Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Photographing Violets (revised)

Photographing Violets -- © Dave Spier

In the past, our front yard under the big shade trees was loaded with wild blue violets, but this year there are very few. At first I thought it might be a result of last year's drought, or too many fallen leaves left on the lawn over the winter, or who knows what. Now that the violets are in full bloom I've found them again, but they've "migrated" to other parts of the lawn, but still in partial shade under trees. I suspect the ants dispersed the seeds and started new colonies. I had hoped to further experiment with photographing the flowers, but the weather isn't cooperating. I may have to make do with this series of images from 2006 when the violets "peaked."

The initial backlit shot of the backlit group of blue violets... 
Note the distracting bright background.

Aside from a straight-on documentary shot that I may start with, I'm partial to backlighting for its artistic potential. The second photo is actually the first grab-shot to set the scene. I'm flat on the ground with the camera on a special "tripod," actually little more than two crossed boards in a "T." The obvious problem is that the bright, sunlit background is very distracting as it competes for the viewer's attention. The simple solution is to set the camera on self-timer, then walk around to the other side of the violets and cast a large shadow into the background. (The alternative is to have a friend help you.) Usually holding a jacket or shirt to the side works well to create a shadow, and sometimes a notebook or clipboard will suffice for more intimate closeups. The result is the third image. Had I been more alert, I would have noticed the bright grass blades on the right side. Being my yard, I easily could have clipped them. Oh, well. The final image (the opening photo at top) somewhat "solved" the problem with a little cropping. On the down side, there's a backlit violet leaf at lower left. Somewhat distracting, but again, oh, well.

Casting a dark shadow across the background eliminates bright clutter. 
(Even if it's out of focus, the original backdrop competes and distracts.) 
This shadow mimics situations encountered in real life when everything comes together naturally. 
In retrospect, a bit of fill-flash [or a weak reflector] would have added a touch of detail 
to the dark petal areas. 

In case you didn't notice it, look closely at the second photo along the top edge right of center. Notice the two pieces of lint on the sensor? I was using the original 5D which had a serious problem with attracting dust and lint to the sensor, even with the sensor turned off when changing lenses. (To somewhat deal with the issue, that particular camera body, with a cleaned sensor, is now dedicated to the 17-40mm, my widest-angle zoom, to take advantage of the full-frame for landscape work.)

Technical details: The first three images were shot on aperture priority with a Canon 100mm macro at 1/6 sec., f/16 and ISO 100, initially spot-metered. There was no exposure compensation and no fill-flash. Color space is Adobe RGB (required by my main agent at the time). In addition, my default white balance is "cloudy" because I prefer warmer tones for my style.

A straight-forward documentary shot of wild blue violets, 
not necessarily the same clump as the other photos. 
Note the distracting clutter in the background at this typical viewing angle. 
Manual exposure at 1/125th sec., f/16 and ISO 100 
using a Canon 5D with 100mm macro and macro twin-flash...

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1 comment:

The Northeast Naturalist said...

Well, now that they are in full bloom, I found the violets. They "migrated" to other parts of the lawn, but still in partial shade under trees. [Did I read somehere that ants carry/disperse the seeds?] Now, all I need is for the weather to cooperate. It's cold and windy again with some lake-effect sprinkles.... LOL (i think I saw some flurries mixed in.)