Monday, January 21, 2013

Walking on Water

So I wanted to try for a real blogging schedule. Like maybe every two weeks. Other people do it. It may be too much too often for some of my readers, but I'm curious to see what happens when I don't just write when I feel like it or work on photos when I'm in the mood. 

And, of course, it's winter. A FABULOUS time to do garden photography in the Northwest. Yeah, right. Green and grey and brown. A color palette to swoon over. Don't get me wrong--at least not too wrong--I love the seasons up here. All of them. But it's late(r) January, and I'm pretty much done with winter.  Unfortunately, it's not done with me.  

I'm just looking for a little magic now.  OK?   Leaves draped in diamonds. A hillside swathed in fog that's being slowly diluted with a weak, winter sun.  However I seem to have forgotten how to take photographs.  And not just any type of photograph, but MACRO photographs! Every shot I take comes up soft (blurry), muddy (bleh light), and/or just plain boring.  And getting a sharp photo of ice crystals seems totally beyond my vanishing skill set.  Come on!  Is it really that difficult?  Is the heat of my enthusiasm/frustration melting the ice, thus making sharpness moot (mute?). Have I completely lost my macro-mojo or just misplaced it?   Crap

Then one morning a few days ago, I saw a blue heron standing on the pond. Yes, standing ON the mostly-frozen pond.  At first I thought it would take too much time to change from my macro to my 75-300mm lens and change clothes. But I really wanted, needed to be closer to that heron walking on water. I changed lenses, left the tripod, threw a coat over my nightgown, and raced outside. Then spent a wonderful if very chilly 45 minutes inching my way closer and closer, snapping shots all the way and trying to keep from shaking the camera with my shudders.  At that I was still selective and took about 96 shots. None are "tack sharp" and I don't care. The heron even looked me in the eye (at least it appeared that he/she did from the distance) and didn't leave. Not until I turned back to get my very blue self back indoors. Then it vanished.

The second gift I received (because that lovely bird was a serious gift) came in a wonderful blog entry by nature photographer Rob Sheppard titled "Savoring vs. Harvesting Nature Photography."  He wrote about how photographers can go through periods where filling a memory card and rushing back to the computer for post-processing can become more important than savoring the experience of nature. Slow down and fill yourself with those moments BEFORE taking the picture. 

I began taking pictures because I wanted to be closer to what I was seeing. If I found myself staring at something for longer than a few minutes--a flower, tree bark, light breaking apart on ice--then I knew I needed to photograph it. But when time pressures and technical issues push these moments aside,  the resulting images (as well as my own experiences) suffer. 

So I went back to my ice photos and found a few that looked better to me.  The images are far from ideal, but there were leaves draped in icy diamonds that day.  I just didn't see them until I spent some time with a blue heron taking a stroll across a frozen pond. 

 By the way, if you'd like to take a look at Rob Sheppard's blog, it's Nature and Photography

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Winter Cures: Bones, Berries, and Post-Processing

It was two days before Christmas, when I started trying to write this blog post, and no snow in sight. Like this old barn, the world outside my window looked cold, beaten, plain, and stubborn. 

Without snow or even sub-freezing temperatures, the plants were confused. Well, they're hardly confused. They just react to what is, and what IS--still--is a very grey autumn in winter:  lots of empty branches but a defiant few with dead yet clinging leaves. I could go on about how they are like an elderly grande dame, clinging to her faded youth with too much makeup and an inappropriate d├ęcolletage, but I won't.
This spirea would be perfect for autumn but right now just seems to be trying too hard.  

At least these Caryopteris seed heads have the right idea:  browns (crispy browns) after Thanksgiving are de rigueur.

I've been looking at how others approach their gardens in winter, how they use the mostly leafless landscape to reveal the "bones" of the garden: the basic shapes and structures hidden for most of the year by the leaves and flowers and even fruit we buy plants for. And yet I must admit I don't have the stomach for photographing my garden's anatomy. 

It seems intrusive: naked and asleep, who would welcome a prying camera?  And, yes, bones reveal the garden's internal architecture, but x-rays are really only interesting to radiologists and then only if something is very very wrong. And even when I repressed my natural disinclination, my shots of bare branches looked like shots of bare branches. Nothing revealing or even titillating. Just chaotic lines crisscrossing my (almost) monochromatic beds.  

However, fruited branches are another matter, and, with Beautyberry (Callicarpa ssp), the fruit is probably one of the only reasons to photograph (or grow) the plant. Nothing like a little neon purple to wake up the color sensors. 

And add water droplet and you've got another dimension.
But it's raining (again), so it's time to settle in for some post-processing. My distractions of choice are Lightroom 4 dot whatever and Photoshop Elements 10. By the way, no one, and I mean NO ONE, is better at teaching Lightroom than Laura Shoe.  I keep her DVDs by my computer because they are they best resource I've found.  A link to her website can be found on the left under the list of "Blogs I Follow." PSE is something I'm always in the process of learning, but, as yet, I am still guru-less on that front. 

Now please understand, I'm not into putting rose heads on sunflower plants or cat-heads on dogs. But most photographs (at least, most of my photographs) need a little tweaking, particularly if you shoot in raw mode.  But it's winter, and sometimes you just have to turn things upside-down just to shake loose the ideas.

So I'll end with a dull view of our pond and its anchored raft on a dull winter's day.

And if you invert it you get something out of Dr. Who
All I did was crop and flip and diddle with the color and lighting.  Nothing added.
Sometimes you've just got to amuse yourself when your garden won't cooperate.