Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer harvest

This past week has been devoted not to shooting but rather to backing up photos as well as processing macro images for my upcoming macro class in Castro Valley. During my photo backup, last week's farmers' market photos caught my eye, so I thought I'd quickly process a few more of the shots I took. I had limited myself to a 50mm lens and an aperture of f/1.8 for minimal depth of field. Using just one lens (especially one that doesn't zoom) is good practice. I find it forces me to look a little closer and to use my feet to change the composition rather than relying on zooming in and out.

Quite often this is the way I'll approach photographing at antique car shows. I'll walk the show with just one lens, let's say a 70-200mm lens. Then I'll put on a 24-85mm lens and walk the show again. And if I'm feeling totally insane, I'll then use a 10-17mm fisheye lens and walk the show yet again. Each lens we use forces us to see differently, to come up with different looks. And in photography, that's always a good thing. ©Carol Leigh

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Six years later

I took this photo in November of 2003 and, with my rudimentary skills at the time, this is how I processed it (above). I came upon this same photograph today, and here's how I processed it (below). I lightened and brightened some areas, added a bit of Topaz Adjust, a bit of Gaussian blur, and here it is. The beauty of photography is how our skills, our vision, and the tools available improve (hopefully) over the years. ©Carol Leigh

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A walk around the block . . .

Queen Anne's lace is blooming all over the place right now, and so I picked one and brought it home this morning to shoot. I used a flashlight to lighten up the background behind the flower and, with a 100mm macro lens set at f/2.8, reduced the depth of field (the amount of focus from front to back) to next to nothing.

These are deceptively difficult flowers to shoot — they look better from a distance than they do up really, really close. But then don't we all? ©Carol Leigh

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Saga de salal

A sloppily painted piece of paper and a salal leaf — the saga de salal continues. Actually, it doesn't. This is a rhododendron leaf that I found hiding in the salal. Obviously I'm easily confused. ©Carol Leigh

Monday, August 24, 2009

Optical illusion

The back side of this leaf is extremely three-dimensional -- the veins stood up and way away from the plane of the leaf. I lighted the leaf from the side to emphasize the amount of depth the leaf had. But when I look at the photograph, I have to remind myself that the lighter-colored veins are much higher than the rest. In the photograph, they look lower than the rest.

I find that if I stare at the center vein, down toward the bottom, that eventually the leaf's depth is visible. But if I have trouble seeing this, I can just imagine the problems you have, not having seen the original leaf to begin with. (If you think of this shot as a topographical map, with the darker areas the valleys and the lighter-colored veins as ridges, that might help.)

I even burned in the shadowing on the right side of each vein and slightly dodged each vein so that the depth would stand out better, but I don't think it worked. Back to the drawing board. ©Carol Leigh

On the docks . . .

Last Thursday, while running errands in Newport, we stopped (naturally) at the fishing boats to see if there were any "new" boats in town and to check out the light. There are a lot of boats in from California right now, and the lighting was interesting but challenging.

I returned home with a lot of woefully underexposed images. This is the best I could do with what I got. I used a bit of Topaz Adjust and some dodging and burning to bring out what I could. Way too much post-processing work. Should have spent more time on-scene analyzing what I was doing. Hmmmm . . . guess I'm going to have to go back! ©Carol Leigh

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A walk around the block . . .

Here in the Pacific Northwest we have an obnoxious native plant called salal. It's only obnoxious when it comes up where you don't want it, otherwise, its a rather pretty, if not unruly, plant. On my walk around the block, I was noticing how much texture the fallen leaves have, and how their colors range from brown to green to gold to red. I picked up a couple, flattened them down in a phone book, and then began to shoot.

I used a 100mm macro lens and set the leaf against one of my hand-painted backgrounds for color and texture. "Set" is a misnomer. I stuck the leaf to the background paper using UHU Tack, which is the consistency of chewing gum. It peels off easily, leaving the painted background as well as the leaves pristine and ready to be used again.

It's August, but obviously fall is right around the corner. Are you ready? ©Carol Leigh

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bad photo and why it's bad . . .

Sometimes I get so carried away that I forget to think. For instance, thinking about shallow depth of field and how I like the way water droplets look in the background, all out of focus and sparkly, made me think of something else. Some of you in my class alumni group may recall the cool holographic paper that I found a couple of years ago and sent out to those of you who requested it. Remember how it created pretty multicolored sparkles in the background? Well, I figured why not use it with the dandelion puff to put sparkles behind it?

Big mistake. But why? The reason why is because I became enamored of the EFFECT rather than the overall photograph. I figured, "Cool sparkly stuff behind dandelion puff" without really thinking about why I was photographing the dandelion puff to begin with.

To make things worse, I tried to tone down the sparkles, and so I put RED sparkly netting in FRONT of the holographic paper. Sheesh. What the heck am I thinking? Here's the result. A weird photograph of a dandelion seed hanging from a dandelion puff.

And you can see that this dandelion seed is getting tired. It's "hairs" are beginning to bend in strange directions, it's about to fall off the "mother ship," and it's not really sharp. (Actually, one could say the same thing about ME, but I digress . . .)

