Dandy Dandelion

Every spring we remove those pesky dandelions from our yard. This year, before the weed & feed came out, I picked a dandelion to photograph.

As a child, I enjoyed blowing the dandelion seeds everywhere, not grasping why it upset my parents. As an adult, when I look at a dandelion, I imagine myself wandering through those tiny seed pods; maybe it comes from reading The Borrower’s or Dr. Suess’s, Horton Hears a Who. So, I spent a few days photographing dandelions from my yard and I thought I would share my process with you.

Olympus OMD 1 Mark III, 60 mm macro, with Raynox DCR250 close up lens, 1/200 sec, f/4, ISO 200, two off camera flash, 50 image focus stack.

I started with a perfect, fluffy dandelion. But the image was busy and I struggled seeing into the seed pods, so I removed some of the seeds to gain a better vantage point. Using my macro lens, tripod and a Raynox DCR250 close up lens, I captured the above image at approximately 2.5x magnification. The off camera flash units were at 1/64 power with diffusion (copy paper). At this magnification, I chose to focus stack so that the closest seed pod would be in focus.

Next, I moved in closer keeping my exposure and flash settings the same. By adding extension tubes to the macro and Raynox lenses, I isolated an individual seed pod achieving almost 4x magnification. When using the Raynox, I use a plastic container on the end of my lens to diffuse the flashes. Anyone that has taken our Arizona Highways PhotoScapes Super Macro workshop (ahps.org) has used this diffusion technique. For these next images, I included my super macro setup and the single seed pod image.

Then, I continued to play with the dandelion seeds, pulling some away to reveal less seed pods drawing me to different compositions. The colored paper background added variety and I chose to capture single images with varying depths of field.

No Flash

Dandelion with green background
1/60 sec, f/4, ISO 200

While setting up the next shot, I added a continuous light to the background and loved the silhouetted dandelion. So, I turned off my flashes and captured silhouettes with and without extension tubes. Much to my surprise, I found a bug crawling around in the dandelion. It took a lot of twisting and positioning in front of my lens, but I finally captured the bug in the seeds. The final bug image expressed my original intent – as if I was that bug within the dandelion.

So, if you are looking for a project, find something simple around your house and keep “working the subject” by changing settings, lighting, backgrounds, etc until you achieve what you want. These images were captured over the course of three days. When I take on new projects, I like to review, reflect, and then reshoot several times. Regardless, have fun and I hope you enjoyed reading about my process.

dandelion in grass
iPhone photo.

High Key Effect

Some days, I just need to play in Photoshop. After spending a couple of hours at Lake Mary with my son and his new dog, Ryder, I had many fun images, but, the lighting was harsh. We went in the middle of the day and to compensate for the harsh light, I used center weighted metering to expose for the shadows. The images were okay, but I decided it would be challenging and different to create a high key image.

After making basic adjustments in Lightroom, I pulled the image into Photoshop. Here I opened the Silver Efex Pro plugin and chose the high key preset. That gave me the basic look but I felt it needed a few finishing touches. So, I added a dodge/burn layer to lighten and darken areas at whim. If you haven’t created a dodge/burn layer, it is very easy.

Hold down the Alt/Opt key while adding a new layer in Photoshop. change the blend mode to Overlay and then check the box to fill the layer with gray. Now, use a white brush to dodge and a black brush to burn in details. You will want to drop the opacity of your brush to 10-15% so that your dodging/burning is subtle.

That’s all it takes to dodge and burn in Photoshop. Next time you are working on images, take a few minutes to try something different – maybe you will like it?

Abstract Art with Flash

abstract colored paper
Olympus OMD1 Mark III, 60 mm macro, 1/60 sec, F/8, ISO 200, 2 off-camera flash.

Paper – check; off-camera flash – check; flash gels – check; macro lens – check. Grab those supplies and you are ready to capture abstract art. My YouTube video isn’t ready yet, but I couldn’t wait to show you how to capture these images.

