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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Among my favorite subjects in the plant world are cacti and succulents.  I’m endlessly amazed by the patterns of the leaves and thorns.  Add some dramatic lighting and I can play for hours.

WARNING:  Do not pet the plants….


I got hooked on macro at a class I took with the late, great Ernie Braun almost 20 years ago, and have been smitten ever since.  To me, this is the closest that photography comes to imitating painting without using tricks like extra-long shutter speeds of moving objects, panning with moving objects, and/or image manipulation software.

I love the dreamy quality that macro imparts to an otherwise ordinary object.  To me, good macro images are abstract, yet recognizable.  You can tell  that the image above is a flower.  At least, I hope you can.

Macro photography is almost a meditation.  It involves a certain amount of preparation as far as setting up equipment goes.  A tripod is a necessity, a two-way focusing rail is helpful, and a sturdy, four-way focusing rail is an expensive luxury (albeit one I easily convinced myself I couldn’t live without).  A high quality, fixed focal length macro lens was my first big equipment splurge after a midrange, wide-angle, and telephoto lens were all acquired.  All three were zooms, which saved me money and made the camera bag lighter, although I sacrifice some sharpness in my images because of that.  Many years later, I still carry only these four lenses.

I was lucky that many years ago,  some extraordinarily trusting and/or foolish photography instructors allowed their students to borrow their macro lenses during workshops.  Thanks to their generosity, I discovered that a long macro lens was what I coveted.  Short and medium length macro lenses didn’t quite give me the thrill (or the images) I sought.  This was a good thing to discover before I bought said lenses and found out that they weren’t exactly what I wanted.  As in some other aspects of life, I found the adage “size matters” applicable.

Once I find a good subject in good light, and set up the camera and the focusing rail on the tripod, the fun begins.  Creating a good macro composition is much harder than you would think.  There’s almost always some distraction in the frame–an overly-bright highlight, a too-deep shadow, a twig, an insect–some of which can be easily removed in the field, and some which can’t.  Having cut my chops on film, I prefer to take a clean image from the get-go, rather than having to “clean it up” using software.

Then come the matters of depth of field and point of focus.  Often macro photographers strive for minimal depth of field, but there’s a balancing act between having too many elements in the image in focus versus too few.  Using depth of field preview is imperative to ensure you get the effect you’re after.  Also, I play with which part of the image I want to be the sharpest.  That becomes the focal point of the image:  where the viewer’s eyes are first drawn, and where they keep returning.  Another reason to keep distracting elements out of the image, or at least blur them beyond recognition if (literally) removing them from the frame isn’t possible.

The above image was made during harsh midday light in Arizona.  Not a time of day one seeks to make great images outdoors, generally…unless one wishes one’s subject to be backlit.  The sunlight coming through this prickly pear blossom’s petals makes them glow, and casts the shadow of the stamen onto the petal in the lower right.  The edges of the petals are in sharp focus in the foreground, and gently blur into a haze of yellow in the back of the image.

Magic indeed!

I attended another successful BAN (Bad Art Night) last Friday evening (though I’m only just getting around to posting about it).

(For more about Bad Art Night, see my previous posts on the topic, and/or google it, and/or go to , and/or do all three!)

One of our enthusiastic participants, K-Dub, introduced some of us to a new (to me) painting technique.  It involved taking a page from a newspaper or magazine, painting a thin coat of gesso (a primer used on canvases, wood, and other surfaces that will be painted over) over the entire image, and then selectively painting over the original image that shows through the gesso with watercolors…Badly, of course.  Sort of a coloring book for grownups!  Painting outside the lines is strongly encouraged (if not mandatory).

We used the fashion supplement from a recent NYT (New York Times).  Perfect faces and bodies airbrushed into hyper-perfection to make us mere mortals feel less-than…the only cure for this feeling, as you no doubt already know, is spending gobs of money on designer clothing and accessories, Botox treatments and, as we deteriorate–er, I mean age–nip-tucks galore.  Time to make these uber-gorgeous women (and men) Bad!

