Monday, December 12, 2011


I have been thinking about the sorts of images I am looking for when I take photos.  When I am taking photos in the same setting as others--joint vacation, photo class assignment, etc.--at the end of the day we will each wind up with a very different set of images.  True, there may be some similar shots that each of us will have taken, but a lot of the shots that each person takes, the choices they make, will be quite different.  Often times, when I see others' photos I think, Why didn't I see that shot?  I was there at the same time.

In my case a lot of the shots I take can be characterized as intelligible abstracts--abstract images that are, nevertheless, recognizable as either from the world of nature of from the world of man-made objects, such as art objects or architecture--and that is what this post will primarily deal with in the context of my recent trip back to the Mitchell Park Domes.

Not every shot is intended as an abstract, of course.  In some cases I am just trying to capture the available subject in more or less of a documentary fashion.  That doesn't mean that I am not trying to do so in an interesting or artistic way, by my choice of composition, depth of field, perspective, etc.  For example, here is a shot from my last visit to the Domes on Thursday, December 8.

I was primarily attracted by the texture of the main, cylindrical portion of the flower, but I wanted to present the accompanying leaf portion, as well.  Although the texture of this flower is really in good focus, there were two problems that bothered me.  First, I thought the background was too busy. Second, I did not like the red item in the background.  I thought it competed with the main subject.  To "solve" those problems, I opened up the aperture to f/6.3 (the first had been taken at f/8) and simply moved the red object to the side. I was in a public facility and had to be careful not to damage anything, so I didn't try to "remove" the object.  Here was the resulting shot.

I really didn't mind that the tip of the leaf extending to the back was getting more out of focus, as my primary intent was the cylindrical portion of the flower.  I thought the background was still a bit busy, so I tried a third shot at f/4.

Now the tip of the leaf was even more out of focus, but I didn't care about that.  I had lost a bit of definition on the cylindrical portion, too, but all in all I thought this shot represented the best compromise in terms of depth of field.

Here is another more or less documentary shot.

This was a simply-petaled flower, one of the petals of which had folded over on the others.  I liked the concept, but I ended up being disappointed in this shot, as I wound up reducing depth of field to reduce background distractions, leaving the rest of the petals pretty much out of focus.  Again, my main concern here was to "document" the flower rather than to turn it into an abstract.

In thinking this through, I realize that abstraction is really a matter of degree, rather than an either-or.  And, for the most part in the images that follow, I am looking to move from less to more abstraction in their presentation.

Here is an example of a shot which is very recognizable but for which I was more interested in the pattern than in the object itself.

I was not entirely happy with this shot.  I tried it as a black and white, but there was not enough contrast between the subject leaf and the background.  I am now thinking that this might work better as a more closely cropped shot that would turn it into more of an abstraction.

Here is another "leaf" shot in which I did that.

This is pretty heavily cropped.  Again, it is clear what the subject is, but I was more interested in the pattern made by the symmetry in the leaves.  I liked that the leaves were backlit and that I was able to keep the background very dark to accentuate the light coming through the leaves.  I also liked the lighting on the "hair" on the central stem.

Here is another shot of a cactus in the desert dome.

It's pretty clear what this is, but I was really interested in the arms of the plant that were radiating from the central "trunk" rather than trying to capture the plant as a whole. This was taken at f/16; pretty narrow, but the background was sufficiently distant not to be a problem.  I liked the focus on the texture of the trunk and really didn't care that the branches running toward and away from the camera were out of focus.

Here is another shot of this cactus; more of a closeup.

I also took some shots of a more traditional cactus.  I was most interested in capturing the spikes radiating from the plant.  I turned this first shot into a black and white.

I shot this at f/45 to try to get as many of the spikes into focus as possible.  Here is another shot at a more open aperture of f/6.3.  

I actually like this shot, even though most of the spikes are out of focus.  It reminds me somehow of an x-ray.

Here are some shots of more familiar cacti for which I focused on the patterns that the spikes presented.

I could have tried to isolate just one set of spikes, but I liked the portions of clusters of spikes surrounding and extending toward the primary set.  I thought they provided context and variety to the overall image.  I was impressed by the resolution that my macro lens was able to capture with these shots.  To maintain as much definition as possible across the image, I shot these at a very narrow aperture of f/51.  I also converted one of the images into a black and white.

I think this adds to the abstraction of the image, but I like the dark green of the background in the shots above.

