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Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Passage of Time


I've not been making photographs for all that long, April 2011 in fact. Though since that time my awareness of my own environment has (I think) improved. Of course yes, I'd noticed that a sky looked nice or that a section of coastline looked picturesque, but I hadn't before thought of them in the sense of composition and visual interest. More often on my walks I looked for features of interest and beauty. An early example for this were the Mayflowers, so named as that's when they're about.

Walking west along the Cornish Southern Coastal Path, I saw clusters of small, white petaled flowers set within an almost bare hedgerow and I stopped to capture them.

I'd had my then standard 18-55mm kit lens attached but for close work such as this I wanted a macro lens and the only lens I had (have) was (is) my Tamron 70-300 which had a macro feature built in. I stooped to changed lens.

Changing my focal length to fit one of the small clusters within my frame I pressed the shutter release button and listened while the auto-focus whirred to infinity and back as it searched for something to focus on. It eventually settled on the cluster I was aiming at, at which point I switched the focus to manual rather than have my lens search again.

With the aperture set mid-range (F11) and the speed 125th of a second I took aim again, resuming the composition I'd determined previously. I didn't consciously check my ISO, I was aware of it, but at this stage my familiarity with it was limited and I wasn't all too keen on the digital noise that comes with higher end ISO levels. So I left it at 100 (base level for the D3100).

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As ever I reviewed my attempt on the camera's LCD screen. I was happy with the image I'd made. With the clean white flowers, the detail, the parallel lines in the blurred background. It struck a chord somewhere within me. In retrospect it could be a damn sight sharper and the exposure's arguably a touch bright.

For a long time this photo stood out in my ever growing collection as one of my favourites. And honestly it still does.  

I continued that day along the coastal path snapping away with the minimal understanding of photographic theory. Mostly I experimented and many of the photos I took were perfect for my learning curve but didn't warrant public exhibition. 

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A year or so later I had gained some knowledge about photographic theory (I read a book) and I went out to practice as often as I could. I was developing an affinity with landscape photography but enjoyed shooting other subjects, including macro. By May the flowers had blossomed again. Unlike a year before where I'd simply stumbled upon the hedgerow blossoms, on this occasion I went out looking for them. And I didn't have to travel far, not far all. 

I set up my tripod (a then new one as my previous had given up the ghost) for the stepped slope I was on, attached my camera and setup a composition for the new blossoms. I had my long lens on for the macro feature and I was checking my aperture and my shutter speed so they were suitable for proper exposure.

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I didn't like it. The colour was fine, the detail was good. The exposure was balanced. The back ground was blurred but something wasn't right. The was too little subject matter compared to the background. It was the wrong sort of dead space. It just didn't hold my interest. So I tried again. I pushed the focal length up to try and fill the frame...

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Again I wasn't impressed. The cluster of flowers I was aiming at seemed to be the wrong shape. So I dismissed that particular cluster and took aim at another bunch of Mayflowers off to the left. Yet the tripod didn't seem to allow me to gain the composition I searched for. I unclipped the quick-release plate and aimed the camera freehand. Stepping closer into the hedgerow, where the tripod simply wouldn't take me. I found the setup I wanted. I stepped back to adjust the shutter speed for something more enabling for handheld and stepped back in to check the exposure level and adjusted my aperture to compensate.  

Click...


The image popped up as an instant review on my LCD screen and I liked it. It held my interest such that when the image faded out from the instant review I pressed the playback to view it again. The detail of the fore frame was complimented well by the bokeh of the more distant flowers. Exposure and white balance were good. And more importantly I felt it to be an improvement on the previous years attempt. 

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Six months or so later my plans to go out for a photography day were postponed due to bad weather. Doubly frustrating as I'd recently upgraded and purchased the Nikon D7000 and I wanted to go out and practice (play) with it. Instead I made an impromptu decision to substitute my original plans and visit the Eden Project (primarily as it has a roof). And a nice place it is too, with a great many different species of plant-life to admire and learn about. 

By no means am I adverse to shooting in poor weather conditions, but my intention was for a floral shoot and flowers tend to go droopy and miserable in the rain. 

Walking around the 'biome' housing the rainforest varieties, I searched not only for a flower of visual interest, one that had good colour and shape, but also for one which had a level of interest in the background. It was frustrating (though I shouldn't have been surprised, it was a replicated rainforest after all) that my lens and viewfinder continually fogged up. with all the work my chamois leather was doing de-fogging my lens, I'm surprised it didn't break a sweat. 

One of the first things I did was increase my ISO. The light levels inside the biome were low. Too low for base level ISO and to still keep my settings fast enough for handheld shots. One of the benefits of the D7000 over the D3100 are the refined ISO increments. Even so 6400 was still pretty high. 

Walking around the biome, I eventually came across a large (ish) flower with red (almost pink) petals and a red stigma. An interesting specie certainly, though I've no idea what it was (apparently a Hibiscus). With a high ISO setting (6400) I was able to set a fast shutter speed. I focused on the centre of the flower with a middling F-stop (F9) as I wanted the background to have definition despite being out of focus. 

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I liked the image. I really liked it. Good detail, colour and exposure. The bokeh wasn't too much for the background and the different leaves there were interesting and exotic. 

Once I'd put the image into post-processing, I saw (as I expected to) digital noise from the high ISO. Though in contrast to high ISO images I'd taken with the D3100, this I actually liked this image despite the noise. 

Developing this image in Lightroom 4, (I always try to minimise post-process editing, preferring to aspire to perfection in camera) I looked at removing the noise with the luminance tool, but the image looked too much like CGI; there were no wrinkles on the petals, the leaves were too smooth. In the end my only alteration was to remove a fifth of the noise, preferring the natural look. 

Going through each of the images I'd captured I was pleased with this one. It was what I had been looking for.