Weeds examined: violets

I seem to be photographing a lot of flowers lately – more so than usual.  I blame spring.  All sorts of lovely surprises are popping up in my own little back yard that grab my attention and demand a photo session.  Of course, being 37 weeks pregnant makes photographing these treasures a lot more enticing.  They stand still and I can prop them up to eye level – no bending over, which by now is pretty much impossible for me. 

That said, violets are one of the first harbingers of spring in my yard.  They hide in the grass that’s slowly turning green and starting to grow again.  I didn’t plant these, despite how much I love them – they’re purely volunteers.  Funnily enough, although violets are more of a shade plant these grow quite happily in the middle of the yard with the full sun beating down on them.   

It’s funny how the little things bring back memories.  These tiny violets remind me of my childhood – a time when I knew where the wild yellow violets bloomed down by the creek, and where to find the rare solitary trillium and clumps of bloodroot and wild dwarf iris.  I made little pilgrimages every spring to see them bloom, a tradition I kept as I grew into a teenager and went for walks when I needed privacy (a big deal when you’re a teen with an older brother and younger sister.)  To this day, I can tell you where to find those same spots, although I have no idea if the flowers are still there.

One of those violet memories brings back the sense of pure discovery and delight – if you’ve ever seen the seed pods of a violet you would understand what I’m talking about.  They look something like a tricorne hat – a three-petaled rounded pod that contains hundreds of tiny poppy-like seeds.  The pods pop  when they’re dry, sending seeds shooting into the air like a gun.  No wonder the things spread so easily!

As much as I keep trying to photograph these violets, I’ve decided that they’re just too awkward of a flower to photograph well.  I’ve already discovered that the images don’t translate well to cyanotype – the texture of the petals just doesn’t work.  But, despite my pitiful attempts, I can still show you guys the tiny details that make me love the flowers: the exquisite purple lines leading into the throat of the flower, the tiny petals, and the wonderful furry throat that bees love to investigate.  It’s a weed – and it’s lovely.

It’s official: spring is here to stay

It seems that spring has truly arrived here.  I could be wrong and we’ll get a massive snowstorm in the next week, but the weather has turned mild, thankfully. 

The birds are singing at 4:00am today (don’t ask why I know this) and the trees are showing a nice haze of green.  I think we’ve had more than our fair share of rain this month, so when the sun came out I grabbed the chance to capture a daffodil in my backyard.  They’re hardier than they look – this one held up through a few cold nights and kept blooming despite the possibility of frost a few days ago. 

Happy spring everyone!

The challenge: water droplet

Yup, I did it again – I had a bright idea that didn’t really work out.  I had a great time trying to make it work though, and the results aren’t all bad.

Bright idea = photograph something (a flower that produced the leaf I put the water on) through a water drop, and have the water drop act as a magnifying glass of sorts.  The idea was to get a perfect little miniature flower encased inside the water droplet.   As you can clearly see, it’s not perfect.  It’s somewhat out of focus.  The depth of field is horrible!  But, I had a grand time acting the mad scientist trying to get the thing to work out.

If anyone decides to go try this yourself, keep in mind that the magnifying effect is reversed.  It took me a few tries to figure out that my helpful little flower actually needed to be upside down in order for it to reflect right side up in the droplet.  Enter, flowers dangling from a clothesline across my window while I hunched over the camera and tried not to breath (breathing made the flowers move.)

It’s surprisingly difficult trying to get the whole setup to stay in focus.  The slightest little movement on my part, the camera’s part, or the flower was enough to jar the entire thing out of focus.  And even with the camera on cautious mode – on a tripod with a self timer and the mirror locked up – things ended up quivering just enough to throw me off my already precarious focus.  And adding a smaller aperture to the mix didn’t make a difference – f20 didn’t help the depth of field too much when the exposure needed 13 seconds of no movement or breathing.   Flash probably would have helped with that – someone who has a nice off-camera flash get back to me with samples.

Add to that – I was trying to keep water off the actual camera lens.  This shoot held the water droplet about 1 inch – if that! – away from the lens.  Water + lens = really bad idea.

Even with all the technical difficulties it was a fun shoot.  And if you happen to drive by a house and see flowers dangling in the window, you’ll know what’s going on: I promise, we photographers aren’t crazy, we just want to try something new.

Selective coloring

There’s this little trend in photography that’s been going on for a while now – selective coloring – and I keep hoping that it will die a decent death and quit appearing.  In a nutshell, selective coloring is adding a color to one portion of a monochrome photograph.  Supposedly this brings attention to the colored bit – usually the subject’s eyes, or a lone vase or something. 

I’ll admit, I’m a snob.  I hate selective coloring. 

