Light is Everything

dappled lighting on bearded iris

Late day dappled light on this iris brings out details that wouldn’t be possible in full sunlight

The word photography means “to write with light”. And indeed, every photograph is ‘written with light’. That’s a given. but how do we use the light that we have to our best advantage when it comes to making a compelling photograph? Two answers come to mind; quality of light, and time of light. And actually those two qualities are somewhat related. Ideally, the best time for light  photographically are the “golden hours”, just after sunrise and just before sunset. At these times the light has a warm quality that bathes everything in a warm color that is pleasing to the eye, especially in a photograph. But as for quality of light, in my opinion there are many other times besides these golden hours that can produce eye-catching photos. Late day is one of those times, when the sun is low enough in the sky to create interesting shadows, or to produce a back-light that causes translucent objects to light up and glow. And if you are in the woods, even a mid day sun can have an interesting effect on the ground as it weaves through the leaves overhead, causing patches of light and shadow on the forest floor.

In the image above, we have a very common subject; a bearded iris. If this photo were taken in the middle of the day, in full sunlight, there would be some very harsh shadows and burnt out highlights. In other words, it would be a very unappealing photo. But this particular photo was taken around 5:30 in the afternoon. The sun was getting low in the sky. It was off to the right and below the tree line, so the light that was hitting the flower was dappled by the leaves. This created a very even and pleasing light that made the petals and stamens come to life amid the very subdued shadows. In fact, between the trees and the passing clouds, I had to wait for the right light on the flower. But the final image was worth the wait.

bleeding heart flower macro

close-up image of a bleeding heart in subdued lighting

In this image of a Bleeding Heart flower, the lighting situation is pretty much the same, but it illustrates a different point. The light was again dappled through the leaves, but here it was hitting only the flower. The background was in shade, causing it to go dark in the photo, which makes the flower stand out. Also, an f-stop  (f-8) was used that would render the background blurry with no detail, further hilighting the main subject. (note; all of these images were shot with a 105mm macro lens)








backlight on coral bell leaf

backlight on coral bell leaf

This last image illustrates one of my favorite kinds of light; backlighting. Backlight can only be achieved when the sun is low in the sky, and only at very certain angles to the subject. But when it is right, it is magical. First, backlighting can transform a normally ‘nice’ subject into a thing of beauty. This works best with objects that are semi-translucent, like leaves and flower petals. When a low angle light comes through these objects, they almost turn into stained glass. And secondly, if there  is some fine detail around the edges, like fine hairs, they tend to glow in a way that you wouldn’t see otherwise. This photo shows off both of these qualities.

So the next time you are out there late in the day, look around for some of these lighting situations. Start with your own back yard. You may see things you never saw before, and it will change the way you look at photographing everyday objects.

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Back to the woods

Red Trillium, aka "Stinking Benjamin" in bloom

So here we are, back into the woods for the second week of springtime woodland images. As you may recall from my last post, the Trilliums were just in bud. Now they are in full bloom. They’ll probably last only about another week. So if you want to photograph them you best get out there now. As with any flower, you always want to photograph them at the peak of their perfection… ideally just after they have opened, in order to catch them without any of the flaws that come with age.
Trilliums can be hard to photograph. They are only about a foot high, which in itself isn’t all that bad. But the flowers hang down, facing the ground. In order to get this shot I had to take the camera off the tripod (something I don’t like to do for macros) and hand-hold it braced on the tripod leg for stability while laying on the wet ground. Being on the forest floor where there isn’t much light, I had to pump up the ISO and decrease my aperture in order to get a fast enough shutter speed for a hand-held shot. Sometimes it takes a few shots to get a good one, but it’s worth it.

young fern sproutsSince last week, the biggest change I saw in the woods, other than the Trilliums being in full bloom, is the emergence of every sort of fern. Some are just sprouting, while others are almost a foot tall; but they are all for the most part still in the ‘fiddlehead’ stage with the heads still curled up to some extent.

One tip for photographing ferns and other vegetation in the woods is to look for plants with a limited shaft of light falling on the, while the surroundings , especially the background, is in shadow. This will make the main subject really pop.young fern in sunlight










Here’s another image that required removing the camera from the tripod. This is known as Bellwort, aka “Wild Oats”. This was the only one I saw in bloom, but they were all over the place. They will likely be in full bloom next weekend. The flower itself is only about 3/4 to 1″ long, so it required that I get really close to get this shot. It, as well as most of these images, was shot with a dedicated 105mm macro lens. You simply can’t get this close to a subject this small with a “macro” zoom lens
bellwort, wild oats
This is another photo that definitely required a macro lens. The largest cap in the group of mushrooms is about 1/2 inch at most. This little cluster was growing on the side of an old tree stump. The time to find mushrooms in the woods is commonly in the fall, so I was lucky to come across these.small mushrooms on stump
This last photo shows last year’s fruit of the Partridge Berry. This plant is very small and creeps along the ground. The leaves are only about an inch long at most.  It is very plentiful, but most of the berries are gone at this point. I’ll give you one guess where the name comes from.partridge berryNext weekend some of theses flowers will be gone, some will be in their glory, and others will just be starting to open. Combine this will all the other wonderful things that will be happening in the wood and you’ll definitely want to get out there with your camera. If you don’t live next to any woods, Thorncrag is a wonderful place to search. But wherever you go, be mindful of where you step. you don’t want to destroy some emerging beauty for the sake of a photograph.

Just a reminder. all images seen here are available for purchase or licensing.

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The Rewards of a Long Winter

Red Trillium, aka "Stinking Benjamin" ready to bloom

Red Trillium, aka “Stinking Benjamin” ready to bloom

It has been a long, cold, hard winter. There’s no doubt about that. And sometimes even now in early May, it seems like spring will never come. However, Mother Nature knows it will, and she will not be denied. A walk through the woods will tell you that. Wild flowers are not only emerging, but some are about to bloom, as the Trillium shown here is testament to. This photo was taken on May 3rd, and it may well be in full bloom by the time some of you read this.

The woods in spring is a magical place. All sorts of new life starts to emerge. You could call it the reward for making it through another long winter. Some times in the middle of January, when the temperature is 10 below zero, it’s hard to imagine that anything in nature could survive and come back as resplendent as ever. Winter can be a tough time photographically too. There’s not a lot of “pretty” things to photograph. It’s cold, and you really have to make yourself go out there if you hope to shoot anything interesting… and even then you really have to look, and use your imagination.

New ferns and old leaves

New ferns and old leaves

But when spring comes along, the whole world changes. Sure, there’s still not much in the way of pretty landscapes. Let’s face it, we don’t live in the Rockies, where everything is photogenic regardless of the time of year. But we have the woods. And the woods are a treasure-trove of photographic images for the creative photographer; New flowers, new leaves, dappled light hitting the forest floor, rushing streams. The possibilities are endless. And there are new things happening every week, even every few days. Spring in the woods is one of my favorite times of the year. You can use a dedicated macro lens if you have one. But if not, a zoom lens with close-up capability will work well too. These images were all taken with an 18-200mm zoom. Remember to compose to avoid distracting elements, and choose an aperture that will blur the background, letting your subject stand out.
Even if you’re not into photography, get out there in the woods and look around… you’ll be surprised at what you see.

I’ll be posting more “Blogs from the Woods” as the season progresses, so stay tuned.

Water coursing over the rocks in Bobbin Mill Brook

Water coursing over the rocks in Bobbin Mill Brook

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