Category Archives: Photo Tips & Techniques

ANTHURIUM – WHEN PINK ISN’T PINK

Pink anthurium
In my article ANTHURIUM – WHEN PINK ISN’T PINK, I write about brightness range and its importance in adding vitality to photographs. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

Continuing in the vein of talking about light and shadow and their control in the making of photographs I’m posting this shot of a pink anthurium. You would say it’s pink, wouldn’t you? Is that a trick question?

The truth is that while the flower is in fact pink, the range of tonal brightness values in this photograph of the flower is rather large. At page bottom I am including a second copy of the photo but with indications of the lightest and darkest places inside of the blue circles.

Previously I wrote that in digital photography the range of brightness values is from zero to 255, the darkest being zero, the brightest being 255. If we were to measure the brightness values of the brightest part of the flower they would be up closer to the 255 end of the scale and the darker part down nearer to the zero ed of the scale.

All this is a rather complicated way of saying that yes, while the flower is pink, it is really a wide range of darker to lighter pinks–it’s not just any one pink and herein lies an important concept for photographers.

Although in actuality the pinks within the flower are very nearly the same, in order to add depth, vitality and visual interest, by exercising control over the lighting I intentionally made some parts of the flower brighter than others and some parts of it darker. There are areas of highlights and areas of shadows. There are wide ranging brightness values from nearly white where the highlights appear to quite dark in the shadows. This was not a happy accident and it makes a world of difference. I just wish I had a poorly lit photo of the same set-up in order to show a side-by-side comparison but I wasn’t thinking about that when I made this image.

Anthurium, illustrating high and low values
Within the blue circles are the brightest and darkest areas of the pink of this anthurium. This wide range of brightness adds pop or vitality to the photo. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

ANTHURIUM

Anthurium
Photographing white objects well is a challenge. See the article text to learn why. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

Capturing the nuances of detail, light and shadow, in a photograph is important and can sometimes be challenging. Never more so than when photographing a mono-tonal subject, especially one that is very light or very dark, or one without much detail to begin with.

Have you ever photographed something that lost its detail in the photograph? Maybe it became too bright or too dark or the color got so saturated it was just a blob? This can happen for different reasons, but one of them is failure to control lighting and exposure. I guess that’s really two reasons. So, let me ramble on a bit about each. [READ MORE…]

BLUE THISTLE – RIM & FILL LIGHTING

Blue Thistle
This shot of a blue thistle(?) may be a good example of rim lighting. See article text. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

I was told this flower is a blue thistle, but I’ve seen other flowers that look quite different also called blue thistle. I didn’t see any that look quite like this when I looked at Google Images, but I’m sure there are many varieties. Of course, this top-down view provides limited perspective so I may post another shot of one of these from a different angle later so you can get a better idea of what they look like.

Recently I mentioned rim lighting and that I had been looking though my library of flower pics in order to find a good example of that lighting technique. I think this shot shows the effect pretty well. A light placed somewhere to the rear of the flower and pointed directly at it illuminates the leaves (if that’s the right term) around their edges, their rims, creating a white outline that separates them visually from the black background making them stand out. Without that light it would be difficult to distinguish with such acuity where the leaves end and the background begins. Of course, the flower is also lit from in front otherwise only its outline would be distinguishable.

Rim lighting or backlighting can be found naturally, outdoors, more so when the sun is at a lower angle and is coming from behind the subject. If one wants to show more than just an outlined silhouette of the subject that can be tricky because you also need light coming from in front of the subject to illuminate it–you need at least two light sources which is problematic if you aren’t carrying the right gear.

Enter, fill-flash, or fill lighting. When a subject is backlit by the sun, for example, in some cases the on-camera flash can be used to illuminate the front of the subject so it isn’t lost in darkness. I say in some case because the flash has to have enough power to light the subject. This is seldom the case with a smart phone and even the much more powerful flash of a camera has a limited range. If you’ve ever seen camera flashes going off at an event in a stadium know that other than wasting camera batteries they are useless. As the distance between a light source and the subject doubles its power, it’s brightness, falls off by a factor of four. By the time on on-camera flash travels twenty feet or so it is no longer capable of illuminating anything to a significant degree. For you geeky sorts the science governing this is called the inverse square law.

Properly balancing backlight with fill flash can be left to the automatic functions of some cameras, but even then exercising manual control over the ratio of fill light to backlight can generally achieve more natural, pleasing, superior results. Here too, as I often do, I will champion photographic knowledge over the automatic settings of a camera.