Used well, it can be effective.  Used poorly or too often and it’s corny or cliché.  I guess I put selective coloring in the same category as excessive borders, overcooked HDR images, and super high contrast monochrome: it’s not a professional look.  In my opinion, it’s not professional because it takes a trick to do what the image should do by itself (i.e. draw attention to the subject by framing and composition.)

More specifically, it’s a fad.  20 years down the road it will date your images.  Not good if you want timeless memories or some other tired phrase that wedding photographers use a lot.  It used to be that you could only add color to a black and white image if you had the skills to basically paint on the image.  It wasn’t done often, and it was usually pretty subtle.  Today, thanks to digital, it’s easily done.   And it’s used a lot.

So it’s pretty ironic that I like this shot (revisited the plums before they got all wrinkled and eaten) even though it looks, superficially, like a selective color image.  It’s not.  It’s a piece of fruit shot on a black backdrop:  my oh-so-impressive setup of window light and a piece of black paper.  Go figure.

Shame on me

I did it again.  I picked out an image from a shoot that I thought had potential, and today, I looked at it and wanted to trash it.  I really don’t know if I’m being too picky – over editing – or if my initial reaction was far too optimistic – under editing.  Funnily enough, I don’t usually have this dithering problem when I’m working with black and white images.

I love working with color but it’s a difficult concept for me.  Getting the subject to balance color with form, getting the color right in the first place, and making sure that the exposure is right:  it’s difficult for me.  And I really don’t like feeling like a clueless idiot, so I’d prefer to get this under control and get on with shooting.

This is one of those shots where I had a bright idea and the end result just isn’t what I imagined.  I wanted to capture the translucent quality of the fruit with light shining through it – instead, I ended up with hot highlights and a really odd closeup texture. 

I’m truly a perfectionist at heart, so it’s extremely difficult for me to post this image knowing that I’m not happy with it.  But, since it’s what I’m working on at the moment, it goes on the blog for everyone to see.  Perhaps I’m too used to looking at the world in monochrome: I miss the vibrancy of life, or more importantly, miss the best way to capture it. 

Still working on it – hopefully I’ll get there at some point.

Just get out there and shoot

Ok, I’ll admit it: I’m a tad lazy.  I get into a habit of ignoring the camera and feeling uninspired.  As much as I love what I do, sometimes I feel drained – empty of creativity – and picking up the camera just seems like too much work.  For an artist, that’s the death knell of my work.  I need to be creative – and sometimes, I have to force myself to try.

The good thing is that art is something like priming an old pump, if anyone has ever experienced that.  Those old wells with a hand pump at the top don’t just spout water if they haven’t been used in a while – you have to literally pour some water down the pipe and start pumping like mad to get the water from the well to come to the surface.  In photography terms, it means just get out there and shoot.

It doesn’t matter to me if I keep the pics or not, it seems that the act of actually using the camera starts the creative juices flowing and I end up with something, usually, that I’m excited about.  If all goes well, I’ll not only be excited, I’ll have a slew of new ideas swimming around in my brain. 

That’s what I did today.  I decided I was going to shoot a particular shot for the heck of it, and just see what happened.  10 minutes later I noticed something that’s been sitting in my kitchen for a while now and said “ooooohh, I can do that with it!”  And that ended up being the shot for this post. 

Granted, now that it’s on the computer (curse that 100% viewing option) I’m thinking I might need to reshoot with the camera on a tripod.  It’s a tad too blurry for my tastes even given the subject matter – anyone want to guess what that is? 

As an added bonus, the forced shots actually turned out ok – you’ll probably see one in a few days once I get around to editing it. 

Subject: insulated foil bubble wrap from a cat’s medicine that needed to be kept cool during shipping.  

Turn off the tv – it’ll make you feel better

Now I remember why I don’t watch the news.  After sitting for over 3 hours in a hospital waiting room (timed blood tests, read why here) I noticed that the news didn’t really have much news at all.   And it’s really depressing.

Although I’m horrified by what’s happening in Japan – a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunamis hitting our west coast, Japan itself, and Hawaii – I feel overwhelmed by the non-stop coverage.  The same footage over and over, the talking heads giving their opinions – it all combines to feel incredibly distant and curiously unfocused.

In the few minutes that I actually spend reading online publications I picked up more pertinent details than 3 hours of news viewing.  No wonder the traditional news model is going down the toilet.

Non-stop media coverage really means non-stop blathering.  It has a numbing effect on me.  I almost wish that each major news story had some sort of mandated “positive” angle to it – I know that in the middle of all the disaster and heartache there are wonderful stories about people who are heroes, or places where the predicted ruin doesn’t occur.  Perhaps we’ll hear more of those later on.

Without offering any platitudes about life goes on or Japan will be in my prayers, here’s a small thing to brighten an otherwise horrible day: flowers are optimistic things, especially the spring ones.

