I need some colour!

close-up, bird of paradise

It’s winter, so of course I’m feeling a little bit blah.  I often find it a real struggle to get inspired with so little colour around in my world this time of the year.  Luckily, the University just up the street has a fantastic greenhouse with all sorts of tropical plants.  It’s a great place to hide out from the winter and be creative.  Last week was one such opportunity, and I spent most of the time testing out my close-up filters.  I’ve had the filters for a couple of years now, but they don’t make it out of my kit nearly as much as I would have thought.  The greenhouse, however, is the perfect place for them.

On this most recent visit, my favourite flower, the hibiscus, was not in bloom, so I was forced to seek my colour fix in other places.  The brilliant orange of the bird of paradise drew my lens, and I spent most of my time trying to capture it in a unique and interesting way.  With a close-up filter on my 1.4 lens, my depth of field got razor thin – which can be absolutely magical…  except that even the slightest wobble with such a shallow depth of field would throw the focus completely out of whack.  It’s funny how wobbly you realize you are when you are trying to be perfectly still.  A smarter, more prepared photographer would have had a tripod along for cases such as this.  But not me!  I laugh in the face of preparation, and scoff at the mere … well, that’s not entirely true.  I do very much value being prepared, and my camera bag is constantly stocked with all of my other camera supplies…  I just never really think of that poor tripod until it’s too late.  So, again, this shoot was complicated by the fact that I had to focus on keeping myself as still as possible – not to avoid camera shake this time, but simply to keep the focus where I wanted it.

Despite my knack for providing extra challenges such as this for myself all the time, I’m quite happy with this shot.  It’s a lot more abstract than I usually shoot, but the vibrant colour is just what I need in the middle of this white winter, and I did eventually manage to get that petal curl perfectly in focus.  It will definitely fulfill my colour fix until my next trip to the greenhouse … or Mexico!

photo of the week: first snow

Another of my ongoing photo projects on my resolutions list this year actually began midway through last year.  I happen to have one of the best extended families in the world, but circumstances currently have me living 2 provinces away from them.  In an effort to keep in better communication with them, my Dad suggested that sending a photo in an email every once in a while would be a great excuse to keep in touch.  And so, the photo of the week(ish) was conceived.  I’m not always able to keep my once-a-week deadline, but it keeps me thinking of my family and finding something beautiful and interesting to share with them.  It works wonderfully for my creativity as well, forcing me to either go out and shoot something new, or dig through my archives and find something worthy of sharing.  This is certainly helping me to determine if a photo is worth the megabytes it occupies on my hard drive:  if it’s not good enough for me to show my family (or use as an example in one of my photo classes), why am I keeping it, really?  This is a hard lesson for a ‘collector’ such as myself to learn, but I’m getting there slowly, and if I ever have 2 or 3 free days to dedicate to the project, my image library can expect a major overhaul.

For the time being though, this week’s image is not new, but not entirely old either.  It was taken on our first snow of the winter, near the end of November.  This is my absolute favourite kind of snow, the huge fluffy flakes that drift lazily down to earth, blanketing everything so gently.  (And it usually occurs when temperatures are not so cold as to discourage the photographer or cause too much concern for the gear, which is equally awesome.)  In keeping with the spirit of the new year, I’m also trying something a little bit different with the editing.  Normally I am all about colour – I want my photos to be as bright and happy as possible.  But looking at this photo, it just didn’t seem right.  I loved the image, but because the rose was fairly wilted, the colour was rather yellowy (not something you want to make more vibrant!).  I converted the image to black and white in Photoshop and played the filters until the rose and background were the appropriate brightness.  Pure black and white didn’t quite fit my vision either, so I brought just a little bit of colour back into the flower and the leaves with a layer mask.  A selective sepia effect makes the touch of colour slightly less obvious (we don’t want to be too cliched now!) and a curves adjustment heightens the contrast.  Black and white images tend to draw attention to the forms created within the frame, and I just love the shape of the bowed rose here.  The fact that I caught a few drifting flakes in the frame is just fortuitous!

Today’s temperature is a balmy +2 degrees (so strange for mid-January!) … but I’m hoping for some more fluffy and inspiring snow in the future!

night photography … the wrong(ish) way.

This photo required a lot more post-processing than I normally do on an image, mostly because I have this dreamy, idealized vision of what a snowy city night looks like and I really wanted to re-create that in this photo.  But, another reason I had to be extra particular with this picture is because *sigh* I don’t practice what I preach.

Every time I teach a photography course I explain how vital a tripod is:  how crazy you will make yourself trying to get tack-sharp photos in low light conditions without one, and how much better your image quality will be if you can leave your ISO nice and low instead of cranking it up to avoid camera shake.  I didn’t have a tripod with me this particular evening.  I’ll beg a bit of understanding because I was on my way home from work, and, while I love to carry my camera with me everywhere to catch that perfect moment it’s a lot harder to force myself to also carry a tripod.  Eventually I do plan on adding a gorilla-pod to my gear arsenal, and then I will no longer have excuses.  But, in the meantime, I am forced to do things the hard/stupid way.  Which means shooting 8 – 12 frames of every composition with the shutter on continuous, holding my breath and trying to balance against a tree-trunk … just praying that 1 frame will come out clear enough to use.  So believe me when I tell you:  tripods are a must for an enjoyable night photography experience.  (But, if you’re as stubborn and determined as I am, you can make it work … although it’s not nearly as efficient!)

One of the trickiest things about this photograph was matching the colour to my mind’s memory.  When I see a city on a winter’s night, particularly when it’s snowing, the sky seems almost purple to me.  Of course, when you photograph the scene, odds are, you’re going to get something more like this:

City lights are often an overwhelming oxide orange and completely kill any other colour that you might see in the scene.

A more “accurate” white balance leaves the photo looking like this:

We’ve got white snow, but none of the magical orangey-purple contrast that I imagine.

In order to combine the two images, I opened them both in Photoshop and then placed one image on top of the other.  I used the luminosity (brightness) of the image to mask out darker areas of the orange image so that the blue sky would show through.  After tweaking the saturation and curves, I have an image that more closely fits the night as I remember it.

My favourite part about this image is the background:  the ice on the tree across the street was reflecting the street lights and it created some magical bokeh when pulled out of focus.  Definitely waiting for the next snowy night to go on another photo walk … this time WITH my tripod.