More on fill-flash and fill lighting another day.

Borage OR STARFLOWER

Borage, Starflower
Unless you’re on the ground looking up you are unlikely to see this view of a borage flower because the flowers point downwards. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

Borage, or starflower, is a common garden plant in my neck of the woods. It’s also commonly regarded as a weed. What is a weed? Ralph Waldo Emerson described a weed as a plant whose virtue has not yet been discovered. Others say it’s a plant growing where you don’t want. However you define weed I suppose is up to you. If you want to know more about borage Wikipedia has a page here.

Weed or not, I like borage because, for one thing, it’s fuzzy. Those spiky looking protrusions are rather soft to the touch, at least on the flower I photographed, and touching them was fun. Why do we like touching fuzzy things, anyway?

You won’t see a view like this of a borage flower unless you are on the ground looking up because the flowers point down. Something else I’ve noticed about them is that only one bud seems to flower at a time on any given stem, so that cluster of buds you see will only have one flower, and when that flower is spent another bud will open and so on. I could be wrong but I think that is what I have observed. they also seem to be very popular with bees.

This image was created from a stack of 7 photos using the focus-stacking technique, then a close-up are was cropped out of the original image. A light placed behind the flower transilluminates the petals (shines through them) which both lightens their color and gives them a sparkly quality. That same light also lights up all the little fuzzies of the plant.

ICELAND POPPY?

Icelandic Poppy?
I’m not really sure…this could be an Iceland poppy, which oddly isn’t native to Iceland, or it could be a very similar flower. 24 images were combined with focus stacking to make this image. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

As you can tell by the title of this post I’m uncertain this is an Iceland poppy, a papaver nudicaule, or a similar looking flower, papaver croceum. I am ill equipped to tell. I enjoy this photo of it, whichever it is.

I shot this flower 8 different ways the day I had it in the studio. This image was cropped from a shot that showed the whole flower. 24 separate photos were combined using the focus-stacking technique to make this image.

I wrote the other day about rim lighting. I’m still not certain if there is a clear definition… one says the subject isn’t visible except for the outline of light created by a light place behind the subject. Another definition says simply “backlighting”. Too many things in this world are debatable!

Here, one of the lights I used was placed behind and above the flower. You can see shadows created by it on the petal on the right at about 3 o’clock. You can also see evidence of it in front of the anthers where they cast shadows on the petal in front of them. The same light creates brightness around the rims of the anthers giving them separation from each other and the petals. Oh, and it’s responsible for lighting the hairs on the stem of the flower as well.

When the colors within a subject are as similar as they are for this flower, using light to create an interplay between light and shadow as well as to create separation from one part of the subject and another can make a really big difference in the success of a photo.

CALLA LILY

Calla Lily
While not my favorite flower photo it will allow for a discussion of rim lighting. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

Calla lilies often seem to have such graceful and beautiful shapes. I like this one enough to dedicate my time to photographing it. I think a vertical cropping may have suited this flower more, but maybe I had a reason at the time it was made to crop it horizontally. Dunno. Don’t remember.

I’ve been looking through my library of flower photos to find one that would allow for a discussion about rim lighting. This may not be the perfect example, but it’s close enough.

What I want to call your attention to is the lighting on the spadix I think it’s called, the yellow pokey-uppy thing in the middle of the flower. Note how it has more light on the right side and top. That’s no accident. It’s from a light that I had placed to the right side and a little behind the flower. See how the brightly lit right side and top of the spadix stand out from the red part of the flower which I think is called the spathe. On the left side of the spadix, however, there is much less light and this side does not stand apart from the spathe so well. The brighter side has more visual “separation” from spadix due to the difference in brightness values, or contrast.

The lighting here can be possibly be referred to as rim lighting although it may be more of a side light because rim lighting might properly outline the spadix on both sides, around its rim. Whether side light or rim light, the point is less what you call it and more the role it plays. Without this light, which also creates some highlight reflections on the spathe, this would be a very boring photograph.

Experts with lighting create areas of light and dark along the edges of their subjects that contrast with dark and light areas of the background. The photographers who shot centerfolds for Playboy were masters at lighting and the control they exercised creating alternating areas of light and dark between the models and the background often showed amazing lighting control.

