Friday, April 20, 2012

Thinking Small

Sometimes I think too big when it comes to taking pictures. I want to take in the "big picture", sorry for the pun. It's axiomatic that "you can't see the forest for the trees." But what happens when the little things are interesting or important? What do you do when you don't want to be bothered with the forest?

Get in close! Go macro! Think small.

When I took this picture I was wandering around the Erie Canal Path in Fairport, NY. It was early spring and I was waiting for Kim to get her hair styled. It was still too early in the season for flowers or new leaves in the trees and too early in the day for there to be a lot of interesting people on the path to watch. So I started looking around for interesting things to shoot. I got bored with the usual subjects in the area; a few ducks, interesting reflections of buildings in the canal. So I started looking in a different direction: down.

Micro-forest. iPhone f/2.4, 1/557 sec at ISO 64
Along this part of the path there are planters and walls made up of posts and pilings and for about half the day some areas get almost no sunshine because of the buildings right along the canal and some large trees. The wood stays damp for most of that time and so little colonies of mosses grow wherever they can gain a foothold. I saw this little clump of different mosses on top of one of the posts - and that would have been interesting enough - but the post had been weathered into little concentric ridges and the moss had used the bits of dust, dirt and other detritus to attach themselves to the post. All-in-all it looked like a miniature forest had sprouted on a lilliputian mountain range.

I bent down and - with my iPhone - composed for the dappled background, maximum contrast in the ridges on the post, and some back-lighting through the tiny leaves. The iPhone camera has a wide aperture (f/2.4) and I selectively focused (I use the SmugMug "Camera!" app instead of the app that comes preloaded) on an interesting clump of moss and snapped the shot. I bumped up contrast and sharpened a bit in Photoshop Elements, but that's about it.

There's an interesting sense of scale to this picture, I think. If you look casually this could be a woodland scene with large bushes and young trees, but peer closely and suddenly the scale inverts and you are immersed in a miniature landscape all arranged on the top of a fence post.

Friday, April 6, 2012

How Deep is Your Field?

My camera mostly stays in Aperture Priority mode. Sometimes I'll shoot in full manual, occasionally in Shutter Priority; but in the main I shoot Av. I think the photograph for this post helps explain my reasoning.

I love to control the depth of field in my photos. It helps to focus the viewer's attention on the main subject by reducing background clutter and distractions. With a large enough aperture it's possible to turn the most cluttered background into a blurred field of color and vague shapes and bokeh. In the case of this Eastern Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus), that background looks almost impressionistic and forces the butterfly and the thistle it landed on to pop out into the foreground.

Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly
Because I shot this picture several years ago, before I got my current DSLR, I couldn't get the aperture quite as large as I wanted, so I enhanced the blur very slightly in Photoshop. Other than that, I cropped the picture for composition and corrected the color.

This picture was another one of those lucky shots where I just happened to have my camera with me on a late summer walk. I saw this butterfly flitting from flower to flower in the thistle growing in a ditch near my house and I slowly stalked it until it landed in just the right spot, in the sun on a nicely placed flower and captured it with it's wings spread wide. I was very happy with how this turned out and think that the slight imperfections on the insects wings adds to the interest; sometimes a subject can be too perfect...

Most nature photos - in my opinion, unless you are shooting landscapes can benefit from narrowing and controlling the depth of field with aperture. But you really have to watch your focus and you may have to trade off the actual depth of field with your ability to control exposure. If you can do it right, though, the effort is worth it. If your camera stays in Auto mode, explore the other modes. You'll be amazed at how different - and better - your pictures can be.