We have to make a lot of mistakes along the way. And this is one. Of many. And it won't be the last. At least I KNOW it's a mistake! Wish I'd known it an hour or so ago . . . ©Carol Leigh

Imposing limits . . .

I made a quick stop at the farmers' market this morning and limited myself to a 50mm lens and an aperture of f/1.8. Shallow depth of field is great, but it can often bite me in the butt. I see some of the photos later and think, maybe I should have stopped down to f/3.5 for just a hair more in focus . . . But I'm loving the way the tomatoes blurred out yet kept their little soft shapes in the background. ©Carol Leigh

Friday, August 21, 2009

Yet more dandelions

I've got these dandelion puffs all over the studio, and even though the seeds fly off in the slightest breeze, the puffs are surprisingly sturdy. My background for these shots is a piece of brown kraft paper that I use to clean my paintbrushes, so there are splotches and blobs and stripes of various colors all over the place. Maybe not the ideal background, but it's fun to play and see what happens. I used a 100mm macro lens and extension tubes to move in close. I'll be describing and demonstrating this entire set-up in my upcoming macro class being held in Castro Valley, California on October 10th. Click the photo over on the right side for information and a registration form. It would be great if you could be there! ©Carol Leigh

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Color challenges

These blue hydrangeas are a tough color to process. Adobe Camera Raw makes the blue way too intense and I have to desaturate the shot a lot to get the color back to where it should be. Anyone else have this problem with blue colors? (No, Carol, it's just YOU!) ©Carol Leigh

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hello, old friend

In January of 2003 I bought my first digital SLR -- a Canon EOS D60. And in April of that year I bought a hydrangea plant at the local garden center so that I could photograph the flowers up close. I then planted the little plant outside our front door. Well, it's a LOT bigger these days and today I photographed it again. Sort of a "hello, old friend" thing.

I used a 100mm macro lens and handheld these shots, bracing myself on the deck railing. I'd forgotten how much fun hydrangeas are to photograph, and so in the upcoming week I'm going to be playing around a lot with these flowers, using extension tubes, close-up diopters, and more. Workin' it for a week -- that's the mantra. ©Carol Leigh

Monday, August 17, 2009


The first photo is a "normal" shot of my neighbor Tracy's back yard. I took another shot of the same scene, only this time I moved my camera up and down, as you can see in the second photo. And then this morning I wondered if I could get a similar look by taking the in-focus image and applying a motion blur to it in Photoshop, which you can see in the third photo. As you can see, there isn't much difference. Alas. Just when I thought I was creating something original in-camera . . . ©Carol Leigh

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Heathers in bloom

My neighbor Tracy has a beautiful collection of heathers growing in her back yard. On our walk around the block she invited me back to take a look. Good thing I had my camera with me — the heathers were in full bloom.

I liked the pattern the different varieties made, and so, during a 1/6-second exposure, I moved my camera up and down to blur the colors together, hoping that they wouldn't blur so much that they completely blended. This shot shows the distinct colors nicely. ©Carol Leigh

Sometimes it pays to clean . . .

Chris built some shelves over my craft counter the other day (the man is incredible) and so I did some tidying and cleaning, which mainly consists of moving stacks of stuff from Point A to Point B, and often entails putting things into jars so I can see what I've got (which is, basically, crap in jars, but it's cool crap).

The seven clock faces that I bid on and won on eBay don't fit into jars, however, and so are sort of stacked up on a shelf. I was moving that stack o' clock faces from Point A to Point B when I had the urge to stop cleaning and begin photographing. Funny how that happens.

For this shot I put the clock face on the counter and used a 100mm macro lens hovering over it to capture just the Roman numeral 12 on the face. My lighting was a fluorescent overhead garage light -- not ideal, but it sufficed for this sort of thing.

Tip: When your camera is placed so that bright light can enter through the viewfinder, cover up the viewfinder (the eyepiece). Why? Because bright light coming in through the back of your camera fools your camera's meter and your photo will be underexposed. Don't believe me? Try it. Set up your camera on a tripod. Point it at something. Meter the scene. Click the shutter. Do it again, only this time shine a flashlight in through your camera's eyepiece on the back of the camera and click the shutter. See what happens? Who knew?

Older cameras had little "curtains" that, with a click of a tiny button, would cover up the eyepiece, preventing light from entering via the back of the camera. Now camera manufacturers supply you with a completely impractical little piece of rubber that's attached to your camera strap that you can slide over the eyepiece. Have you tried using that thing? Sheesh. I just hold my hand up now to cover the eyepiece during the exposure, making sure, of course, that my hand doesn't touch the camera and jiggle it.

My point is that because my lighting came from overhead and my camera was on a tripod pointing down onto the clock face, I had to hold my hand over the eyepiece to prevent the shot from being underexposed.

So here's my shot of Roman numeral 12 on the clock. I've got 11 more numbers if you want to see them! :-) ©Carol Leigh

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blue jay feathers

Last August when I was in Virginia, I found these two blue jay feathers on the grass. We don't have blue jays here in the west (Cyanocitta cristata). The closest we have are Steller jays and scrub jays, so these feathers were a novelty. They've been hanging around the studio for the past year (along with a variety of other feathers). I placed them on something I had painted, darkened the edges, and here they are.

