One of the most important skills of a nature photographer is the ability to manage depth of field. Getting an entire scene from front to back in sharp focus is a true art (and discussion for a different day), but so is the ability to effectively limit focus to guide your viewers' eyes, or to create a compelling background. This ability visualize and manage the front-to-back plane is often what separates artistic photography from snapshots.
I use today's poppy image in lectures to demonstrate how the camera's vision differs from the human eye. When I was there in the Merced River Canyon (just west of Yosemite), I could see each poppy on this secluded hillside, but sometimes that much detail can be a distraction. Simply blurring the background wasn't enough; I also wanted a background that complemented the foreground poppies. I circled the poppy and ended up positioning myself on the ground to shoot uphill, toward to the poppy covered hillside. My plan was to severely limit my depth of field so the background poppies would turn into a fog of color. To focus closer I added an extension tube to my macro lens. Then I dialed my aperture to f2.8 (as wide as it would go) to further blur the background.
Finding the correct focus point, always essential, is even more important in macro photography where even the slightest error can mean the difference between success and failure. Sometimes the focus point is a difficult choice, but in this case it was pretty clear that the leading edge of the front poppy was where focus needed to be. With my camera flat on the ground and the lens resting on a beanbag (homemade with a Ziploc and dried lentils), focus was easier said than done. Had I been doing this with my current camera, using live view I could have focused from a couple of feet away by zooming the LCD display to 10x. But with my 10D I had to do it the "old fashioned" way, sprawling on the ground and contorting to get my eye to the viewfinder. Fortunately the wind was calm and I was able to take the time necessary to get the focus right.
One more interesting thing about this image: This was just one of many I took on this trip, and in fact I overlooked it on my first pass through my images after returning home. It wasn't until I revisited these images during a slow time several weeks later that I found it and recognized its potential. Not only has this become one of my most successful images, it has also turned out to be one of my personal favorites. This makes me wonder how many other overlooked "gems" I have on my (many) hard drives, and serves as a reminder to never make any final decisions about images when I'm rushed.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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