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Dogwood Blossoms, Merced River, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 16 May 2009 in Plant & Nature and Portfolio.

Today's image is a great counterpoint to my previous image (Sunset, Hopi Point, Grand Canyon)--the other side of the proverbial coin. In the Grand Canyon sunset image I picked my composition and waited for the light; in today's dogwood image I went looking for a composition that worked in the light that was already present.

This is another scene from last week's Yosemite workshop. Our goal that afternoon was to photograph dogwood blooms against the Merced River. I chose a stretch of the river just upstream from the Pahono Bridge, a place where I knew the number of dogwood in bloom would give everyone a lot of opportunities for success. When photographing dogwood I look for individual blossoms, or groups of blossoms, to isolate against a complementary background. Usually, as in this case, I limit my depth of field to turn the background into formless light and color. Having recently purchased a Canon 50D to backup my full frame 1DSIII, I thought need to isolate relatively small subjects created an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the new camera's 1.6 crop factor.

After getting everybody prepared (there's that word again), I slapped on my 100-400 lens (160-640 on the 50D) and went a-wanderin'. For the next 90 minutes I moved among the widely dispersed workshop participants, playing with compositions as I went, finding some nice stuff but nothing that excited me. I was heading back to the vehicles when I spotted this promising pair of dogwood blossoms suspended by themselves above the river. But achieving the shot I wanted wasn't without its obstacles. This is where I really appreciated the extra reach of the 50D. Only at the maximum focal length of my 100-400 was I able to eliminate the confusion of branches and blooms that would have distracted from my subject. And even at 400 mm (remember, with the cropped sensor that's the same as 640 mm on the full frame I'm more accustomed to) I had to extend my tripod to its maximum height, then cheat a bit by placing the tripod's legs closer together than they should have been, to achieve a downward angle sufficient to eliminate the riverbank at the top of the frame.

Of course all this maneuvering wasn't without ramifications. Even wide open (f5.6) the limited light only allowed for a 1/8 second exposure at my preferred ISO 100. In perfectly still conditions, on a rock-solid tripod, I might have chanced it, but my tripod was not in its most stable configuration, and the breeze that afternoon oscillated from gentle to brisk, making 1/8 second out of the question. So I bumped my ISO to 400 (uncharted territory for my new camera), waited for respites in the breeze, held my tripod (and my breath), and clicked, all the while saying thanks to the inventor of the remote release and mirror lock-up.

The background is simply the Merced River, rendered a blur of color by the limited depth of field and compression of my 400 mm focal length at f5.6. I captured a number of frames, partly to ensure something sharp in the marginal shooting conditions, but mostly because the swiftly moving water continuously changed the texture of the background.

The key to consistently creating successful images (however you define "successful") is controlling the elements of the scene rather than letting the elements control you. So while my Grand Canyon sunset image was all about anticipating the light and being ready with my composition, today's image required me to react to the light and the proliferation of available dogwood blooms. But in both cases the key was the preparation that enabled me to use the conditions at hand to create the image I wanted.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Bill Jennings from (Bay Area Northern Calif), United States

I also posted a dogwood against a stream today - but I find the light in yours so much stronger and more emotional. I have so much more to learn from you over time, and hope to join one of your seminars some day. Beautiful photo.

16 May 2009 5:25am

chrissy from uk, United Kingdom

beautiful picture

16 May 2009 6:54am

Eleftheria from Athens, Greece

So beautiful!

16 May 2009 6:55am

Onlymehdi from Wayne, United States

Amazing lighting, composition, picture

16 May 2009 12:19pm

Anna.C from LA ROCHELLE, France

nice zen composition ! colors and lighting are amazing ! good DOF for a beautiful background !

16 May 2009 3:52pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Exquisite, Gary. Superb composition and selective focus. Incredible lighting. Bravo.

16 May 2009 4:40pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

PS - I went back a read your commentary. Very helpful. One more word on the light in this photograph; I really like the way that its strength moves from left to right. It is the light as much as anything else that controls the movement of our eyes.

16 May 2009 4:46pm

@john4jack: Thanks, Jack. It's all about the light isn't it?

photo retouching from Spain

Great shot. Really good use of focus and composition.

17 May 2009 1:30pm

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Very beautiful photograph

21 May 2009 7:53am

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Just beautiful!

21 May 2009 11:36am

Aubélia from Kortrijk, Belgium

So beautiful ! Well done !

29 May 2011 3:11pm