Columbine + today’s photography lesson

20 05 2011

I’m really enjoying experimenting with depth-of-field to create bokeh (pronounced “bo-kuh”) in my flower photography. Yes, you’ll sacrifice the foreground-to-background focus you’d get using smaller apertures, but sometimes a flower demands that effect—use selective focusing and let the other areas go soft.

I decide when I’m going to use larger apertures mostly based on what the background behind my subject looks like. If I’m shooting extremely close up on a flower, I want to capture all the details from front to back and since there wouldn’t be a strong background in those shots, I can use smaller apertures and get really sharp depth-of-field throughout. When the background behind a subject is less than desirable (many colors competing with my subject, sharp lines like grass blades and flower stems, etc.), I’ll try the larger aperture approach until I get that wonderful bokeh photographers strive for. Knocking the background out in some shots can create amazing blobs and streaks of color. Here, the background flowers (Poppies and Rose Campion, as I recall) go completely out of focus, giving this shot what I call the “Skittles” effect!

And now for your daily lecture: If you don’t have a tripod, save up your bucks and get a really good one and use it as often as you can. I’ve always had one and wasn’t religious about using it much until I got serious about my macro photography. Yes, it’s a burden to lug one around, but take a look at the carbon fiber models—they’re much lighter than others. I bought a Benro C-298EX tripod last year at a photography show for under $250 (a steal compared to what I paid for my first carbon fiber tripod when they first came out!) from Hunt’s Photo and Video (great retailer, by the way!). You can find almost all of the Benro models at great prices by doing a search on the Hunt’s Photo website here. I don’t think they’re making this model anymore, but there are other Benro carbon fiber models to chose from and some are less expensive. Read the specs; if your camera is lightweight, you could get by with one of the lesser priced models. With this particular model, I can take the center column and switch it from vertical to horizontal for more flexibility. You can also spread the tripod legs independently and lock them in place in three stop increments.

Once you settle on your choice of tripod, add a good tripod head to it. I have some smaller and cheaper tripod heads, but after trying the Manfrotto 322RC2 joystick head, I was sold. It’s not quite as pricey as some of Manfrotto’s other tripod heads (Amazon has it for $129.95 here). When I’m photographing portraits and on-the-go shots, I don’t always use a tripod, but to get really good macro shots, you really should use a tripod. It will free your hands up to tidy up the area around your subject, move leaves/twigs/wayward grasses, etc., and you’ll have a hand free to hold a diffuser if you don’t have a trusty assistant with you!

Then again, a cheaper tripod is better than no tripod at all, I’d venture to say. So, if you can’t afford to splurge on a lightweight carbon fiber model with a really good quick-release ball head, use what you have and work your way up to it when you want to take your work to the next level. In case you’re wondering—no, I don’t get paid for these product endorsements—I just wanted to share some of the tools I use to get those shots!

Addendum: I could just buy one more Photoshop plug-in product (Alien Skin’s Bokeh 2) and take the easier way out (don’t think I haven’t considered it—I own everything else they make, almost). Now that I’ve watched their demo video, I’m getting the urge to order it. Watch the video—you’ll fall in love with this product just like I did!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

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5 responses

20 05 2011
J. Quigley

I am so glad I found your blog. I usually photograph art objects for a fine arts and crafts gallery, but I want to photograph plants from my garden and can use all the help I can get. Your suggestions are wonderful. The ‘skittle’ effect on the ‘watermelon salvia’ is gorgeous. Thank you! Janet

20 05 2011
J. Quigley

Excuse me, I meant the ‘skittle’ effect on the Columbine! What was I thinking?
Janet

20 05 2011
cindydyer

Hi J. Quigley! Thanks for the comment. I just went to check out your blog—it’s such an elegant design. I’m going to subscribe! Stay tuned for more photography lessons to come. Shout out if you ever have a specific question about garden photography. I’m happy to help.

20 05 2011
J. Quigley

Thank you, Cindy! Once I get started with garden photography, I am sure I will have some questions for you. Also, thank you for checking out my blog and subscribing. I am going to follow the link you sent me for your main blog. You are very knowledgeable and I think I can learn a great deal from your posts.

23 05 2011
Harry Hilders

Great read, thanks.

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