I love sharing with the readers of Earth Images, the work of all those great photographers out there, but there are things that are missing when I do that. Such as what was going on in the photographers mind when the picture was conceived and produced? How did they feel about the result the next day? How do they feel about it now? Did they learn anything? Have they changed how they create photographic art, because of any of those pictures?
In respect to my own images, the answers to most of those questions (or at least the questions), still occupy space in my mind. Even if the photos were made in 1985. That’s why I still share my pictures on these pages.
Depth of Field, How Much, How Little?
One of the more important questions any photographer asks themselves, is how much depth of field (perceived sharpness in various parts of the image) does one need. While it is a matter of opinion, sometimes shallow depth of field in various parts of an image, is bothersome, sometimes it’s perfect, and sometimes it seems irrelevant.
Nowhere does where the sharp parts are, and where the soft parts are, mean more, or at least become more obvious, than in close-up/macro photography.
I had just enough dof in this image of a Buckeye Butterfly on a Purple Coneflower to cover most of the butterfly and a fraction of the flower. I managed to get the center of the Buckeye sharp, but is that enough? Does the out of focus wing tip on the part of the butterfly closest to us, bother you? I would have preferred the rear to be “soft” and the front wing-tip sharp, but none the less, I can live with it. I think it may be because at first glance my eyes travel to that sharp center. Later when I begin nit-picking (I always do) I begin to wish the soft part was only in the rear. I did not use more depth of field (I used f13) because of a lively subject and a breeze dictated a faster shutter speed (1/125th sec) than I would have otherwise needed. My camera and lens were mounted on a tripod.
This close-up of a Lily works (my opinion) because everything up front, is tack sharp. The soft background is an advantage, although an even less obtrusive or better said, more consistent one is usually my preference.
These final three flower and plant images have their good points, but depth of field is a problem with all three. In fact, none of the three have ever been shown before as they have always failed to make the cut.
How much is in focus, and how much soft, is fairly similar with each of these pix. While the background is out of focus, it is still somewhat bothersome to me. I would have loved to have had these backgrounds either a solid tone of green, or pure black. A shadow can be a handy thing. More sharpness on the background would only make these pictures unusable, although that greater dof might have covered the parts of the actual flowers that are out of focus.
There are a lot of decisions to make when we create pictures, and they are all magnified in macro photography. We make some that are perfect (well, nearly), some that are waste basket (deletion) material, and some that straddle the line.
Having a subject that’s almost all on an single plane, makes it possible to make entirely sharp close-ups, as long as we keep the back of the camera parallel to the subject. This is a tiny leaf with tiny water drops, and from left to right, and top to bottom, it is all in focus. Or is it? If you look every so carefully, in the part of the leaf just before the opening, you can see that the leaf dips down and is not perfectly sharp. I made this image at f36. I don’t think anybody will complain about that fraction of an inch, but it shows that the closer you get to your subject, or the more you magnify it, the more difficult it becomes to achieve absolute sharpness.
Even with wildlife, out of focus intruders can take a little away from your image.
This early autumn Whitetail Buck is posing for me in a nice opening in the forest. Shallow dof (f4 with 500mm), helps keep a bothersome background soft. That same shallow dof allowed a few out of focus weeds in the foreground, to creep in. More dof would have rendered those weeds sharp like the deer. It is not overly distracting, however, that small sapling on the right, takes our attention away from the subject. That made this image unworthy of publication, although I could probably remove it with software via the cloning process.
My subject turned to his right, and I fired again. This time when I got home, I cropped into a vertical which eliminated any obnoxious interlopers.
This image of a doe and fawn, deep in the grasses, has a lot of out of focus grass, and some that is sharp and on the same plane as the subjects. All of that works fairly well. Out of focus grasses near the subjects, would be bothersome, and in focus grasses in the foreground and/or background, would do the same. The reason (for me) it is acceptable, is that it is not a picture of two deer with a lot of grass in the picture frame, it is in fact and picture of two deer in the grass. The grasses are a part of what the image is about. It is natural for us to accept the grasses that are close to the deer when they are sharp, and allow for the softness in the grasses that are in the foreground and background.
When I used to teach advanced photography to experienced photographers, I always loved proclaiming that every lens produces the same depth of field at any given f stop. F4, f16, f32 etc. They would usually take issue with me stating that through their own experience they know that a wide angle lens has much more dof at say f8 than a 400mm telephoto. Sometimes they would say that everybody knows that. They were insinuating, how can you not know what every photographer knows?
I explained that a five foot bit of real estate is visually stretched out to cover a fairly large area (within the picture frame) with an 18mm lens, but that same area is visually compressed into a tiny little bit of space within a photograph made with a 600mm lens. You could see the lights go on in their head. Therefore that five feet is a large percentage of the picture made with the 18mm, but only a tiny percentage of the space in the 600mm photo.