I try to have a reason for doing everything I do when composing a photograph. So why did I choose this background for the feathers? Wouldn't black work just as well? Or what about a vibrant red?

Well, this background has been sitting out for the past week and so it was on my mind. I'm thinking (a) that the orange color in the painting is the complementary color to blue, (b) that the blue in the painting echoes the blue in the feathers, (c) that there's texture in the painting, which adds more interest than a flat background would, and that (d) my background is original and unique -- I painted it myself and so no one else can easily replicate it, that (e) black might be boring, and (f) that a vivid red might completely overpower the feathers, calling attention to itself rather than the subject. Ah, but maybe a very dark and muted red/black combination? Now that might be kind of neat . . . back to the paintbrushes!

What's my point? I have two feathers that mean something to me. I have a background I created myself. You may look at the photograph and think it's a so-so image, and that's okay. I look at it and enjoy the various levels of meaning (to me) within it. And, damn it, it's different!

In a world that's rapidly becoming saturated with photographs that look the same, whenever we can do something different -- more than simply pressing a button or following a "recipe" in Photoshop -- whenever we can do something different that entails thought and inspiration and skill with the tools we have available, then hooray for us!

We return you to your regularly scheduled program, now in progress . . . ©Carol Leigh

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


It was a foggy day here on the Oregon coast. I had to make a quick trip to the grocery store and on the way back stopped at an overlook to see what the Alsea Bay Bridge looked like in the mist. I'm looking south, shooting from the west side of the bridge as it sweeps away from me, across the bay. It's low tide and a sand spit is revealed in the lower right corner.

This is a tiny extract from a much larger image. It was foggy, what can I do to accentuate the foggy look? What if I crop away everything except this one little section of the shot? Yes, it'll be grainy/noisy, but that's sort of the nature of fog. I turned it into a black and white (again, that's the nature of fog) and then softened the image slightly.

Does it work? Nah, I don't think so, but it's not awful! About 20 years ago I saw the work of a photographer who would photograph architectural detail on buildings, then crop the heck out of the shot, leaving a very grainy, soft image of just one little detail. Toned with a sepia tint, her photos were lovely. Hmmmm . . . another thing for me to try in the near future. ©Carol Leigh

Good intentions ...

My intent was to clean up/straighten up my craft area. But when I saw a background that I had painted to use in my photomontages, and when I saw a feather I'd found in the yard, I began wondering what that feather would look like photographed on top of my painted background. So next thing you know, I'm photographing feathers, ferns, and other stuff. The craft area is still a mess, but I'm liking this particular photograph! Short attention spans are sometimes a good thing. ©Carol Leigh

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hooked on fishnets

These piles of fishing nets, to me, are all about color, texture, line and design. The trick is to look at the mass and then create order out of the chaos. When the sun comes out and the lighting gets harsh, that's the time to leave. ©Carol Leigh

Tangled up in blue ...

It was overcast this morning and I had to run some errands, so naturally I HAD to go back to the fishing nets. Three more blue ones to add to the mix. ©Carol Leigh

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fishing Nets

I hadn't used it in a while, so I got out my 10-17mm fisheye lens to photograph these fishing nets. I mean, what other lens would be more appropriate than a FISHeye lens? ©Carol Leigh

F/V Miss Berdie

Looking up at the anchor and bow of the fishing vessel "Miss Berdie," and then down at the reflection of the bow in the water. Major redness going on here. ©Carol Leigh

Aboard a fishing vessel

I was photographing paint splotches on the dock when Captain Tom came over to ask why I was photographing bird poop ... Good conversation starter. He invited us aboard his fishing vessel and we didn't hesitate to scramble over the rail.

You can see Diesel the fishing boat cat peering over the bow of the boat. The nicest, friendliest cat you could ever meet. Abby should take lessons ...

In the second shot you can see the lures and hooks they use for tuna fishing. And then you can see the downside of fishing -- a finger that got sawed off, caught between a ladder and a Russian trawler. And finally Captain Tom himself -- knowledgeable and so giving, sharing his way of life and the equipment he uses with three clueless landlubbers. (By the way, fishing boats use "fuel," not "gas.") Turns out his aunt lives a couple of miles away from June in North Carolina. She's going to look her up!

Small world. Getting smaller. ©Carol Leigh

Blue morning

It's always great having a fellow photographer come to visit. Chris and I took June to photograph the fishing boats early in the morning when the waters were calm and reflections at their best. Then it was on to the crab pot staging area, lunch, and then more photography at a place where fishing nets are stored. Hoo ha! These two boats and their reflections are some of the better ones I got on the docks. Add to that the blue bumper hanging off a blue boat and we've got quite a threesome.

For the first time ever, we were invited aboard a fishing vessel to (a) meet the two cats (Diesel and Sherman) and (b) to see all the gear, fathometers, plankton finders, temperature finders, fish finders, and more. What a treat. It must have been June's charm that encouraged the captain to invite us aboard . . . ©Carol Leigh