Successful nature photography requires the convergence of many diverse elements, such as subject, composition, and conditions. Many photographers have the subject and composition part down, but fall short in the conditions realm.
“Good” conditions for photography come in many forms (such as warm light, flat light, and interesting sky) that often depend on the subject. Regrettably, the best conditions for outdoor photography and the best conditions for being outdoors are usually on opposites extremes of the comfort spectrum--pretty much anything that makes the tourists want to rush inside should make you (the photographer!) want to snatch your camera and rush out the door.
Poppies are beautiful when they're open, but I absolutely love the graceful curves of a closed poppy (poppies close in cold, windy, or cloudy conditions). So last week when the weatherman delivered rain I grabbed my gear and headed for the hills. Because this was a last-minute decision I made for one of my previously scouted “go-to” locations that's just a (beautiful) one hour drive from home. I arrived an hour or so before sunset, and as planned the poppies were out in force, but already closed for the night. A light rain fell, bejeweling each bloom with delicate drops of water. With no time to waste I pulled out my 100mm macro lens, slapped on an extension tube, and went to work.
I like to minimize depth in field in my macro shots, focusing on the most interesting aspect of my subject and finding a suitable background to blur. The extension tube further limits DOF (and light), making critical focus extremely difficult, so even at f2.8, the overcast skies and fading light made for tedious work. A light breeze, poison oak, and unwieldy umbrella further complicated my efforts.
I moved around in search of a poppy (or poppies) that stood out against a suitable background, finding a few nice things but nothing that excited me until I came across this poppy perched chest-high on a nearly vertical slope--just as the light was about gone. Contorting my tripod to move within a couple of inches, I focused on the water drops and stopped all the way down to f8 to get the depth of field I wanted. (I know it’s a pain, but I strongly recommend getting comfortable with your DOF preview button, especially if you’re a macro shooter.) Pushing my ISO all the way to 800 gave me 1/5 second, which meant I still needed to carefully time my shutter click for lulls in the breeze. Even though this image accurately reflects the light available at the time, I’d have liked to have given it another stop, but just couldn’t afford a slower shutter speed (and I couldn’t bring myself to go to 1600 ISO).
And check out the upside-down poppy reflected in each of the drops--how cool is that?
* Website: Eloquent Images
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