Monday, May 28, 2012


I got Geri a bromeliad for Mother's Day.  There are numerous varieties of this tropical plant (which I discovered is pronounced "broh-MEE-lee-ad").  The one I got is about 18 inches tall and consists of bright orange and green leaves that are waxy and stiff.  It appears that the leaves start out as yellow-orange and turn to orange before ultimately turning green.  Here is the how the plant looks.

I was attracted by the plant's bright colors and thought it might make an interesting photographic subject.  Not as easy as I thought.  The plant is very three-dimensional, with leaves extending in all directions from a central "column."  That creates a substantial depth of field issue, as it is virtually impossible at close range to retain good focus on leaves that are extending toward the camera as well as those extending away.  I thought it might work to shoot the plant from directly overhead.

There is some interest in this shot, but it is essentially monochromatic and looks a bit "flat."  Alternatively, because the top leaves are more yellow, I thought it might work to limit the shot to that top portion.

I thought this shot was pretty flat also and generally not very interesting.

However, the other day I noticed that a shaft of late afternoon sun was backlighting the orange leaves, creating a lot more "pop" in the colors of the leaves.  By the time I got my camera out, the sun was gone, so I decided to create my own backlighting, using a lamp.  I really liked the results, even though they technically were "staged."

One of the best shots, I thought, was the one I placed at the top of this post.  My goal was to capture the backlighting at the base of the orange leaves and, hopefully, to juxtapose that against one of the green leaves in the background.  By focusing on just the base of the leaves, I was able to avoid many of the problems with depth of field, as I did not have to concern myself with the portions of the leaves significantly further from or closer to the lens.

I probably took 30-35 shots in all, featuring different areas of the plant and at various apertures.  I feel most of the shots I kept (10-12) are interesting as intelligible abstracts.  In general, the shots that seemed to work best were those with more wide open apertures, which served to soften the areas not in focus.  However, I also felt it was important that there be one or more lines in the image that were in sharp focus to keep a point of reference for the viewer.

Here is another shot that I thought worked fairly well.

This was taken at a wide open aperture of f/4.5.  Note that at least a portion of the diagonal line is in sharp focus that serves to draw the viewer's eye and to provide a reference point.  I also felt that the dark portion running up the left side of the shot, as well as the dark portion in the lower right, served to provide balance.

Here are some shots that were not quite as successful.

This shot is just a bit too simple, I think.  I debated cropping out the dark area in the upper left corner, but decided it would make the shot even more simple and have kept it in.  This shot was taken at an aperture of f/11, but even at this relatively narrow aperture, there is very little texture outside of the line of the central diagonal.

Here is another shot of the same general area of the plant.  Here the central diagonal is darker, and there is a bit of a dark area in the lower left that creates some balance.  However, in fact I had to crop this shot more narrowly because I felt the diagonal as originally positioned was too far to the left.

In the shot below, the backlighting on the leaf has created a lighter yellow-orange, introducing another color.  Note also that I was able to maintain a sharp focus on at least a portion of the central line, even though this was taken at an aperture of f/5.6.  I liked that the point of sharpest focus was also the point of greatest contrast in color.  However, I think the shot lacks some balance, as all of the green is on one side.

The shot below has better overall compositional balance.  I think the dark leaf on the left and the open wedge in the upper left help.  However, I think the shot would have been better if the green portion on the right had extended further down. This was taken at f/5.

As a comparison, here is a similar shot taken at an extremely narrow aperture of f/57, creating much greater depth of field.  Although I generally liked the shots taken with less depth of field, I thought this shot worked quite well, in part because of the strength of the "V" lines and of dark leaf in the left of the image.

Here is more of a horizontal shot.  Although this works OK as an abstract, it seems to raise questions about the darker object extending across the upper left portion of the image.

Here is one more shot, taken at an aperture of f/20.  The oval of light in the upper center of the shot is a little strange.  Otherwise, I thought the shot worked well from a compositional point of view.

These photos did a lot to revive my interest in looking for intelligible abstracts.  I also think I learned something about the use of shallow depth of field.  It is OK so long as the viewer is provided a point of focus that makes sense in the shot and so long as there are no elements out of focus that distract from that point of focus.  I think those principles worked well in this series of photos.

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Since publishing this post a couple of days ago, I have taken a few more photos of the Bromeliad.  Here is one of them, shot at an aperture of f/51.

This has a bit more complexity than previous shots, but is still suitably abstract for my tastes.

And here are two more, one taken at a very narrow aperture of f/57 and the other at an aperture of f/11.

There is a line of sharp focus in this last shot (more or less in the center as the main line of the plant curves slightly to the left), in keeping with my prior comments/analysis to the effect that there needs to be at least one such line.  However, the overall effect of this shot is quite soft.  Nevertheless, I think it still works as an abstract.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I don't really understand dandelions.  It seems that they either are sporting yellow floral heads or are a globular array of wispy seed parachutes ready for dispersal in the wind.  I'm not sure how they get from one stage to the other.  The yellow flowerets do not make very interesting photographic subjects, but the seed heads offer some possibilities from a black and white perspective.

