Yard Art

Seeing the grasshopper in Hopping Mad, the other day got some of my creative juices flowing. I was hoping to run into more possible macro subjects. I had to take my dog out for one of her “lawn visits” and I found the perfect subject. Weeds with flowers. Here in Florida, we have gotten a little rain as we are preparing for the hot, humid and wet summer season. Folks up north stay inside during the winter, now it’s our turn only in the summer.

As I looked around the yard, the grass was getting a little long and I figured that I had procrastinated enough and I was going to have to actually mow the yard for the first time this season. While the dog was off doing her thing, I noticed these yellow and white flowers scattered across the yard. This has to be some kind of weed as they were really tall and were in patches here and there. As I said in the Hopping Mad post, you don’t really need to leave your yard when doing macro photography. This is a classic example. I reached down a picked a suitable sample. The dog and I went back into the house with flowers in hand.

One of the reasons why I chose this particular flower, was due to it’s size. It’s small and fragile. This would be a great test for my Nikon 105 macro lens. I knew I wanted a different looking photograph. After all, this is a weed, we need to make it look it’s best!

Being unsupervised (read wife wasn’t home), I had the luxury of finding all kinds of things to put this weed into to make it stand up. Luckily, I found where she keeps her spare flower vases. She’s lucky I did, or I would had to use her coffee cup! I put the flower stem in the vase and it was going all over the place. Being the resourceful type, I took a piece of crumpled copy paper and make a plug of sort to hold the weed straight up. I prepped the camera as before, with the tripod and electronic shutter release. This time I wanted to make the flowers stand out. I set up my trusty light stand and attached my portable speedlight softbox. I love this little thing, It’s about 16″ and I can mount my flash on the outside. If you need line of sight to trigger the flash, this works great. Why the softbox and not an umbrella? We’ll get to that. Click on the image below to see the set up shot.

The Set Up

Here you can see how I set this up. On the left side of the frame, you see I have the camera fitted with the macro lens on a tripod. I also have it in the portrait position because I thought that the subject lended itself to it. On the right side of the frame, I have the vase that I found sitting on top of a box. The box is there to save my back, being 6′ 4″, I try and find ways not to have to bend over to much. Behind the camera, you can see the softbox. This puts out really nice soft diffused light. In my “minds eye” (it’s small, trust me) I knew I wanted to have an all black background to help make the white and yellow from the flowers pop. This is where the softbox comes in partly. I wanted to contain the light to a specific area. If I were to use an umbrella, it’s like a light bomb, light would go everywhere, including the background that I wanted no light on. With this set up, I’m able to fire the light from left to right across my subject, not up, down, forward or backward. I use an knock off brand. Lastolite make a version called an EZ Box. These are kind of expensive. I got mine at a photo store for about half of the “name brand”. It’s light, portable and serves me well. I’m sure that you can get these for a fraction of the cost on Ebay.

OK, time for the magic. Want to know the photographers magic secret for flowers? Aren’t you glad you are reading this post? Here it is, don’t shoot down on flowers. As we have walked along our whole life looking down we have seen flowers. When you come across a “flower weed” you think to yourself, “Time to mow the grass”. As you can see in the set up photo, I have the camera pointed about even with the flowers. This will be a perspective that we’re not used to seeing. This little trick works on all flowers, not just weeds!

I had my camera set to ISO 100, 1/250 at f/22. I wanted the ambient light to be knocked out so I could create a black background, hence the 1/250 shutter speed. The only thing that was going to expose was what ever the flash hit. In this case the flowers. The flash was set to 1/4 power.  I took a test shot and  it looked great, except one problem, the taller flower in the back was a little out of focus because it was a little further behind. I ended up using f/45! I had no idea that this lens would go to such an f stop. I raised my flash to 1/1 or full power and took another test photo. Both flowers were in focus now, but the exposure was a little dark. I was already at full power on the flash, so what is the answer? I increased my ISO to 400. Perfect exposure. As I tried positioning the flowers and camera at different angles, the lens would hunt trying to lock focus because the room was dimly lit. Again, being resourceful, I got my flash light out and pointed it at the flowers and pressed the button half way down. The focus locked on to the flower. I knew I was going to be taking multiple photos of the same arrangement, so while I still had the focus button half way down, I slid the focus switch from A/M, to M or manual. Now, I didn’t have to worry about trying to refocus the lens.

The right side of the flowers were a little to dark for my taste, so I pulled out another piece of copy paper to use as my reflector. I tried different distances to get just the right contrast that I was looking for.

For post processing, I used my trusty Nik filters. I did a slight contrast adjustment and I sharpened the image for web use. My motto: get it as close in the camera as possible. You’ll save hours of post processing later.

The next time you see this…

Don’t just brush it off as weeds in the grass. Think “Yard Art”. Spring has sprung, go and see what is growing in your yard.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean

Spencer

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