Step-by-step

Let me take you step-by-step through capturing these images:

camera setup shooting abstract paper
Notice the two flashes facing each other? Each with a
different colored gel.
  1. Grab white computer paper and roll or curl it to a desired shape, then either staple or paper clip it so the shape holds in place.
  2. Place two off camera flashes facing each other pointing toward the paper (see image). A good starting point to the flash power is 1/32.
  3. Add a gel to each flash. I used a red and a blue.
  4. Set your camera on a tripod and focus on the front edge of the paper. I used Manual exposure, 1/60 sec, f/5.6 to f/10 and ISO 200.
  5. Take a photo.
  6. Review your image checking the histogram and composition. Adjust camera settings as needed.
  7. Now, modify your shape or change gel colors. The images below represent some of these changes.

Example images

Image A: For this image, placed one flash with blue gel on the background (wall) and a green felled flash on the paper. Olympus OMD1 Mark III, 60 mm macro, 1/60 sec, F/10, ISO 200, 2 off-camera flash.

Image B: This image uses an orange gelled flash from the left and a purple gelled flash on the right. I added small curls of paper in my loops to create different shapes. Olympus OMD1 Mark III, 60 mm macro, 1/60 sec, F/10, ISO 200, 2 off-camera flash.

Image C: Here is the looped paper and added curls to create image B.

Gels are transparent colored material placed on the flash unit. Purchase them where you purchase lighting equipment. If you find the Rosco Swatchbook in stock – buy it! The swatchbook gels are sized perfectly for flash units and includes a variety of colors.

Water = Camera Insurance

Pumphouse Wash water pool.
The memory card survived the water!
Olympus OMD 1 Mark III, 12-100mm lens,
1/200 sec, f/7.1, ISO 200.

On a recent hike with my husband through Pumphouse Wash I dropped my two-month-old camera. The hike required wading through many thigh-high polls of water, and I was careful while wading. Hiking was slow through the water, so after three hours of hiking, we turned back toward the car. That meant wading through the pools of water again. The walk-able ledge on the last pool meant we would stay dry, well that was the plan anyway. Somehow, my pack was open and my camera took a swim. I watched it submerge 18” under water, so I jumped in too. As I grabbed the camera strap the lens broke off and water gushed inside the camera. After getting the camera, I spotted the lens wedged between two rocks and retrieved it. I pulled the battery and memory cards from the camera immediately, hoping to keep the images from the hike.

Broken camera lens
Broken lens with water inside.

Once on dry ground, I wrapped the gear in a towel, and we hiked the last 1/3 mile back to the trail head. At the car, I opened every compartment to dry them out and knew Monday I would call my insurance company. Almost ten years ago, I purchased a policy from State Farm Insurance to cover my gear since I own too much camera gear for a traditional homeowner’s policy. On Monday, I called in my claim. A few days later, a claims adjuster called and by the end of the phone call, he issued me a check for the full value of my gear minus the $100 deductible.

Insurance

Camera in bag of rice
Camera in rice to dry out.

Hopefully, this event got you thinking about insuring your gear. My policy cost $20/month and with over $3000 replaced gear, insurance was a wise choice for me. Not only can you get a special policy through most homeowner’s insurance agents, but many photography organizations offer insurance as part of your membership. Here is a short list of options for insurance, but there are many more.

  • PPA – Professional Photographers of America
  • PSA – Photographic Society of America
  • NANPA – North American Nature Photography Association
  • Howard Burkholz of Allstate
New Olympus camera gear

I contacted Olympus to see if a repair was possible. Although they couldn’t say for sure without evaluating it, dropping the camera in water void the warranty. While I waited to hear from my insurance agent, I placed the camera in a bag of rice. I’m glad I had insurance.