It actually matters very little whether you know that fact about the truth of f stops and depth of field or not. The reason I would teach it to photographers who were experienced and knowledgeable, was because it always pays to think. The more you know, well……the more you know. When you are in search of knowledge, you will always move forward. Most school children learn more in a month than we learn in a year. They also move forward at a rate well beyond us adults. Imagine doing that for your entire life!
Enough About DOF.
The term landscape photography takes in a lot of real estate…so to speak.
Waterfall photography fits loosely into the landscape (waterscape etc.) genre and it is one of the most popular subjects for photographers. I’ve photographed a lot of waterfalls over much of the country and like most such photographers I’ve use the slow shutter speed/veiled water technique for most inner forest (low light) waterfalls. It’s visually pleasing and often a necessity because of the lack of light. Today, with neutral density filters reaching ten stops, a whole new meaning it given to the term “cotton candy effect”. It allows for normal water blurs to be made with waterfalls that are out in the sunlight, and extreme effects for those which live deep in the forest.
Simplicity is often a plus in waterfall photography. The “less is more” syndrome is at its finest with moving water.
I no longer remember where I made this simple shot of falling water. My digital data details tell me that this picture is a film shot that has been copied into the digital format.
I love reptiles and amphibians and one of my favorite “herps”, is the Common Snapping Turtle. In this region, in early June the females are out digging nests and laying eggs, and that presents photographers with excellent opportunities. There’s three different turtles in these five images and I do remember each session just like it is yesterday.
Snappers and most aquatic turtles when on land, are pretty easy to photograph. Always move in quietly and get your work done, and leave just as quickly. Your subject is always more important than your pictures.
The first turtle was actually the last (2014) of these made, and was done so from my car window with my 500mm lens. The rest were made from up close while using a tripod. A 70/300mm macro lens was employed at various focal length settings.
Animals like turtles, pretty much all seem the same to most photographers. When you work with a species for several years, and get to meet a variety of different individuals, and you soon realize that they are not all alike. Not only do they all have slightly different markings, and are of course are a wide variety of sizes, but even Snapping Turtles have their own personalities. Some are (too) tolerant of intruders, some don’t like them at all. Some even move more quickly than others. Some like to keep their face away from you, and others have no such issues. As a photographer, you can “play off” their uniqueness.
When it comes to wildlife, especially birds, I am an observer, and I share what I find. Birds are natural art and they just need to do what they do, and we just need to recognize it, and digitally capture it.
This male American Goldfinch put on an artful display of preening right in front of my camera. I recognized that fact, and that gave me a folder full of images. This 2008 image was created with an aperture of f7.1. That’s not much (yep, dof again), but not a lot was necessary. A sunny day meant that I could use a shutter speed of 1/800th sec. at that aperture which was enough to stop the motion of his preening.
Our own backyards (or city parks etc) are gold mines full of subjects. This Eastern Chipmunk lived in my backyard and one morning in 2010 he/she became a subject for my camera. In addition to some pictures, my friend gave me several mornings of entertainment.
Everybody can’t travel to photograph tigers and wolves. Take advantage of what you have, and enjoy it.
For several years, I was best known in the publishing world for my sunrise/sunsets. I cannot imagine my life without those mornings (and afternoons) in nature waiting with anticipation for that moment, when everything came together. Spectacular sunrises at spectacular places, intimate and simple moments near home, and everything in between.
The first image below was originally made on Velvia 6×7 cm film. It feels just like yesterday when I view this image. I stood in total darkness at the edge of a meadow in Wisconsin’s Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest. There was fog at ground level I just hoped the clouds above would live up to their promise of color. They did.
Just the afternoon before this picture was made I worked in that meadow photographing insects, autumn flowers and more. I had two days of birds, frogs, insects, flowers, fall colors, and sunrises/sunsets. It doesn’t get any better than that.
A version of this shot once graced the cover of a calendar, and that just added some creamy icing, to an already sweet two days.
I’ll leave you with this very different sort of sunrise. This was made near the shore of Lake Michigan closer to home than our first sunrise. I was short on time and had only until about 30 minutes after sunrise to make pictures. I began this shoot with images of the whole tree and the pinkish clouds. I moved (or zoomed) in a little bit more with each click of the shutter. There’s a subject near you, no matter where you are, just waiting. Go out and turn your visions into images. When your done, you will have something that nobody can take away. Your pictures will be forever yours.
While the current technology of photography, the greater ability today for photographers to travel to great places, and the knowledge of image making due to workshops and the internet, continues to march forward, the mind, the heart and the soul of the photographer remains the same. From the Mathew Brady’s and William Henry Jackson’s of the old world, to the Charles Glatzer’s and Ian Plant’s of today, the beat goes on and is in good hands.
Go out and make (and share) a few pictures, Wayne