Controlling light is generally easier to do in the studio where light can be manipulated. Still, having the awareness of photographing things in such a way or from such an angle so that they are separated from the background or where parts of the subject are separated from each other can raise the quality of a photograph from blah to bravo.

AGAPANTHUS

Agapanthus
This image of a common garden plant, agapanthus, was created in-studio from 7 separate photos using the focus-stacking technique. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

From Wikipedia: “Some species of Agapanthus are commonly known as lily of the Nile, or African lily in the UK. However, they are not lilies and all of the species are native to Southern Africa (South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique), though some have become naturalized in scattered places around the world (Australia, Great Britain, Mexico, Ethiopia, Jamaica, etc.).”

This particular flower was plucked from a neighbor’s garden in the San Francisco Bay Area. They seem to do well in this climate as they are found in more than a few gardens. I have also seen them in white, although less commonly.

Elements of this photo that for me make it work include the contrasting colors of the rich green and lavender-purples placed against the black background. Always paramount, of course, is the lighting which creates nuanced areas of light and shadow.

I have found that black is an excellent background for colorful subjects. It does not distract from the subject. Quite the opposite–since a solid black background provides nothing really to look at, the viewer’s attention is called to the subject.

Now here’s a photo tip for the day: many things that at first look black to the eye will photograph much lighter and look like a dark gray. The best material I have found for obtaining a dark black is velvet. There are different qualities of velvet, of course, and some may work better than others for this purpose. I have used a couple kinds with good results. There are some specialized photographic background of various materials that are supposed to photograph as a dark black but I have not used any of those.

LILY

Lily
This image of a lily was made from 27 individual photographs using the focus-stacking technique. Meticulous attention to lighting creates delicately nuanced shading on the petals. Careful post-processing in PhotoShop corrects for artifacts inherent in the focus-stacking process. I originally created this image to print at 24″ x 78″ and later resized it for online presentation here. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

Lilies are part of the genus Lilium, known as “true lilies”. Other flowers use the word lily in their common name that are not part of this genus such as water lilies, calla lilies, daylilies.

Lilies have been associated with purity and devotion, but this varies with the kind of lily, its color, and culture. Some color associations include:
• White: purity and virtue.
• Pink: prosperity and abundance.
• Red: passion.
• Orange: confidence, pride, and wealth.
• Yellow: thankfulness

Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

This image was made from 27 separate photographs combined into one using the focus-stacking technique, but before that processing began careful attention was paid to setting up the scene. The most important aspect of this shot is probably the control of lighting. Notice the shading on the petals, that there is a great deal of light and shadow, but that the shadowing is very soft and subtle. Had the shadows been very dark and harsh I think the delicacy of the flower would have been lost.

Although I used professional studio flash equipment it would not be difficult to obtain similar if not identical results with either natural light or rather ordinary household lighting and a piece or two of white reflective material such as foamcore or ordinary white paper taped to cardboard to create stiffness.

If you want to try your hand at lighting a flower or some other object roughly the same size, place it on a tabletop next to a window where it gets bright or direct sun with the sun striking the flower from the side so that it rakes across the petals creating areas of light and shadow. You’ll see strong shadows if it is direct sunlight or soft shadows if the light is indirect.

Rotate the flower one way then the other and observe the light and shadow on it until you find an orientation that seems interesting. Next, place your reflector card near the flower on the side of the flower opposite from the window in order to reflect some light back onto the flower in order to fill in the shadows somewhat. Now, move the card in an arc from the side toward the front of the flower rotating and tilting the card in order to observe the effects that has on the lighting on the flower. The object is to control light and shadow so as to create what you regard as a pleasing effect. Nobody can decide this for you and your own opinion will change over time as your photographic skills evolve.

In this example the sunlight would be considered the “main light” and the light bouncing off the reflector card the “fill light”. All this is basic light control and is essentially what I do in the studio.

SCILLA PERUVIANA & HAND-HOLDING CAMERAS

Scilla Peruviana
This photo is a straight forward shot of a scilla peruviana growing in a neighbor’s garden, shot at ƒ22, 1/160th of a second, ISO 640. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

Following yesterday’s post, a focus-stacked, studio shot of a scilla peruviana, I thought I would post this photo of another scilla peruviana to show another view of an opening flower and to use it in conjunction with a discussion about hand-holding cameras.

