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Thread: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

  1. #1

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    Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    I spent a few days recently in the Phoenix, Arizona area of the Sonoran desert. On one particular day I was blessed with very diffused light in an area that had lots of cactus blossoms.

    Unfortunately, I was there too early to see blossoms on the Saguaro cacti. Oddly, one of the thousands of that species that I saw did have buds and two blossoms, though I'm not including any photos of it.

    All but the first photo are cacti. My wife will probably remember the names of the various plants. If so, I'll add identification later. If you know them, please don't hesitate to post the information.


    Photo #1
    Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert


    Photo #2
    Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert


    Photo #3
    Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert


    Photo #4
    Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 18th April 2013 at 01:39 AM.

  2. #2
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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Stunningly gorgeous photos. Thank you for sharing.. Now I know what you mean by the light for flowers. Love them all but I think #4 is my favourite.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Thank you, Christina. I probably agree with you about the best of the group.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    These are very nice Mike. My favorite it #3. I like the composition and that you were able to keep so much detail in the flower.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Thank you, Terri. I'm actually going to try to increase detail in the last two photos. EDIT: Done. The old photos were replaced by the new photos.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 18th April 2013 at 01:40 AM.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Works well on subjects which obviously had potential exposure problems.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Hi Mike,

    I would like to ask if you would mind sharing your general approach to photographing flowers. ie; shoot from above, below, eye level, front or side lighting, cloudy days only, spot metering or?

    I think your flower shots like your glassware shots are perfection, and would like to know so I can tuck away the knowledge in my brain for future (ie; after I master my bird shots)

    Thank you.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Thanks, Geoff. You're right about potential exposure issues. I religiously reviewed my histogram immediately after the capture and during the post-processing.

    Christina,

    There really is no magic to photographing flowers except that the easiest lighting (not the only lighting) to use is diffused lighting. Some really serious photographers use ring lights, reflectors, diffusion materials and background materials, but I'm rarely that serious. All of these photos were made in the field using nothing other than natural light and positioning myself to use it to its best advantage.

    As for metering, it doesn't matter what method is used so long as the histogram displays data that is in accordance with the vision we have in mind before releasing the shutter. In other words, if your sensor captures the range of luminosity that is important to you, it doesn't matter what metering method you use to make that happen. I always use matrix (evaluative) metering, though I do suspect that people who are expert at spot metering (I'm a flunkie) probably arrive at the ideal histogram in fewer attempts.

    When shooting in the field, it is critically important to use a shutter speed that will stop the action of the plants blowing in the wind if that's the type of photo that you want. So, if you're shooting handheld, you may need a faster shutter speed to stop the action than is necessary simply to hold the camera still.

    I always use the aperture priority mode and Auto ISO to control both the depth of field and the minimum shutter speed. In all of the above photos, the style I went for involved a reasonably large depth of field.

    When photographing in the field, I always use a polarizer so I can minimize the glare and/or achieve the ideal darkness of the sky.

    As for composition, in the case of the first photo I wanted a solid background with no clutter. The only way to achieve that was to use the background as the sky. So, I shot almost from underneath the plant. I also used the diagonal and the interesting downward curve to the left to add interest. I used an 85mm lens on that one because it was convenient for filling the frame with the ideal composition and splash of orange blossoms.

    In the second photo, I would have preferred to have had the camera level with the top of the buds. Unfortunately, I'm not quite tall enough and for some odd reason there was no step stool in the middle of the desert. While the background isn't solid, it's uncluttered. The aperture was small enough to ensure that the plant is sharp all the way from front to back but large enough to ensure that the background is sufficiently blurred. That can be determined only by reviewing the details in the camera's LCD at 100%.

    In the last two photos, I used a 180mm lens, but only because it was already mounted on my camera (to take the photos of the rattlesnake) and because it produced a pleasing composition. I wanted as much depth of field as possible, so I used the smallest aperture, f/22. I shot the flowers from above because I wanted to show the rich texture and details of everything inside the flowers. I probably should have removed my polarizer, as I doubt that there was any glare to be eliminated. If I had removed it, I probably could have shot at ISO 1600 instead of the ISO 6400 that was used. Similarly, if I had used a tripod, I could have shot at a slower shutter speed, which would also have resulted in an even lower ISO.

    Notice that I didn't shoot any flowers from below. That's only because that style of composition didn't come to mind. However, that's a common composition partly because it can be dramatic and partly because it can allow the sun to shine through the flower petals, which is especially appealing.

    In summary, shooting flowers is no different than shooting any other subject in the sense that we need to envision the photo before setting it up, position ourselves relative to the subject and the light to our best advantage, and use an aperture that results in the desired depth of field and a shutter speed that intentionally stops the action or displays it. Depending on the situation, a polarizer can be helpful and is rarely hurtful, especially with modern sensors that perform so well at high ISO values. All of that might seem like a lot to relative novices, but once we get the hang of thinking about those details with every single shot that we make, it becomes intuitive.

    Hopefully others will chime in with some good ideas. Hope this helps!
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 18th April 2013 at 12:40 AM.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Hi Mike,

    Amazingly helpful... Thank you for sharing... Your reply is like a mini tutorial which I will save for future. Truly appreciated.

