May 20, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

                            BACK-LIT MAPLE : FINAL VERSION

This week I'd like to expand on my recent essays concerning the opportunity for taking photographs on "walkabouts", and also the power of using photography as an excuse to get out of the house. Photographic pursuits can both enliven activities and through the pursuit of art make these trips a "both/and" proposition. This is especially important when you are not walking by yourself but spending time with someone else. While Fran has never been coerced into carrying my tripod, she has acceded to my camera as a third wheel as long as I don't make a walk around the block, or on the beach, into a National Geographic assignment. These impromptu photo walks work even better if I'm tagging along on an activity that she knows will require some intense attention on her part. Instead of the stereotypical couch for husbands at the boutique, why not search for images when your significant other is otherwise engaged?


These images were created during a visit to a local garden center this last week. Fran loves when I accompany her on these outings, even though I am restricted in my commentary on her choices since my lack of stoop labor has given me no say whatsoever on any aspect of what has become her beautiful garden. My two cents are worth less than two lira when it comes to her garden. Sometimes she will allow me to pick out one specimen if it also passes muster with her personal vision, but I still find that I spend much time falling in love with some plant that needs an environment far different than our 40' x 100' plot can muster. And long ago I resisted going along with Fran on her walks "way to the back" of the nursery to search for "social worker" plants that only prompt the question "are these plants dead?"


So I take my camera along to while away some of the time. This allows me to pursue what I call "plant portraits" without walking in the garden, or through the neighborhood. Since this is very different from my usual photographic pursuits, it allows me to stretch my aesthetic legs while really lessening the pressure for a great shot. After all, I'm just walking in the nursery - how do I ever expect to grab a real image?

                            AFTER THE RAIN : FINAL VERSION

In fact the problems in taking a natural image in the midst of an artificial environment only encourage my natural tendency to concentrate on details or snippets of a subject. While this is somewhat similar to taking photographs at the zoo, instead of cages the photographer tries to restrict the presence of price tags and labels. So I try to zero in on the details of the plants rather than the commercial backgrounds. I used to even try this at the supermarket until multiple managers accused me of working for their competitors, obviously trying to steal their display ideas for green peppers. So far nobody has objected to my taking photographs of their beautiful plants on offer.

                                                         BIG LEAF STRUCTURE : FINAL VERSION

In addition to the isolation problem, I also have learned to deal with two other constraints on photography in this environment. The first is depth of field, which is a very different cup of tea than what I usually face as an urban landscape photographer. Instead of trying to get a majority of the image in focus, I am actively trying to reduce the surrounding environment to an out of focus haze to eliminate the commercial distractions. This then leads to the problem that plants, trees,or even flowers are three dimensional objects, and this reduced depth of field can lead to a very distracting view of a flower that is only partially in focus, even though front to back is measured in inches. "Focus stacking" an advanced concept requiring even more software than I own, and a tripod that would be way too much in a commercial environment, is unavailable on a simple trip to the nursery. Framing  your image to restrict commercial artifacts becomes more important than wide-open apertures that might lead to out-of-focus segments of the subject at hand.

                           BUG'S EYE VIEW : FINAL VERSION

The other problem is focusing distance, which is probably too far away from that flower unless you own a specialized macro lens. Your floral subject will either be too small in the image, or your camera will not focus on the smaller part of the flower that you really were interested in at all. Auto-focus can be really frustrating as the camera either chooses to focus on the wrong part of the image, or just doesn't work at all. My lens will not focus at a distance of less than about two feet, but I have discovered a work-around that seems to work, at least for my lens which allows me to "tweak" the focus manually without going into manual focus mode. You might try this. Move back to a distance that your lens will focus at, then either "tweak" if your lens allows, or turn off auto-focus. Now move in to where you wanted to be in the first place, and try to manual focus on the flower. It is my experience that somehow this allows me to achieve focus at these much closer distances than my lens can supposedly allow. Your mileage might vary.

                            BUG EYE'S VIEW : FINAL B&W VERSION

What the real strategy that works for the garden center, or floral imagery in general, is to eschew your fancy real camera for the one in your pocket. The Iphone is actually the best camera that most people will ever have for taking flower images. It excels at such imagery because of its wide depth of field, its light weight, and its short focusing distance. It even has a built-in flash, which works very well if you can turn down its power. I would speculate that the only way to beat an Iphone in the garden is to buy a $2000 dollar camera with a $1000 dollar macro lens, not that there's anything wrong with that. If you are disappointed with most images from your Iphone, I think you would be delighted with the garden images you can achieve with your that "fake" camera in your pocket. Especially if you post-process them, print it, and put it on your wall.

                                                       A WALK IN THE FOREST GARDEN CENTER : FINAL VERSION

So I hope this encourages you to find some photography available in unusual places. Remember that a latte and a pastry at the end of the trip will go a long way to reduce the tension of bringing along the camera. It goes without saying that you should resist taking any pastry pictures. Enough is enough.

                            MAPLE LEAVES AGAINST THE SKY : FINAL VERSION