Thursday, May 31, 2012

Flower Buds, Macro Lenses, and Finding Your Moment

I got into shooting with a macro lens from seeing a photo on one of the photography forums I like—I'll list them below. It was of a witch hazel bud just beginning to open. Magic!  Fireworks!  And a lot like that crinkly ribbon you can run a scissor blade across to make sausage curls as a final touch to gift-wrapped presents. That photo made me want to get a macro lens and grow my own witch hazel.

 It took me two years to find an affordable witch hazel and then another couple of years for it to flower.  This year was the first.  Now it will take me a few more years to find the image I have in my heart, still resonating from the first one I saw on-line.  Something to look forward to around the end of December and the beginning of January.

I researched lenses--I shoot with a Canon, so I stuck with them.  And then rented a 100mm and a 60 mm macro. Glad I did. (By the way, renting lenses is a great way to go when you're trying to decide what to spend way too much money on.  On-line opinions and looking through a lens in a camera store will only take you so far).  They're both wonderful and the only differences really are price, weight, and how close you need to get. If you're taking shots of bugs who might scare easily or if you don't like getting nose-to-petal with a flower, the 100 is it. Then again there's the 180, but that wasn't even on my radar. A girl's got to eat, you know. The 60 is cheaper, lighter, and flowers don't seem too concerned about personal space. And once I got it through my thick head that a decent tripod was crucial, I was set.

Almost. Along with waiting for the right light and having the right equipment, the biggest headache for taking botanical macros is wind. Air actually. Just the briefest little puff will start the petals trembling and the leaves waving all about. And unless you want to crank up the ISO or shoot so wide open that only the yellow speck of pollen at the closest leaf edge is in focus, you've got to wait. And wait. And fire off a few frames with your fingers crossed. And wait some more. HOWEVER, buds—leaf as well as flower--have the good grace to sit bloody still! A lot may be going on inside, but the outside is serene. Their density and lack of quivery surfaces make them a lot more stable. No flashes, no portable studios, just graceful nature waiting for me to get my settings right.

 This Rhododendron is a good example.  That lovely flower has enough tissue-paper thin petals and shuddering anthers to blur in a vaccuum.  OK, I exaggerate (often), but still.  That amazing bud, with the folds of petals interlaced with the sturdy sepals can really hold a pose.  

It also amazes me how the petals here look like a rich, Asian silk.  And, unlike my packing, when they unfold, no creases remain.

There's also a subtlety to a flower bud.  All that potential, all that promise only hinted at.  I bought this Speedwell below (Veronica spicata 'Giles van Hees') because the flower buds were "demure" yet dramatic.  I don't know how else to say it.

And while the flowers themselves are pretty, for me, they can't compare to the "romance" I see in the buds.

 But sometimes the drama, the energy, and the beauty can be found at the same moment, in the same plant, flower and bud, still enough to capture.

Thalictrum 'Black Stockings'  (Meadow Rue)

Good Photography Forums 

Helpful Sites for Choosing a Lens 


  1. What a beautiful images! The hazel bud is so cute. I love the Rhododendron flower shots, most especially the buds. I love the color! The petals are truly look like a rich, Asian silk.