I found myself going back to the kapok tree that I featured in a previous post.  I thought the previous shots had been interesting as abstracts but that they had lacked balance.  So I made another attempt.  For anyone who had looked at the prior post, these are going to look familiar.

I liked the shot below because of the curves in the stems on the left.  This shot also seems to have the best "balance" of those I took.

The roughly circular structures in the image above were interesting but didn't really translate well in this shot.  Perhaps if I took them in such a way that I caught a few straight on and others in silhouette it might have been more effective.

The tropical dome includes a lot of orchids, which present difficulties because they are very much 3-dimensional. Daisies, asters, and other flowers with petals that radiate from a center more or less in a flat plane do not present nearly the depth of field challenges that orchids present, because the center of an orchid is so deeply recessed from the front of the flower.  Here is an orchid that I could not hope to capture in good focus throughout, so I chose to focus just on the interior of the flower.

Beyond the fact that it seems somehow to resemble a nose, it is just a little weird, I'm afraid.

There was another plant nearby (not an orchid) with relatively large stiff petals that were just in the process of opening, and I decided to take a shot just of a portion of those petals, again as an abstract.

 At first, I did not like the fact that there was "open space" both in the upper left and in the lower right corners of this shot.  However, on further review I felt those spaces actually added some depth to the shot.  The one regret I have about this shot is that there is some sort of red thread at the tip of the petal in the upper center of the shot.  If I feel ambitious, I may try to "remove" this in Photoshop.  Here is another shot I took that did not include the offending thread.

 This shot also has less open space. However, I wish it had more of the petal in the back behind the pointy one.  All in all, though, I like this shot quite a lot.  It was taken at a very narrow aperture of f/57 for a duration of 25 seconds.  This shot is quite abstract because of its "tight" composition, though no one would mistake it for anything other than a living plant.

Another of the orchids caught my eye and I decided to try to capture a portion of it.  Here is an early shot.

Again, I recognized that I could not capture the entire flower in good focus and so concentrated on just the front portion of it.  This was taken at a medium aperture of f/8.  I focused on the the edge closest to the lens, which is in good focus, but the back edge is pretty much out of focus, so I tried a shot at a much narrower aperture of f/45 (a 15 second exposure).

 Although the flower is in much better focus throughout, the background is really unacceptable.  Here is a third shot at f/16.

The background is still a problem.

Then I realized that what had attracted me to this subject were the interesting red, pink, and orange hues and, even more importantly, the crenellations in the flower's margins.  So I decided to move in much closer and turn the shot into more of a pure abstraction.  Here is one of those shots.

Since I could not hope to keep the entire flower in good focus, I just concentrated on the front edge and let the rest go.  This was taken at f/4.  To keep as much of the edge in focus, I chose a portion of the edge that was relatively linear in terms of its distance from the lens.  I liked this shot quite a bit, but did not like the amount of light green visible on the underside of the flower.  So here is another even tighter shot, taken at f/5.

I like this shot a lot.  It is virtually purely abstract, though everyone would recognize this as being from the world of nature.  The edge is in good focus through most of the image, though there are a couple of places where that is not the case.  I tried a few more shots at narrower apertures, including the following, taken at f/9 and f/16, respectively.

Finally, here  are a couple more shots of the orchid, at f/16 and f/57, respectively, taken from a different angle to capture more of the flower's orange interior, the last for an exposure of 30 seconds.

Each of these shots, I feel, has its points, but I wound up not liking as much the shots with greater depth of field, perhaps because they are not as abstract as the others.

All of this begs the question of why I am looking for intelligible abstracts.  I think the answer is that it represents my attempt to express myself artistically.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Sometimes the area behind the primary subject of a photo is important to the composition and sometimes it is unwanted clutter.  It depends on the subject and the "story" that is being told by the photo.  It also depends to an extent on the "size" of the subject of the photo.

Consider the following photo of Geri, Jeff, and Bei that I took during our recent trip to Utah.  They are the primary subject matter of the photo, but the shot wouldn't make a lot of sense if I didn't show what they were looking at.

This was taken at an aperture of f/8.0.  I might have opened up the aperture to focus on the individuals.  The background scene would still have been present but less in focus.  The effect would have been to emphasize the human side of the story.  As this was more or less a spontaneous shot, I wasn't thinking too much about those options.

In landscape photography, the background is virtually always going to be an important element in the shot and its inclusion is usually unavoidable in any case.

With intermediate-sized subjects, such as sculptures, one sometimes has a choice whether to include any background as context.  For example, in the following shot the background serves to provide a sense of place.

