Sunday, April 26, 2020

Cactus Drama

Cactus Drama

Another 'drive by shooting' in my neighborhood. I wait every year for the ONE day when most all the buds on this cactus are in full bloom at the same time.

(For those interested, this cactus sits in a pot next to the east side of a neighbor's house. My best shot is in the late afternoon when the sun hits the tops of the blooms and makes them glow while the wall in the background is in deep shade making dramatic lighting.)

Friday, April 24, 2020

Snapshot Shooter or Image Creator

Are You a Snapshot Shooter or a Photo Image Creator?

Whichever you are, if your photos are pleasing to you, that's what matters most!  
(Unless, of course, your photography is a business and you want to sell your photos.  Then what pleases the client matters most!)

Here's what I would consider before answering the above question, using flower photography as my example, since that's what I'm mostly shooting right now.  If I were a Snapshot Shooter and saw a brightly colored Claret Cup cactus in full bloom that attracted my attention, I would probably pull out my camera or phone, bend over the plant, snap a shot, then upload it to my Instagram account.

Snapshot Shooters are especially suited for photo genres such as photo journalism, street photography and animal or sports photography, as well as other situations where quick thinking and fast action are necessary to capture a fleeting moment in time, when the action is more important than having the ideal composition, lighting or camera settings!  When Snapshot Shooters 'see' a potential photo opportunity, they take the shot without hesitation.

On the other hand, if I considered myself a Photo Image Creator and saw that same cactus, I would take some time to study it, think about how I could make that cactus look beautiful and interesting, and maybe a bit more unique from all the other Claret Cup cactus photos I'm seeing right now.  I would want something different than a straight downward shot that would show part of the boring rocks and dirt surrounding the plant, or a macro like I've done so many times in the past.

I do consider myself a Photo Image Creator, for the most part.  I'll try to describe how I ended up with this image.  This cactus caught my eye, but it was sitting right by the road at the entrance of a subdivision, in an unattractive location.   When something in nature attracts my attention, I always ask myself, "Is there a picture here worth taking and creating" and try to visualize  a composition before picking up my camera.  As I walked around this cactus I noticed a clump of yellow flowers with green foliage a few yards away across the pavement.  Seeing cactus blooms along with bright green foliage in a photograph is not as common as seeing cactus in a natural desert setting, so I thought this might make an interesting background.  I visualized positioning my camera low and shooting horizontally to capture a side view of the blooms in the foreground against the green background with pops of yellow flowers, while hiding the road that was in between the two.  I could adjust my camera settings to blur the background so only the foreground blooms were in focus, or I could choose settings that would allow everything to be in focus.  That decision is a personal preference and there is no right or wrong answer.  (I tend to lean toward 'busy' compositions with interesting, softly blurred backgrounds.)

Then I had to consider the lighting, which was not good, as the late afternoon sun was very intense, creating deep shadows underneath and on one side of the plant.  I found an angle to point my camera partially toward the sun that lit up the tops of the flowers with no shadows, creating beautiful back lighting that made the colors pop, while hiding the dark shadows below.  (In addition, I could intensify the colors and reduce sun glare and hot spots by using a polarizing filter on my lens.)

I knew that by moving my camera just slightly in various directions, being careful to keep the sun just outside the frame, I might find a position where I could see a stream of sun flare, sun rays and/or beautiful bokeh that is created when the sun hits the lens in a certain way.  (Technical explanations are for another discussion.)  Including sun flare, sun bursts, bokeh, or other sunlight effects in a composition is a personal preference.  Some like it, some don't.  I love it!
The beauty of digital photography is there is instant feedback as to whether you have taken the image you have in your mind or in your 'mind's eye', but even so, things often look different when viewed at full resolution on a big computer screen.  So to have the best chance of ending up with an image I will like, I always bracket three different exposures, which my camera does automatically, as well as showing me whether or not I have parts that are 'blown out' or too dark for detail.  I also take numerous shots experimenting with different camera settings and compositions.

Back home on the computer I choose my favorite shot, then decide whether to edit a little or a lot.  I can crop and lightly tweak color, exposure, etc., or I can let my creativity run wild and end up with the floral fantasy I see in my 'mind's eye'.

Even though it is a joy to take a beautiful photo of a beautiful subject, set in perfect lighting, (when this happens), I often find it more challenging and rewarding to be outdoors taking photos while other photographers are waiting for better lighting or weather conditions, or to look for compositions others may miss, or to show the beauty of less flashy subjects in nature, or to capture and present a common subject in a unique or interesting way.