They also present interesting choices from the point of view of depth of field.  At the level of macro photography, it is difficult to keep all of the seed head in good focus, as the seed parachutes closest to the lens are, relatively speaking, quite a bit closer than those at the periphery of the seed head.  The following unedited photo illustrates this point.

This shot was taken at an aperture of f/10.  The focus is on the seeds in the center of the flower, which are closest to the lens.  But this leaves the seeds at the periphery out of focus.  Increasing depth of field by reducing the aperture would require a longer exposure, risking movement in the breeze.  It would also create unwanted background clutter.  I chose to crop the shot down to just the central seeds, which were in good focus.  I also converted it to a B&W.  Here is the result.

I think this makes an interesting abstract.  I feel that, even though the focus for the seeds toward the periphery is falling off, the focus for the central seeds carries the shot.

Another way to handle the depth of field problem is to find a dandelion whose top seeds have already been blown off, so that the peripheral seeds are the same distance from the lens as the flower's center "post."  If no dandelions with such a configuration are available, you can always create one by carefully plucking off the seeds on the top of the flower.  Here is an example.

This photo, shot at an aperture of f/11, reflects that a lot of the seeds are in quite good focus.  Here is another shot of the same flower taken at a wide open aperture of f/3.5.

I like the first shot a bit better, but I think this shot works fairly well also.  I wish the light spot at around 11 o'clock was not there, but there is no easy way to remove it.

Sometimes more than just the top of the seed head is missing.  The solution then is to crop the shot even more tightly, as in the following.

There is good resolution throughout the upper "surface" of this image, taken at an aperture of f/13.  I particularly like the lighting on the base of the seeds in the very center of this image.  It helps too that they are in excellent focus.  To take advantage of this, I cropped this shot more, and placed the image at the top of this post.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I am taking (actually re-taking) a class in macro photography through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Continuing Education.  These classes are informal opportunities to pick up some knowledge in specific areas as well as to meet and compare notes with other amateur photographers.  One of our tasks in the class was to submit some macro photography shots, and I thought I would post some of them to my blog.

This shot below is of an early hosta at Ziedler Park in downtown Milwaukee where our class convened as a "field trip."

I felt that I wanted to maintain a good focus throughout this shot, even though the plant had a lot of vertical depth, so I set my aperture at f/40 to maximize depth of field.  In post production I could have brightened the center to reveal detail, but decided I wanted to leave it dark to emphasize the depth of the plant.  I also chose to place the center of the plant in the middle of the image and to tuck the point of the leaf into the lower left corner.

We were not limited to the photos we took on the field trip, so I also paid another visit to the Mitchell Domes.  The following shot of a desert plant was one of my favorites.

One of the points I am learning from the class relates to the question of how much to try to put into good focus.  In the case of the above shot, only three of the blossoms are in good focus; the rest are out of focus.  However, an attempt to bring all of the blossoms into focus might have created a lot of clutter in the background.  In addition, the blossoms in good focus draw the eye and serve as "models" for the ones that are not in focus.  I like this shot quite a lot, in part because of the soft quality of the natural light coming from the right.

Here is another shot from the Domes of a lily with colorful petals.  I was drawn to this flower because of the overlapping petals at the from of the blossom, but as I set up for the shot, I noticed the little "hairs" on the front edges of the petals.

This shot was taken at an aperture of f/11 and shows a lot of detail not just in the edges of the petals but also in the region below the edges.  Here is another shot at an aperture of f/5 that limits depth of field more or less to just the edges of the petals.

I submitted this second shot for the class, but in retrospect I think I like the first shot better.

I also decided to pay a visit to a nearby garden center that included a greenhouse filled with relatively exotic flowering plants.  I asked for and got permission to take some shots but still felt a little uncomfortable.  I will say that conditions were nearly perfect--ample light and zero wind.

The central stamen of this flower was really quite tall--perhaps six inches--and it would have been impractical to attempt to capture the entire flower, so I concentrated instead on just the center to feature the transition of color from primary red to primary yellow.  The focus on this shot is a little soft.

I also traveled to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in search of subject matter.  Here are a couple of shots from that visit.

I liked the way this shot turned out, as the light area in the upper left seems to be illuminating the vine, which was only about three inches long.  And here is a shot of a cluster of leaves that were just opening up.  I didn't notice until I got back home that the shot also included an ant on the lower leaf bud.

The upper leaves are in great focus, but the ant is a little "soft," as it is just a bit closer to the camera.

The Audubon center also includes some very old abandoned farm implements that I have shot before, so I went back to get another "rust" shot.

By taking this shot at a wide open aperture of f/4, the hole area is out of focus, creating some depth for the shot.

Here is a novelty shot of rain drops on the cover to the gas grill on our back deck.  I did not realize until I started working on this shot in post production that there is a fine-scale honeycomb texture in the surface of the cover's material.

A close look at the reflection in the drops, particularly the one in the lower right, reveals the leg of my tripod (and perhaps my head).

