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Forest Droplet, Point Lobos, Big Sur

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 23 August 2010 in Plant & Nature and Portfolio.

Last week I assisted Don Smith's Big Sur workshop, always a summer highlight for me. As with all workshops, my priority wasn't taking pictures--I didn't even fill a single 4 Gb memory card during the workshop, but that didn't make the experience any less enjoyable. Our deserving group was treated to a perfect mix of sunshine and fog that provided a wonderful variety of photo opportunities that ranged from expansive landscapes to intimate macros.

On the workshop's final morning we explored the south part of Point Lobos in a dense fog that saturated the air with tangible flecks of moisture. Every exposed surface was wet, and the entire scene was cast in gray, shadowless light. Recognizing a unique opportunity I grabbed my extension tubes and 100mm macro, inviting anyone interested in looking for macro possibilities to join me.

I was looking for individual water droplets and didn't search long before finding this little jewel clinging to a pine needle above China Cove. The droplet was quite small, so to enlarge it as much as possible I stacked all three extension tubes (for 68mm of extension) between my camera and lens. I wanted the background completely soft, but thought f2.8 wouldn't give me enough depth of field in the drop itself, so I opened up to f4.

The downside of this much extension is the loss of light in an already dark scene. A soft breeze swayed the branch very slightly, but when viewed through the extreme magnification of my viewfinder, my subject jiggled like jello on a train. Needing to maximize my shutter speed without adjusting my aperture, I bumped up to ISO 400 and underexposed slightly.

In a macro image precise focus is as essential as it is difficult. I'm generally not much of a live view user (it's a new trick and I'm an old dog), but the ability to ensure focus precision makes me a huge fan of live view for macro photography. Switching to live view mode, I maneuvered the view rectangle over the water droplet and went to 5x magnification (10x was too close). With my frame filled by my subject, I dialed in the exact focus I wanted. (Enlarging this image on my 27" monitor reveals a little softness in the droplet, but that's motion blur caused by the breeze. If I had to do this over again I'd probably dial up to 800 ISO. Next time....)

A particular joy of macro photography is the opportunity to view a foreign world. I love that instant when a macro frame snaps into focus to reveal microscopic detail usually invisible. Here I could see movement inside the droplet--what I at first thought were tiny organisms on closer scrutiny turned out (I think) to be small dirt particles swirling in micro-currents. Pretty cool.

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

Wolfen from Villefranche S/S, France

Très belle maitrise de patience et de technique,
Photo particulièrement réussi
Bravo !

23 Aug 2010 6:07am

DULCIE from Danville, CA, United States

A stunning droplet...enviable. Thanks for explaining how you shot it. Just superb, and inspiring !!

23 Aug 2010 6:38am

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

Hi Gary - Well this is absolutely phenomenal and it is also serving as a wonderful inspiration to me regarding the beautiful world of macro. The clear and concise written details that you have provided just turned a light switch on in my brain about the usage of focus precision measures via the lcd and magnification techniques. Thank you so much! I am an old dog and I tend to ALWAYS go to the viewfinder even though I have live view (I use it but not enough apparantly. I will re read and try to remember your words here. This image is just absolutely spectacular, Gary! I think I can see someone standing in there! Thanks very much for the great details, both written and conveyed in image form. All the best - Denny

23 Aug 2010 12:59pm

Daniel from Kenmare, United States


23 Aug 2010 1:04pm

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Simple but very very effective ! I love the diagonal composition and the beautiful details on the droplet. Have a great day Gary :)

23 Aug 2010 1:10pm

Chris Delle from Sacramento, United States

Great shot Gary. I actually paid a visit to Point Lobos this weekend and the weather was amazing! Too bad the fog and clouds completely dissipated before sunset, leaving us with a clear, somewhat boring sunset. Oh well, still had a blast and hopefully made some decent images!

23 Aug 2010 4:14pm

Sandy Weston from Madison, Maine, United States

And a perfect little jewel this is with a reflection of its green environment locked up inside it! Superb!

23 Aug 2010 7:49pm

Judy aka Ladybug from Brooksville, Florida, United States

The soft background is the perfect backdrop for this beautiful droplet. Thanks as always for your lesson!

23 Aug 2010 9:04pm

DowsherVision from PARIS, France

Nice details surrounded by the blur.
Very well done.

23 Aug 2010 9:16pm

Wild Mustang Photography from Carlisle, United States

Stunning composition! Beautiful details and color! Very unique! Superb shot!

24 Aug 2010 1:43am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

fantastic work! even if it has some very slight fuzziness at full size - what does it matter in this case?! i like it just the way it is - superb focus and DOF with the reflection very clearly visible to my eyes! well done!

24 Aug 2010 2:44am

carla from Netherlands

Nice macro.

24 Aug 2010 11:43am

Mici from Tg Mures, Romania

Exquisite shot, thanks for sharing the experience too

24 Aug 2010 1:10pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

This is wonderful! (A self portrait? or maybe that is me seeing things!) And I love your explanation of "jello on a train!" Glad you had a great workshop!

24 Aug 2010 3:13pm

@Tracy: Yeah, that's me, Tracy--don't you recognize me? ;)

Kelly Morvant from United States

I bet that would make very cool video. Great Shot, Gary!

24 Aug 2010 6:38pm

VisualStoryteller from Cape Cod, United States

I can almost feel the chill from the fog. The saturated greens support this feeling as my eye 'dives' into the details of the water drop. Great macro study, especially with your descriptive words about how you created it.

24 Aug 2010 8:32pm

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

Very nice light and background. The droplet looks like a tiny world, with the wizard in the reflection.

25 Aug 2010 2:10am

✿ Anina ✿ from Auckland, New Zealand

This is beautiful! I love the reflections in the droplet. Great selective focus - superb detail and clarity.

25 Aug 2010 11:13pm

steve loos from hollister, United States

Jello, , , serving food on your tours now? <wig> the water drop is lensing the background so clearly this is amazing Gary, like your looking into another world. Beautiful.

26 Aug 2010 4:53am

Mike from California, United States

Nice image...the tiny water drop really pulls you into the image as you try to figure out what's there.

26 Aug 2010 5:55am

Dutçh from Chicagoland, United States

A tiny microworld inside a droplet of water. These shots perpetually amaze me.

26 Aug 2010 2:37pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

stunning macro! excellent clarity and composition

28 Aug 2010 4:42pm