Unlike yesterday’s focus-stacked, studio image, this photo was created with one exposure, outdoors, under natural light. It shows the lovely little flowerettes opening around the perimeter of the blossom as well as many of the buds yet to open. Exposure data for this shot is as follows: lens: 105mm Micro-NIKKOR, aperture ƒ22, shutter speed 1/160th of a second, ISO 640.

I chose ƒ22 because I wanted enough depth of field to keep most of the flower in focus–smaller apertures, those with higher ƒ numbers, can make more of the image appear in focus. Depth of field is rightfully a subject beyond the scope of this post, however, as it requires an in depth discussion (play on words intended 🙂

I chose 1/160th of a second for the shutter speed because of a certain photographic rule of thumb which is simple but very useful for assuring sharp photos when hand-holding cameras (not using a tripods or other camera bracing). You see, if you do everything else right but screw this one thing up you’ll have a photo that is suitable only for the trash. The culprit about which I am writing is camera shake. For sharp photos it is imperative that the camera remain still enough, long enough, to capture a sharp image.

For long exposures cameras must be anchored and remain motionless. For shorter exposures some camera shake may be acceptable because the shutter speed will arrest the shake and freeze the motion. What do I mean by long or short? That’s relative. Relative to what? To the focal length of the lens.

So here is a simple rule for preventing camera shake from blurring your photos when hand-holding: Use the focal length of the lens or lens zoom setting as the as the denominator in a fraction where 1 is the numerator. For example, if you are shooting with a 100mm lens or a zoom lens set at 100mm, then 1/100th of a second would be the longest shutter speed you can safely use while hand holding. If you are using a 150mm lens or zoom setting then 1/150th of a second would be the longest shutter speed setting. Easy-peasy, but very useful.

I didn’t want to take any chances that camera shake would ruin this photo so I set the shutter speed at 1/160th of a second while using my 105mm lens. I made the shutter speed quite a bit shorter than the “allowable” 1/105th of a second. I chose the aperture of ƒ22 because I wanted the depth of field, the shutter speed because I wanted to eliminate camera shake, and the ISO of 640 was set automatically by the camera because it was required by the other two parameters.

COSMOS

Cosmos
This image is a composite of two images of different flowers. Each blossom itself was made from multiple images using the focus-stacking technique, then they were combined in PhotoShop. Click or tap to enlarge. Feel free to use this photo on your personal devices for personal, private, non business uses. If you wish to share this photo or others I may post please do so only by using any Share buttons that may be available on the page or by providing the page URL to those with whom you wish to share. Thank you.

Here we have a couple cosmos. I regard them as such simple flowers compared to something as complicated as the passion flower I posted recently. Yet, there is a graceful beauty to these simple flowers not found in the passion flower. In order to achieve their beauty these seem to rely upon delicate pleats, shapes and subtle shadings whereas the passion flower, to me, is largely about the shock value of it’s bright colors and strange and myriad shapes.

I consider this photo a success and that there are a number of things that contribute to this success. One of these, and perhaps the most critically important, is the lighting. So, what exactly is it about the lighting that is so vital to the success of this photo? Notice that the predominant light is coming from the top left. You can tell because of the shadows being cast toward the lower right. Now, look carefully at the petal of the white flower in the 2 o’clock position and notice its pleats are perpendicular to the direction of the light resulting in an interplay of light and shadow where the petal is pleated. THIS is what makes ALL the difference. Without this interplay of light and show the petals would have no sense of depth, no interest, and the photo would be visually boring, and have less visual interest.

By way of comparison, if you look at the petal in the 4 o’clock position of the white flower you’ll notice that its pleats are oriented parallel to the light and as a result the pleats cast no shadows. There’s no interplay between light and shadow, no chiaroscuro to use a fancy term. The petal appears almost flat. It has less visual interest. When lighting creates shadows it brings out relief and texture creating visual interest.

Now, here is where I get to climb back up on my soap box and have some fun. I’m known for preaching that great photos are made with photographic knowledge and not fancy cameras. In my recent post of globe tulips I wrote “…rule of thirds, dynamic composition, contrasting foreground and background…” are not things you can dial in on your camera settings. Guess what? Neither is the understanding and good use of lighting. It’s photographic knowledge that makes great pictures, not cameras. Invest in new knowledge instead of a new camera. OK… off my soap box now… LOL.

This image is a composite of two separate images each of which is a focus-stacked composite of a number of photos. All told, 27 photographs were combined to make this image.

There’s a tipoff to the fact that this is a composite of two images. Can you tell what it is?