Twirling

Several photographers I follow post “twirling” images. It is a different look, but since I love abstract photography it was worth an afternoon of watching YouTube videos and playing in Photoshop. I won’t say I am a pro at this effect, but I will say it was fun. Below you will see several images, before and after applying the twirl effect. If you are interested in this, I recommend following the tutorial I followed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwsjgqI4eaY&list=LLUutBD_IesM1vaEiZiWQmgw&index=8&t=0s

Walking with Ryder

Francis Short Pond with the San Francisco Peaks in the background. Olympus OMD1 MIII, 31mm, 1/160 sec, F/10, ISO 200

Our son, Austin adopted a dog last month. Ryder (dog) is a great addition to our home and we walked him day and night for the first few weeks. Most of these walks were to Francis Short Pond, a ½ mile from our house and easy to maintain social distancing. Here are several photos from these walks.  

Photographing Water in Oak Creek

Oak Creek at Slide Rock State Park, water
Oak Creek at Slide Rock State Park

Spring Break started with the announcement of a pandemic and the cancellation of, well, everything. What was a week of photography, workshops, and relaxation became stressful, instantly. My husband saw my stress and suggested a road trip through Oak Creek Canyon to Slide Rock State Park. Water in nature always calms me and the brisk March afternoon meant we had the place to ourselves.

waterfall at Slide Rock State Park
Olympus OMD1 MIII, 57mm, 2 sec, F/18, ISO 200, Bryan Hansel Waterfall Polarizer.

We hiked down to the creek noticing a waterfall we didn’t remember on our last visit in October. Since it was a cloudy afternoon, I used the Singh-Ray Bryan Hansel Waterfall Polarizer to blur the water. Next, we found moss under the bridge too. The contrasting textures from the exposed tree root and bright green moss drew me in. Therefore, it was time for the macro lens. After several different compositions, I used the 60 mm macro lens for a close-up image instead of capturing a 1:1 macro image.

Green moss and tree root
Olympus OMD1 MII, 60mm, .6 sec, F/10, ISO 200

Next, we walked down the west side of the creek and I noticed the ripples in the water. When photographing patterns like these, it takes me a few attempts to find the right shutter speed. Let me take you through my process. In the images below, number one is with a shutter speed of 1/30 sec., just slow enough to look blurry. Image number two used a shutter speed of 1/3 sec. creating an abstract image about the ripples. That was what I wanted: the right shutter speed to tell my story. Lastly, I adjusted the composition. Image number three used a shutter speed of .4 sec. and the blurred water ripples lead the eye through the frame.

Our short trip to Slide Rock State Park was a success. I walked away with a two photos I loved and two more that I really enjoy. That’s a successful shoot to me and to think the day started out stressful.

Why an ND Filter?

After my sabbatical studying water, I spent many days using my variable ND filter. ND filters, otherwise known as “neutral density” filters attach to the front of your lens and darken the exposure. So, on bright days, slowing the shutter to capture “milky” water is possible. My first ND filter was a variable ND filter, allowing 1-5 stops darkening. Recently, I purchased the Singh-Ray Mor-Slo ND filter with 15-stop darkening and love it. These filters do require a little practice since focusing is done before you screw on the filter. Otherwise, the learning curve is short and here are a few examples from my recent Watson Lake workshop.

Image Left: In mid-day light without any filters with exposure f/16, 1/125 sec and ISO 200.  
Image Right: With the same light, I put on my Singh-Ray Mor-Slo 15-stop filter with exposure  f/16, 8 minutes and ISO 200.  

Something to try: capture images in black and white to add drama to an image. Check out these two images shooting straight into the sun.

Image Left: In morning light without any filters with exposure  f/16, 1/8000 sec and ISO 200.  
Image Right: With the same light, I put on my Singh-Ray Mor-Slo 15-stop filter with exposure f/16, 8 seconds and ISO 200.  

If you are looking for a change with your water photography, consider a neutral density filter, but most importantly, have fun. And, if you are interested in a Singh-Ray ND filter (or any filters), use code Amy10 for 10% off their filters at https://singh-ray.com/.