in a contest hosted by the South Carolina State Parks known as the Artist In Residence (AIR). Never having entered any contests (or having shown my work to anyone outside of friends and family), I was pleasantly surprised upon winning a slot. Being a recipient gave me a free one week stay at a cabin in Santee State Park in exchange for a donation of my work. It was a fantastic opportunity, and I brought back more than 1,400 images (it was like a photographic vacation). I spent most of my early mornings within the state park boundaries, but I used the remainder of the days to discover areas of the National Wildlife Refuge that I did not previously know existed (e.g., Bluff Unit, Dingle Pond Unit, Pine Island Unit, and the superb Cuddo East).
I wanted to add some sunrise compositions to my body of work, so I used Google Maps to get a feel for spots within the park that offered the possibility of a good view before I left home. I planned to explore the Lake Marion shoreline for an area that had some foreground interest while being positioned to catch the sun coming up. After checking in, I used the remaining daylight to do some scouting and found a pretty good location just off from the connector trail that runs from the Cypress View Campground to the Bike Trail.
From a photographic perspective, the first morning was a bust. The sky was so choked with clouds that color couldn’t even be seen through them. As far as an outdoor nature experience goes, I enjoyed myself regardless of not creating a single composition.
The second morning, Mother Nature didn’t present what I had initially envisioned, but she provided an excellent option none-the-less. In my Surf’s Up piece, Lake Marion was riled by blowing winds and waves that were rolling to the point of producing white caps. Since the area that I planned on using was cloud choked again, I moved my tripod so that I could position the camera to where some color was able to break through above the horizon. Compared to an ocean or one of the Great Lakes, Lake Marion is fairly small which made me feel like what I was witnessing was unusual. It was captivating to hear the water crash into the shore and watch it fly up in the air. To show the power of the wind and waves breaking along the shore, I used a shutter speed that captured the spray.
The third morning, I decided to try a different location, but it was unproductive, so on the fourth morning I returned to the original site. Compared to the second morning, the mood was peaceful and calm. While clouds were blocking the sun, the magic light still found its way into my Socked In piece. Using the longest shutter speed possible without going to a special setting really brought out the feeling of tranquility. Because of the shutter speed, the lake is velvety smooth and the mixture of pastel colors helps convey the serenity I felt that morning. I love the raccoon tracks in the sand near the shoreline on the lower left hand side, and the logs and roots make a visually interesting foreground contrasted against the silky lake.
On the fifth morning, Mother Nature produced a constantly changing light show. The intensity of the light and the warmth it generated was welcome on that early spring morning. To create that feeling in my Shore Glow piece, I, once again, used the longest shutter speed to smooth out the surface of the lake and capture the reflection of light on its surface from the horizon all the way back to the shore.
Not even ten minutes had passed before I created Got Silk?, and the clouds blocking the light had continued to change and shift. More light was available but it wasn’t as intense, and that made the scene feel a bit cooler. To portray that, I switched to a horizontal orientation that allowed for more of the blues to come in and increased the shutter speed while keeping the lake surface somewhat flat.
After watching the light transform for nearly another half an hour, I created Lake Marion Sunrise. This was very close to what I had imagined capturing before arriving and while scouting potential sites. Watching the gold, orange, and red colors shimmer on the water was a real treat. I love sunrises. To me, the root system looks a bit like an oar fish with an open mouth and a large eye looking back at the viewer. I was pleased to be able to donate a print of this to the Santee State Park, and if you visit the Ranger Station, you’ll see it hanging on their wall.
I use two very basic guides as my criteria for what I’ll point my camera at for any given macro composition. The subject matter has to be either colorful or interesting. I can’t deny that I’m a color-junkie and color will, in and of itself, attract my attention quicker and easier than anything else. But, I also seek the unusual, different, or fascinating.
The first morning of my South Carolina Artist In Residence stay at Santee State Park, I noticed an odd looking formation poking out of a small pine tree. Since I was heading to the shore of Lake Marion in hopes of capturing a landscape shot, I made a mental note to examine it later. Upon returning to the car, I switched to a macro rig (a 180mm lens with a 2x extension) and proceeded back to the trail head to begin my exploration. I found the texture and color of the subject quite intriguing, and felt it had the appearance of a pumpkin (albeit embedded within a tree). Further, it didn’t feel like a friendly, happy version with a big smile, but was more morose perhaps even sinister or creepy.
To bring out the color and help the subject pop against an otherwise dull, light tan and brown background, I positioned a teal green shirt so that it would fill that space. By composing close to the subject, the branches and leaves between it and the shirt have very nice bokeh. Combining that with the dappled background light, created a more pleasing and aesthetically exciting back drop. A fairly small f-stop allows for an incredible amount of detail to be seen, especially in a larger size (e.g., the surface texture on the pumpkin and bark, orange dust, webs, and tiny particles). To gather enough morning light, I had to utilize a slow shutter speed. Asking Mother Nature to stay perfectly still for that long is nearly always met with indifference resulting in frustration for the macro photographer.
The ability to capture feelings, emotional response, or fascination with a subject is an artist’s top priority. It is our primary goal to compose a piece such that it has the ability to visually transmit those qualities to the viewer. I hope you see the pumpkin in the tree.