All of this sounds like a lot of effort for one simple picture.  But with my first few thousand flower shots behind me, I can now spot a possible composition within a scene pretty quickly.  For me, the fun and challenge of photography is combining what my eyes see, with how my camera reproduces what I see, with what my mind reproduces on the computer screen, and to ultimately end up with an image that is interesting, artistic and pleasing to me! It's a wonderful bonus if others enjoy it too!    



Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Spring Cactus - 2020

The Siler Pincushion Cactus is a federally listed endangered plant and only grows in a small region on the Utah, Arizona border. The blossoms are small, about an inch, or around the size of a quarter.
View from Black Rock Road overlooking I-15 freeway.  The morning light creating a beautiful backlit desert scene.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter Sunday 2020

His is Risen!  

This will indeed be a memorable Easter 2020.  Jesus Christ has been called the Prince of Peace and the Light of the World.  The world certainly needs peace and light at this time during the world wide Covid 19 virus pandemic.  Usually Christians go to their churches, chapels, meeting houses and temples to worship, but this year we will be doing it at home! 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Joshua Tree Preserve, Utah

Joshua Tree Preserve, Utah

I took this photo last night around 8 pm, just before the sun set through a lightly hazy sky. It's amazing how warm sunset light can transform an ordinary landscape into something beautiful. I drove about half an hour away from home to a remote area near the border of Utah and Arizona for this view. Even though it is still a little too early for the cactus buds to bloom out, yellow wild flowers always make me happy!

A photographer friend asked if I would tell her the settings I used to take this photo, and how I achieve focus from foreground to background.  Below is my response:

Yes, but first a disclaimer. I am impatient when it comes to learning techniques and probably know less than a forth of what my camera can do, so I hesitate giving out technical info, not because I want to keep it secret, but because this is not my strong suit, and there are many photographers on this site who will tell you there are far better settings or ways to do what I end up doing. I'm mostly motivated by composition and color so feel more confident talking about those areas. Now, about the near to far focus, first let me say, I am not hugely concerned that my landscape or nature images with great DOF are tack sharp because most people normally don't see a sweeping landscape tack sharp from the foreground to the distant mountains...unless you are 10 years old!  If distant backgrounds look too sharp, it looks unnatural to me. (Personal preference.) So if I have believable focus that pleases me, I am good. (In this case, if you were to look at the full resolution file you would see that the background cliffs are a bit soft, but when I look at the entire image, that doesn't detract.) I can usually achieve acceptable focus fairly simply. I use a good wide angle lens (10-24mm), with an f stop usually between f/16 and f/22. I tend to like the closest foreground object, like a flower, to look larger than normal, (personal preference), and I achieve this with the wide angle lens and by positioning my camera so the flower takes up a fair amount of composition 'real estate', and typically within one or two feet of where I am standing.  Where to focus is the tricky part. One rule of thumb to get maximum DOF is to set your focus point approximately 1/3 of the way into the scene. In this case, I probably focused on some of the back flowers. But this varies with every situation. It's hard to determine the focus in this shot because the wind was blowing, causing some of the flowers to be somewhat blurry. Honestly, I take many shots of a scene and experiment with various f stops and various focal points. The more shots I take, the better my chances are that one or two exposures might work! How's that for confidence! I do know there are far more sophisticated ways of achieving perfectly sharp focus foreground to background, such as focus stacking. This is where you take numerous shots, each one focusing on a different point throughout the scene, then combine them using a computer program. I'm not sure it is possible to do this without using a tripod. So far I'm too lazy to do all this! 

Friday, April 10, 2020


Iris planted in front of a stucco wall.  
Photo taken on on overcast, shadow less day with my Lensbaby soft focus lens.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Super Moon April 2020

 'When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain'

Jeff came home last evening and said "Have you seen that moon?" 
I totally forgot about the super moon so I grabbed my camera and found the best composition I could find close to home. 
I pulled off the side of the road, (behind Harmon's in Santa Clara), and used the hood of my car as a tripod.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Little Pleasures

Coming home just before sunset, I spotted this little colorful plant on Santa Clara Main Street, so I had to stop. Since I was almost laying by the side of the road to get this shot, I'm surprised somebody didn't stop to help the elderly lady who it appeared had fallen off the curb!