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Dogwood Bloom, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 6 July 2009 in Plant & Nature and Portfolio.

Some scenes scream for attention, grabbing you by the eyes and pulling you into their world. My previous post, a double rainbow above Yosemite Valley (, falls into this category. Other scenes are simply beautiful in their quiet simplicity, requiring a keen eye and deft touch to identify and convey their elegance. Today's image is that for me.

This isn't to say that my eye is inherently better than anyone else's (you might not even like what I do). While each of us sees the world in our own way, the most successful nature photographers have come to terms with their relationship with the natural world. For example, camera or not, I've always been drawn to the graceful curves and elegant blooms of the dogwood. But maybe for you it's the soft folds of overlapping waves diminishing on a pristine beach, or the day's first rays filtered by misty treetops in a dense redwood grove.

Whatever your personal vision, your best images will come when you photograph the things that resonate with you. Successful (evocative) photography derives from the ability to see and convey what others miss. In other words, what in your world moves you, and how can you best capture it? Here's something to try: The next time you're on a hike with a friend or loved one, be aware of the things that move you to pause and say, "Hey, look at that." Chances are that's where you'll find your best images (and your greatest satisfaction) because pleasing yourself first, embracing your own vision rather than trying to duplicate the success of others, makes you a better (and happier) photographer.

Using today's image as an example, I've come to realize that while many people find dogwood beautiful, most can't identify why. So my objective when photographing dogwood is to capture what appeals to me: its graceful branch structure, the translucence of its petals, and the way the blossom seems to float on the air. When I find a flower that works I try to isolate it by positioning it in a strong location in the frame, and by eliminating distractions that pull the eye away, such as the bold line of a tree trunk, a disorganized tangle of branches, or extreme highlights.

For this image I moved until the dogwood was against a distant canopy of trees. To minimize the depth of field I inserted an extension tube between my camera and 70-200 lens. The extension tube enabled me to focus closer and significantly limited my depth of field, reducing the background to a blur of color. I always expose for the brightest part of a dogwood blossom to avoid blowing the most important part of the scene. In fact, underexposing a bit ensures detail in the dogwood and darkens the background enough to make the dogwood stand out even more.

**** Book update ****

On a completely unrelated note, my publisher just Fed Ex'ed an advance copy of my upcoming book of images, "The Undiscovered Country." I've heard horror stories from other photographers about images being "ruined" by the inevitable cropping and color conversion publication requires, so I held my breath as I opened the package. But I needn't have been concerned--it exceeds even my most optimistic expectations.

So it looks like we remain on schedule for September. To summarize, the book features my images and classic poems from beloved poets like Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and T.S. Eliot, to name a few. It will be sold at Barnes & Noble bookstores, and on the Barnes & Noble website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Next post: July 9 (please view my previous posts by clicking the arrow in the upper left of today's image)

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

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Exquisite. Very Zenlike.

6 Jul 2009 2:28pm

@john4jack: Thanks, Jack.

Don Smith from California, United States

Hey Gary, first off, congrats on the book, I can't wait to see it! Also, your second paragraph is right on the mark - very well said. As you know, I give new photographers entering the field similar advice but on a broader scale. Find out what it is that moves you and that is what you should be shooting. For me, it started close to 40 years ago when I first picked up a camera - I was immediately drawn to landscape, albeit I was very naive. Then as you are aware, I pursued a career in sports photography, and then 10 years ago began my transition back to the landscape realm. I deviated once into the world of portrait/wedding and quickly found my images not working because it did not move me to capture those types of moments. This image of the dogwood is in one word - eloquent. You have succeeded because the eye has no where else tho go but to the bloom itself and can then linger on the delicate shapes of the petals. Soft light and a non-distracting background are all key ingredients in this images' success - well done!

6 Jul 2009 2:37pm

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Very beautiful

7 Jul 2009 4:54am

pernilla from Andonno, Italy

Simple, elegant and beautiful!

7 Jul 2009 9:37pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Love the choice of shallow DOF. Gives it that soft, elegant and magical feel

10 Jul 2009 2:00am