After watching Laura, our host, thoroughly…ahem…alter Charlize Theron, maybe not for the better (Honestly, can she get any better-looking than she already is?) but definitely for the Badder, she and K-Dub suggested I take a bash at it.

I only just learned which end of a paintbrush to hold a couple of months ago, and to not poke myself in the eye with it, so this was a bit daunting.  Paint a portrait?  Well, it was more like “paint over a portrait and create a new portrait”…and it’s okay if it’s Bad.  In fact, it’s expected.

I found an image of a model that was far too perfect.  Flawless skin, impeccable makeup, amazing hair…time to make her Bad.

I decided her hair could be “improved” with a brown tint, “wings” (all the rage when I was in junior high and high school!) and copious conspicuous blonde highlights…her lipstick was far too understated…her brown eyeglass frames needed to be black for greater emphasis…red “contacts” would give her a “Come hither (if you dare)” stare…her dress should be an eye-catching acid-green…nostrils weren’t REALLY necessary (better to have those clunky black frames mysteriously FLOATING on her face)…and hey, chokers are in again, aren’t they?

The result, as you can see, was Bad…very Bad.  I took her from Supermodel to “70’s Demonic Jersey Girl” in under sixty minutes.  Mission accomplished!

And you know what they say:  “Good girls go to heaven, but bad girls go EVERYWHERE.”  Let’s hear it for bad girls…and Bad Art Night!

One of the Peruvian customs I found interesting and endearing is the habit of dressing up the statues of the saints and holy figures in the churches and convents.  While they were somewhat reminiscent of the mannikins in store windows back home, it was touching that people cared about the statues enough to dress them in custom-made outfits.  Some of the costumes were quite elaborate.  This velvet outfit is perhaps more befitting a king than a humble saint.  But it’s clearly a way of honoring the saint.

The detail of the carving is also lovely.  I found the various facial expressions mesmerizing.  Most of the statues were life-sized.  The realistic clothing just made them seem that much more alive to me.

We’re back in the kitchen of the convent in Arequipa.  I enjoyed the patterns and textures of the dimly lit room.  Converting these images to B&W intensified the patterns of the light and shadow.

In the image above, I like how the arch of the wall echoes the arch of the oven.  I deliberately intensified the graininess to give this image an old feel.  I love the variety of shapes and textures of the stone, and the interplay of the curves and the sharp angles.  But you can see that most of the sharp angles have been rounded by over 400 years of constant use.

In the image below, more curves, more arches, more squares and rectangles, more light and shadow.  All three of these images were shot with only available light.  Using any flash, even dialing down the fill flash to its lowest setting (-2 stops on my camera, which is where it lives 99.9% of the time for those rare occasions that I do use flash) would have resulted in radically different, and I think much less dramatic images.  I love shooting with natural light!

I was all set to watch the Perseids (meteor shower) tonight, but the moon and the weather had other plans.  The almost-full moon combined with light pollution made all but three stars invisible tonight, and then clouds decided to hide even those three from view.  No meteor-gazing tonight!

Reluctantly I climbed out of my hot tub, lexan wine glass in hand, and gave up.  Right place, wrong time.  Oh, well….

This image is not from tonight.  But it does show what a lovely moonless and light pollution-free sky looks like, so I thought I’d include it.  You can see Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) in the upper middle, and Polaris (the North Star) in the far upper right.

I hope the Perseids are better seen and enjoyed from wherever you may be.  To all a good night!

I had fun playing around with these images of critters, all of which happen to be fish-eaters, and all of  which happen to be in profile.  Above is a California Brown Pelican.

This is a Great Blue Heron.

Above is a Sea Lion.

And below is a Great Egret.

I’m back from my sabbatical!  One of the things I had fun doing last week is making new images look old, like this shot of four white pelicans.  Here are a few more I was fooling around with…

This is a marbled godwit feeding.

This is a gull, standing around and being gull-ible.

And below is a California Brown Pelican resting on a post.