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Wildflowers, Rocky Mountain National Park

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 5 December 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

In my last post I mentioned that I'll be visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in a few weeks. I have plenty to keep me occupied right here in California for the rest of my life, but I look forward to these little excursions beyond my comfort zone. I probed the archives for something from my last visit to RMNP and found this from a few summers ago.

I remember lying in a meadow right near the Estes Park entrance station. I was at 17mm on my full frame camera, which means to make these flowers such a large part of the frame, they were no more than an inch or two from my lens. Another indication of how close the flowers were is the soft background, even at f20 and 17mm.

Was I concerned about the soft background? Absolutely not. In fact, in shots like this I want the background soft to force the eye to remain on the foreground subject. I want the background sharp enough only to be recognized for context, which I think I achieved here.

One of the most important things an aspiring photographer must master is the front-to-back component of the world. Everyone with a camera sees the left/right plane, but it takes conscious effort (at first) to see and manage the front-to-back aspect of a scene. Sometimes you want lots of depth of field, sometimes very little, and sometimes something in between.

If your primary subject is in the background, look for a foreground (and ideally, a middle-ground too) object to add a sense of depth to your frame. If your primary subject is in the foreground, look for a background that complements (without distracting from!) your subject, and or gives it some context (like location or weather conditions). Don't expect to get it exactly right all the time (I don't), but if you're at least aware of foreground/background with every shot, you will get better with time.

Another point that comes up a lot in my workshops is where to focus. I'm not one for rules in photography, but one "rule" that I rarely (but not never) find an exception to is the idea that I want whatever's in my foreground to be sharp. In other words, I'm okay with, and often want, a soft background, but I rarely want anything prominent in my foreground to be soft.

I find hyperfocal charts cumbersome in the field, and think the rule of thumb shortcuts, while useful, are flawed for beginners because they don't take into account all the possibilities and they inhibit understanding of the complexities of critical focus. When I have something in the close foreground but want to make sure something else behind it is sharp too, I'll shrink my aperture (f16, and sometimes smaller) and focus on something (anything--a rock, twig, whatever) a little behind my closest subject. In a scene like this I'd want all the flowers sharp (hence the f20). Knowing how I work, I probably focused toward the back of the middle flower, confident that at 17mm and f20 the other flowers will be sharp too.

But like exposure and metering, focus technique is very personal, and what ultimately matters is the result. If you have an approach that works for you, there's no need to even listen to "experts" like me. Just get out there and shoot!

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

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

I like the composition and the perspective that allows a great DOF and a fantastic view of the back landscape. The focus is really fantastic also, for me very with high achieving dificult because there are so many elements in the photo. Very nice image to see in the morning when we get up, we feel good with it:)).

5 Dec 2009 10:39am

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Another great lesson in beauty and in text!

5 Dec 2009 5:41pm

Babzy from Besançon, France

really nice composed , i can imagine you lying on the grass , ;)

6 Dec 2009 8:29am

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Nice composition and POV

7 Dec 2009 5:35am

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

What a unique and fascinating point of view! I am loving all the detail of the flowers, and still have a sense of their larger environment! And thanks for the tips, as always! (I was reminded of your 3 P's this weekend, as I sat on a very cold rock waiting for sunset! I really wanted to get home and warm....but I just kept reminding myself of planning, persistence and pain!)

7 Dec 2009 4:19pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

superb composition! this is is a truly great perspective here with wonderful vivid colours!

9 Dec 2009 3:02am

Anina Botes from Auckland, New Zealand

Beautiful capture! I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative. It's such a pity we live on opposite sides of the world - I can just imagine how I would love attending one of your workshops :)

9 Dec 2009 8:36pm

@Anina Botes: Thanks, Anina. It would be great if you could make it to a workshop someday--a goal to shoot for. :)

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

When I look at this shot, I realize that I need to learn to use a truly wide angle lens well. Reading your commentary, I think that when it comes to parts of the image being sharp, Live View (with its zooming in capability) really helps. Lots of people use Live View for macro work. But it seems to me to be of almost equal value with landscape shots.

12 Dec 2009 3:13am

@john4jack: Thanks, Jack. I see the value of live view, but I rarely use it (it's a new trick and I'm an old dog). Sometimes I'll use it if I find myself in a position where it's too awkward to get my eye to the viewfinder; I'll also use it when I'm teaching so I can explain to others what I see.

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Superb composition!

31 Dec 2009 7:10am

Richard from Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Great angle, you have some great shots.

14 Sep 2010 2:44pm