Did I happen to mention…?

This is sort of awkward, but I figured it’s time to confess I’m guilty of concealing a secret from you guys – the few who regularly follow this blog.  If anyone else out there is interested in my personal life, feel free to read and chime in.

I failed a test yesterday.  Specifically, I failed a preliminary test for gestational diabetes.  Not in a good mood here.

Yup, what I’m trying to say in a convoluted way is – I’m pregnant.  About 7 months (30 weeks,) actually.  That’s why I’ve been photographing things in and around the house, because frankly, going on photo shoots when you can’t even bend over isn’t my idea of fun. 

My due date is somewhere near the end of May, so I’ll probably be absent for a while on the blogging front until I get the whole baby thing under control.  We’re having a boy – haven’t decided on the name yet – and so far, everything except the darned blood sugar issue is looking good. 

Since I failed the first test for diabetes, soon I’ll get to do a 3 hour diagnostic test to see if I really have this gestational diabetes stuff.  If I fail that, the best case scenario is a special diet and finger pricks every 3 hours, worst case includes insulin.  At this point I’m really hoping I’ll pass. 

I’m super excited, scared, and busy all at the same time.  Having a kid isn’t something to take lightly, and I’m neck-deep in car seat reviews and diaper details.  This kiddo is our first, so everything is new and slightly scary.  And expensive – the car seat racket alone is going to cost us an arm and a leg – it’s something along the lines of a college textbook scam with the added guilt trip of safety issues.  I won’t even mention the murky netherworld of video baby monitors and strollers. 

So here’s hoping the next cocktail of cough syrup (that’s pretty much what the test drink tastes like) isn’t the harbinger of bad news.   And if the news is bad, at least it’s only for about 10 more weeks.  I can handle 10 weeks.  After that, you guys will probably see a whole lot of black and white baby photographs!

Beaten by a flower

I’m stumped.  A “real” pro photographer wouldn’t admit this, but then, I’m not a real pro, let alone any kind of pro photographer.  I can’t seem to take a decent photograph of this darned flower (Amaryllis) to save my life.

After spending some time photographing it with the camera on the tripod and the whole setup, I’m frustrated.  Either you shoot it from a distance and get the entire thing in the shot, or you do some form of a weird closeup that makes people wonder what, exactly, is that?  The first method is slightly boring – after all, everyone and their mother can do that basic type of shot.  Nothing special there.  The second, while more interesting, is confusing.  Who wants to see a pistil and stamen when there’s a gorgeous flower?

I’m sure there’s some wonderful way to shoot this flower that I’m missing.  It’s frustrating to feel that I’ve lost my eye – there has to be something I’m missing.  It doesn’t help that the texture of the petals ends up looking over sharpened even without doing much to it. 

I guess for the next day or so I’ll be eyeballing this thing trying to figure out what I can do differently.  I’ll share if I come up with something spectacular.

Food rants

I seem to be photographing a lot of food lately.  I blame it on my doctor, because she put the whole food-on-the-brain thing into motion.  Bear with me while I rant a little.

She suggested that I might need to change my diet a little and try to make sure I’m eating healthily.  She rattled off a few ideas, and mentioned the whole “3-5 servings of fruit and veggies a day” general rule. 

Now, I had always assumed we ate pretty healthily.  Granted, we probably eat too much protein and sweets.  But, we don’t eat out much at all, we don’t eat a lot of processed foods, and whole wheat is no stranger to our household.    

But, given that nebulous feeling, I figured I needed to go read up a little and make sure I was right – or wrong.  For example, I wanted to nail down that recommended “serving size” – since I had a vague idea that what a package calls a serving and what the nutritionists call a serving are two very different things.  So, I trotted over to the government website for the food pyramid. 

I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person.  I’m not a genius, but neither am I dumb (I think.)  I left that website with my brain reeling, no further informed than I was before I started. 

Why on earth can’t the nutrition people make things simple?  How about a few easy guidelines to follow, instead of calculating that I need some 2.5 cups of veggies (cooked means more like 1.5 and salad greens throw the whole thing askew) and exactly 1.5 cups of fruit?  It’s confusing and it doesn’t need to be.

I want someone to tell me things like:

  • 30% of your plate needs to be some form of cooked or fresh produce.
  • Chips and cookies are a treat, not a food source.
  • Eat these carbs, not those.

As it is, I got the impression that if I ate the recommended amount of fruits and veggie I wouldn’t – literally – have room for any protein or carbs.   And I didn’t even delve into the forbidden realm of healthy fats and dairy.  That would leave me utterly clueless.  

So, for now, I’m assuming we’re eating fairly healthily.  Until someone tells me otherwise, I don’t really know.