And in the following shot it also provides a comparison of artistic sensibilities and styles.

I'm sure the museum knew what they were doing when they juxtaposed these two pieces of art.

On the other hand, in the following shot I isolated the sculpture from any background context.  There is something to be said for this if the goal is to focus totally on the subject without any distraction.

I particularly liked the following sculpture shot because it provides some context--exterior in the fall--and color, but by controlling the depth of field I was able to prevent the background from becoming a distraction from the subject of the shot.

The following shot was less successful, as I was unable to sufficiently isolate the subject from the background, despite taking the shot with the aperture wide open.

When it comes to macro photography, backgrounds are usually a distraction from the subject matter.  Recently, I went back to Doctors Park to look for some late fall opportunities.  As I said to another photographer also interested in macro, as winter approaches, it's amazing how one starts to look at dead vegetation in a whole new light.  In any event, here is one of the shots that I took.

This was shot with the lens nearly wide open, at an aperture of f/4.0.  I chose this shot in part because most of the elements were close to being in one plane.  However, although the dead leaf, or at least a part of it, is in good focus, the plant stems slightly behind it are not sharp.  I took another shot at f/16.

Now all of the elements are in good focus.  However, the background has become a distraction.  This is especially the case because the background is in the same general earth-tone color family as the subject.

Here is a third shot I took with the lens at f/8.0.

Although the stem slanting up to the right corner is still pretty much out of focus, the remainder is not too bad.  This is probably the best compromise under the conditions.

Here is another shot where I wanted to eliminate the background because of the distraction.

In this case I liked the way in which the stem had curved over.  Moreover, the stem and leaves were more or less all in a single vertical plane and I could position the camera at a point perpendicular to that plane so that the field did not need to be very deep to maintain all of the elements in acceptable focus.  This first shot was taken at f/11.  Unfortunately, the subject was positioned against a chain-linked fence and even though the fence is largely out of focus, I felt that it represented a significant distraction from the subject of the shot.

Here is a second shot at f/6.3.  The subject plant is still in pretty good focus, but the fence has become less of a distraction.

I would have preferred not to have had the curving band n the background (presumably another plant stem), but that was not an option.

Eliminating all background elements is not always a goal in macro photography.  Sometimes the background is so different in color that it is not a distraction and, in fact, may provide some context, as in the following photo.

And in the following shot, the reflections in the water provide some context for this pond scene.

In this example of the use of negative space, I wish I had managed to incorporate more of the reflected trees in the shot.

Finally, in the following shot the other flowers in the frame serve to show that the blossoms most in focus were not isolated but instead were part of a larger group.  The fact that the other blossoms were progressively further out of focus serves to provide added depth to the scene.  As I have mentioned before, I generally find it best to put into sharpest focus those elements closest to the camera, and that is what I did here.

This shot, taken a couple of summers ago, strikes me has having a lot of feminine elements, by reason of its pastel colors and preponderance of soft focus components.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


When Geri and I walked the Boston Freedom Trail on Sunday, October 23rd, we took a tour of the USS Constitution, nicknamed "Old Ironsides."  The ship is basically a component of the Freedom Trail.  It was in active service from 1797 to 1855 and is the oldest warship in the world that is still afloat.  It saw most action in the War of 1812 and has a record of never having lost a battle at sea.  But enough of history.

Tours of the ship are free and very well done, though you may have a wait and should be advised that touring the ship requires going through a security check.

The photos I took of the ship reflect some of the mistakes I seem to keep making.  I should have gotten at least one good shot of the whole ship.  Didn't do it.  Instead, I found myself taking photos of pieces of the ship.  Here is a shot of one of the life boats.

At least in the following shot I included the name of the ship.

The rigging on this sailing ship was truly impressive.  We were informed that it could take as many as 250 men to raise the sail on the main mast.

Here is a closer shot that I liked.

As we began our tour, I found myself taking photos of rope.  I must have thought there was something artistic in these shots, but they seem pretty mundane in retrospect.  The technical quality was pretty good, though.

The ship was in terrific shape, and the tour below decks was quite well done.  When fully manned, the ship had a crew of 450 to 500, which seems incredible considering its modest size, relatively speaking.

I did get a couple of good shots of the cannon.

And here are a couple shots of the sleeping quarters for the crew.

I'm guessing these hammocks are not original equipment.

Here is a shot of stairs between decks.  (They probably have some sort of nautical name.)

These photos were basically interior shots with not a lot of light.  They were taken at ISO levels of 800 to 1600.  I was happy with the overall quality.