I think I struck a cord with my account of our camping weekend in last week's blog - I feel somewhat reassured that we're not alone in our family experience! But of all my weekly blog posts, the one that garnered the most comments was Springtime in Shoreham (week 17). Clearly you all love flowers, or maybe their symbolism of warm sunny days ahead.... whatever the reason, I'm giving you more!
You'll have to take my word for it that these were photographed in Shoreham. In fact, this is our back garden at it's most beautiful, my skills with a macro lens being vastly superior to my skills with a trowel. I'm afraid the combination of renting our house out for five years and my complete lack of green fingers, has resulted in a rather derelict wasteland of patchy grass. Complete with flower pots that survived a transatlantic crossing, only to crack in their first British winter.
But, whilst the camera never lies, it can be used to conceal a lot of truth. The trick is in choosing the right lens for the job, which in this case, was my wonderful Nikon 105mm/2.8 micro. It only usually comes out to photograph jewellery at weddings, but after a night of heavy rain last week, as the sun broke through the clouds during the school run, I felt inspired to spend the morning in my garden, starting with these beautiful pink azaleas, to see what I could achieve (photographically speaking, evidently).
My first foray into macro photography was an entry in my local camera club competition a few years' back (Pines West Camera Club in Florida, in case any members are reading). I purchased a set of extension tubes that attach to a regular lens (far cheaper than a macro lens, but plenty good enough for a starting kit) and honed in on flowers, foods, liquids - anything and everything small. I learnt a great deal from that experience: that you can capture beauty that the naked eye does not see; that the tiniest change in focus can fundamentally affect the image; that the slightest movement will be recorded as a blur. I spent (literally) hours shooting, uploading, evaluating, re-shooting. Why? Because I loved it! And also because (shhh, don't tell anyone) I'm actually quite competitive really, and like to win.
And I'm proud to say I did win! With an image of a lemon slice in a 'cocktail' comprising tonic water and blue food colouring. I never did manage to remove the blue stain from the carpet resulting from my hours of experimentation in my makeshift studio. But it was worth it! I went on to rent the actual lens for detailed commercial work, eventually saving enough to buy it. And I'm hoping to use it more often: in these days of iPads and smart phones, everyone has a camera, and us photographers have to use every skill we have to differentiate ourselves and stand out.
Living on the coast, even on the stillest of days, there's a breeze, and my greatest challenge was picking the right nano-second to take the shot. Of course, it would have been far easier to pick some flowers and bring them indoors by a window, but I like a challenge. For a good four hours I was so focused, I missed at least five calls and twice as many texts. But I was having fun! The photo above is a close-up of a grape hyacinth, not a tall plant, which meant lying on the ground and a lot of fiddling about with the tripod to get the lens at the angle I wanted.
I think this pinky-white bloom could also be from the Azalea family, but please correct me if I'm wrong. I know I have several green-fingered readers, and even a florist among you. I resisted the temptation to over sharpen or add any contrast in post-processing, as I wanted to preserve its delicate, almost ethereal quality. For the blue pansy (below), I focused my lens very precisely on the white tufty bits (technical term) at the heart of the flower, and later added contrast and clarity to bring out the raindrops and markings.
Now had I been a gardener, the sight of this snail would've probably irked me and had me laying down some kind of device. But I'm a photographer, which is an altogether different breed. Not only that, but a photographer with a macro lens in hand, who had exhausted the flowers in her garden and was looking for something new. Et voilà!
I spent a happy half hour watching through the lens whilst this little fellow traversed my pink azaleas, waiting for the right composition of plant, shell and antennae to click the shutter. The phrase 'snail's pace' takes on new meaning in the macro world - most of my images were blurred from too much movement! But here are two of my favourites:
At this point, I was starting to think that maybe a cup of tea or a spot of lunch would be good, but as I walked past a clump of daisies I remembered an image I saw once in a magazine. It had probably been set up indoors, as I recall the photo had a uniform plain colour background (which doesn't tend to happen in nature), and three different varieties of flower, each captured through one of three drops of water positioned at equal distance along a leaf (which, lovely as it was, definitely doesn't happen in nature!). Seeing the daisies, I felt suddenly inspired to try to create something similar.
I had been shooting around three hours, and the sun had dried out most of the raindrops. So I needed to create a little still-life. But I decided to keep it outdoors and work with the elements. Partly to keep the light consistent with my other images. And partly because I was getting hungry, and didn't want the hassle of an indoor set-up. So, I collected my materials - a dandelion stem and some daisies - and looked around for something to add the droplets. One of the things about having a son is that there is a plethora of Nerf guns lying around. Normally that's not a good thing. But when I caught sight of the new water gun he insisted on having for an upcoming school residential trip, I knew it would be perfect!
For the next hour at least (this type of shot isn't easy), I fired water at my dandelion stem, horizontally wedged into the branches of my azalea bush. I made a daisy chain so that I could drape the most photogenic daisy into the perfect position. Then positioned my tripod, repositioned my tripod, repositioned my daisies, replaced soaked daisies with new ones, etc, etc until I finally got what I wanted. Or at least got so hungry I decided to go with the best of the bunch.
It's not as perfect as the magazine image. But it's mine, it didn't go anywhere near Photoshop, and I like how the daisy appears in water drops both top and bottom of the stem - a happy accident as the Nerf gun isn't really a precise instrument. Oh if my son could have seen me playing!
Thanks for reading! Please keep those comments coming - it definitely inspires me to push myself - and join me next week on Shoreham Beach...