    I can't believe that you used an iso of 6400 and produced an image of such amazing quality! Good to know..

    A step stool... Good to know. I'm too short for Birds in Flight and should carry a ladder!

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Hi Mike. I thought these were a great set and I like the way you have controlled the depth of field on my favourite #3. Do you think I could get similar quality at 6400 iso with my d90 and a kit lens or is this where more pixels and the prime lens gains an advantage?

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Thanks, Andrew.

    I'm not a technical expert, but I think the high quality of the ISO 6400 was made possible by using the D7000 sensor (same as the D5100 sensor, which my wife uses) and shooting in relatively bright light. Hopefully others will correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think it has anything to do with the number of pixels or the lens.

    In fact, with all other details of two sensors being equal (though they never are), my understanding is that the sensor that has more pixels will tend to produce more noise, not less noise. The more advanced sensors with a higher quantity of pixels (sensor sites) have other scientific improvements that make the noise less problematic.

    Keep in mind that when the light is very diffuse, which is a good time to be photographing flowers for this style of photography, there is very little or no glare. That eliminates the need for a polarizer. I didn't remove the polarizer for the last two photos because I was lazy and because I didn't realize I was shooting at ISO 6400. If I had realized that, I would have removed it and would have then shot at about ISO 1600 without changing any settings. My point is that even if your D90's ISO 6400 isn't quite as good as on my D7000, you really don't need to shoot at such a high ISO.

    Perhaps more important, try your system on any subject in similar conditions to determine the results.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 18th April 2013 at 12:41 PM.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Mike - these are great. I recently was trying the same thing, with inferior results (no surprise). My biggest concern being depth of field. I can't see your metadata, but this was shot at f16 with iso pushed to 640 for a cloudy day, and still seems soft and too shallow for what I was intending. Any help?
    Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Mark,

    For me, your depth of field is no problem at all. It might not be what you had in mind, but it looks fine for me. If you wanted more depth of field, you could have moved further away from the subject and cropped more to achieve this composition.

    I assume your 35mm lens, like mine, has f/22. You could have used that instead of f/16. If you were concerned about noise being introduced by a higher ISO, I encourage you to make all other details of the image a higher priority than concerns about noise; it doesn't matter how little noise there is if you don't like the photo.

    The primary issue for me is that you weren't blessed with the same quality of light as in my images. Your light is a lot more contrasty, less diffused. Notice that the flower petals are a lot brighter than the details inside the flower. They are being shadowed by the petals and that again is caused by contrasty light.

    To help overcome the less appealing aspects of the contrasty light, try selecting the bright dirt and bright needles and darkening them. Then perhaps apply a slight vignette to everything except the flowers.

    By the way, one of my four images has a vignette. I would take it as a compliment if you can't determine the one that has it.

    You mentioned your f-stop. One reason I don't make a big deal out of that data and rarely post the information unless I'm asked for it is that there is always one very important bit of highly related data that is not provided in the electronic file -- the distance from the camera to the subject. Lacking that information, knowing the focal length and the f-stop is only partially helpful and, when taken in the wrong context, can actually be very misleading.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 18th April 2013 at 01:54 PM.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Thanks for the helpful, kind advice. Your DOF comments are now obvious to me... duh. Just shows that what you know, and whether you understand how to use what you know are two different things. The light was overcast, but overhead too - perhaps not best. No, I can't see the vignette, but it's a great tip. Again, thanks.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Mark,

    Glad to know my ideas are helpful. Unfortunately, I added some important information to my post I think after you read it. You might want to review it again just in case my edits are helpful.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Right - could have dropped another stop. And a good thought not to fear a bit of noise if necessary to get the rest of the image right.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Nice job on these mike. I really like the last two. I'm kind of leaning towards the 3rd one, becuase of the colors in the image.(the bright yellow really jumps out at you).

    Don't want to spoil your fun, but i think the last one has the vignette.


    On a side not to christina.................mike mentioned quality lighting.................it's not just for flower photography, but "ALL" photography. If you want consistant quality images, only shoot in quality light.

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve S View Post
    Don't want to spoil your fun, but i think the last one has the vignette.
    If I had known you were going to participate, I would have bet my life savings that you would see it. Great eye, as always!

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Quote Originally Posted by Downrigger View Post
    Mike - these are great. I recently was trying the same thing, with inferior results (no surprise). My biggest concern being depth of field. I can't see your metadata, but this was shot at f16 with iso pushed to 640 for a cloudy day, and still seems soft and too shallow for what I was intending. Any help?
    Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert
    Hi Mark,

    Another reason for apparent softness, or lack of texture, is that the red channel is well blown, this is partly caused by what Mike is talking about.

    When shooting flowers like this, especially in sunshine, you really need to review the RGB histogram and check the primaries are not blowing, or leave at least an extra stop headroom on a luminance histogram.

    Cheers,

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    Re: Buds & blossoms of the Sonoran desert

    Thank you Dave. I appreciate all the help available. I'm still inconsistent on checking the histogram but your observation will help me remember.

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