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Brilliant Poppy, American River Parkway

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 7 January 2010 in Plant & Nature and Portfolio.

Maybe a break from the recent winter theme is in order. Anyone ready for spring?

A frequent topic recently has been "rules" in photography. These rules have value, and are usually based on sound, proven reasoning that result in sound, competent images. But true artistic success requires doing something new, yet if there's a rule for something, doesn't that mean it has already been done? So, paradoxically, genuine creativity requires breaking the rules that are supposed to lead to good images.

One of the most absolute pieces of photograph advice we hear is, "Never blow your highlights!" And for the most part I agree that blown highlights ruin an image. In fact I've spent a lot of time writing about how to deal with difficult light, and it's all been based on the premise that we need to save the highlights at all costs. In blog posts I've written about exposure methods, graduated neutral density filters, digital blending, HDR, and silhouettes as techniques for saving highlights.

But what if we say it's okay to blow out the highlights? Suddenly a whole new world of possibilities opens. In today's image it would have been far easier (and more comfortable!) to follow the "rule" and photograph this poppy from above where the light wouldn't have been a big problem. But I really like the glow of backlit poppies and decided to see what I could find by getting on my back and shooting up at the poppy's backlit side. It was immediately clear that exposing to retain the blue in the sky would have rendered the poppies black, but rather than give up, I simply exposed to maximize the poppy's color, completely blowing out (overexposing) the sky. The result was a striking white background that actually underscores this brilliantly backlit poppy.

Something I constantly encourage my students to do is start with the conventional shots, but aggressively seek the unconventional. If a "rule" applies, go ahead and follow the rule for a shot or two, then look for opportunities to break it. You may end up with more failures than successes (but of course nobody needs to know that), but I'll bet your successes will turn out to be among your favorite images.

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

Dulcie from Danville, CA, United States

So glad you decided to 'blow out the highlights.'
This is a whopping good shot...interesting, arresting, provocative, colorful, and really good looking !!!

7 Jan 2010 6:56am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Love the creativity and the special effect in this shot Gary ! Brilliant idea :)

7 Jan 2010 8:42am

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

Gary, your work is simply brillant!

7 Jan 2010 11:10am

Fusao from Tokyo, Japan


7 Jan 2010 2:34pm

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

Way to go Gary. I was just talking recently with John Barclay about the subject of shooting from the heart and not the rule book - being a voice and not a parrot, etc. Intentional overexposure can work very well at times and this is a great example in this floral splash of color. Let's all step out of that proverbial box every now and then!

7 Jan 2010 3:56pm

Elora from Genoa, Italy

Wow, yes I am now ready for spring, I've already had enough of the cold. I really like this shot, the angle is fantastic and the yellow-orange of the poppy pops against the white background. Five stars from me :)

7 Jan 2010 4:24pm

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Yes I´m ready for sprnig, even more I´m ready for summer, and this is a Beautiful image.
About the rules I agree and I must tell you that break the rules, even without good results, make me feel good.

7 Jan 2010 5:32pm

Self-Indulgence from Chicagoland, United States

I like the illumination through the petals with the white background. It reminds me of making tissue paper greeting cards when I was a child, and seeing colors through colors.

7 Jan 2010 7:09pm

Mike from California, United States

Rules give you a place to start...the vision to break the rules is what makes this image yours. Blowing the highlights gives it a "dreamlike" quality and great result. Makes me wish spring was here (eventhough we just started winter) so I can work on my "poppy collection".

7 Jan 2010 10:38pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

great shot! very creative and different thinking as well! i think it all comes down to what you want to achieve in your photo - there is a difference between blowing the highlights or breaking the rules on purpose and simply "stuffing up" where otherwise a proper technique would be required to produce a good result... the world is open to our interpretation through whichever way we may decide to proceed...

8 Jan 2010 12:55am

Lambspun from Madison, Maine, United States

Nice special effect and technique. Makes these flowers look like paper....beautiful!

8 Jan 2010 1:58am

Barbara from Oakland, United States

Gary, thanks for warming up my day! I love high key images, and this one really works!

8 Jan 2010 5:56am

dkc from Xanthi, Greece

who cares about rules if the photo is just beautiful like this one? i believe no one...

8 Jan 2010 5:10pm

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

It's really great to see something different - and this certainly fits that category! It's so good it almost looks artificial!

8 Jan 2010 7:28pm

✿ Anina ✿ from Auckland, New Zealand

WOW! This is beautiful. I love the light - you have captured it beautifully

8 Jan 2010 11:21pm

Julie from Easton, United States

Now that just looks awesome! Rules were made to be broken!

9 Jan 2010 1:57am

Michelle from Elverson, United States

Gorgeous, and different, I love this.

9 Jan 2010 12:46pm

@Michelle: Thanks, Michelle. Different is good. :)

Frances Berry from Athens, GA, United States

Wonderful entry. Thanks for the reminder to take some chances. That should be our theme for 2010. :)

9 Jan 2010 10:25pm

Kriste from Pennsylvania, United States

This is absolutely beautiful! I love this shot!! It makes me long for spring.

13 Jan 2010 6:10pm

Diane Simon from United States

I love the translucence of flower petals. This image just knocks me out.

21 Feb 2010 3:24am