Finally, on a visit to Doctors Park, I took a shot of a relatively large low lying leaf that was being backlit by the morning sun.  Even though I took this shot at a very narrow aperture of f/51 and there did not appear to be any wind, this photo was not quite as sharp as I would have liked.  This was not a focus problem, as really no part of the image was in tack-sharp focus.  Perhaps there was some movement, in the leaf or the camera, during the long 1/3 second exposure.

Rather than abandoning the shot, which I liked from a compositional perspective, I turned it into a B&W and ramped up the contrast a bit.  This acted to disguise the soft focus without losing the compositional interest.  I placed this B&W at the top of this post.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Last week I was on the west side of Milwaukee and took the opportunity to photograph the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.  The church was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956 but was completed in 1962, three years after his death.  Even though I have lived in Milwaukee for over 35 years, I do not believe I had ever seen the church before, although I had seen abundant photos of it over the years.

Although the church is located in a predominantly residential area, it is set off by extensive open grounds that showcase the architecture of the building.  Here are some shots showing the full dimensions of the church.

In a sense, this is typical Frank Lloyd Wright: unorthodox overall design, abstract decorative patterns on a macro as well as a micro scale, and involving engineering requirements that are expensive both in creation and in maintenance.  Here are some shots of the detail.

My understanding is that Frank Lloyd Wright did not design the stained glass windows.  Following is detail above the main entrance.  I think it is likely that he also did not design the angels either.

The roof of the structure is close to sky blue, and it might have been better to have shot the church on a cloudy day.

There is an unusual Greek cross structure on the main drive leading to the church.  I feel confident that this was designed by the architect, as it is very consistent with the overall style of the building.  The maintenance issues with this structure (see lower left scallop) are, I think, illustrative of Frank Lloyd Wright's work generally.

I did not attempt to get inside the church, but I understand that photography is not normally allowed inside anyway.

Overall, I thought the church represented a novelty that has not worn particularly well over the 50 years since its construction.  Perhaps it should be referred to as a Greek unorthodox church.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


On May 1st, I took advantage of my membership as a Friend of the Mitchell Domes to pay a visit to the Boerner Botanical Gardens, which are located on the southwest side of the Milwaukee metropolitan area about half an hour from our home.  It's really early in the season, and most of the available floral displays were tulips, and unfortunately, some of those were past their primes.  There were, however, some opportunities.

For the most part, I wanted to avoid the more mundane shots, such as the following.

The following shot is more cluttered, but I liked the the context that it provided.

These shots were taken at a wide open aperture of f/3.5, which served to blur out the backgrounds but left the rear sides of flowers out of focus.  Here is a third shot of a tulip that has more of a dynamic quality to it.

In keeping with my interest in creating recognizable abstracts, a lot of the shots I took were of just portions of the flower.  The following photos illustrate this.

The second shot has a lightness that I like.  The lighter area in the upper right is part of the natural color of the tulip.  I like it.  Although these are abstract, it is clear that they are portions of flowers.

I like the following shot also, but it is more or less completely abstract.

Again, the light area in the upper left is part of the natural coloring of the flower.  The afternoon was quite breezy, which meant the flowers were moving around quite a bit.  Fortunately, even though the sky was overcast, it was bright enough that shutter speeds could be very fast, reducing the impact of the breeze.  The shutter speed for this shot was 1/500th second.

The series of shots I liked best was one where I took the shot from directly above the tulip, as in the shot at the beginning of this post.  I liked this composition because of its unorthodox perspective.  The issue for me was the appropriate depth of field on these shots.   The top edges of the petals were all at about the same distance from the lens, so I could get good focus on the edges.  I took the following shot at f/4.5.

The petals below the edges are not in good focus, but that doesn't really matter, as the eye is drawn to the edges.  However, the stamen (I think) in the center of the flower is noticeably out of focus.  Here is another shot taken at a much narrower aperture of f/20.

Now the stamen is in better (but not perfect) focus, but so is the foliage below the blossom, taking attention away from the blossom.  Here is a third shot taken at f/8, sort of a compromise between the other two.

Perhaps the best shot of this series was the one at the top of this post.  It was also taken at f/8.  However, because it is a tighter shot with the lens closer to the flower, the depth of field is narrower, throwing the foliage further out of focus.

Although most of my shots were of tulips, I did take the following shot of a jonquil.

I liked this shot because the angle was from behind the flower rather than the usual shot from the front.  I wanted to emphasize the green area behind the white petals as well as the "dead" portion underneath, so I didn't mind that the shot cuts off the left and right edges of the flower.

Finally, I took the following shot of a pair of dandelions.

For this shot I lay on my stomach about 15 feet behind the dandelions and hand-held the camera just a few inches above the grass.  I set the aperture wide open at f/4 to blur out the background, just leaving the flowers (and a few blades of grass) in good focus.  I positioned the flowers to the left to emphasize the use of negative space.  I actually took several shots in this position and this had the best focus, which is really quite good.