Fall officially started last month, and I haven’t had much time to write anything for Focal Plane since the end of summer. Actually, not having the time isn’t quite true. My time has been spent in other ways, including doing quite a bit of nothing. I suppose most people feel overwhelmed occasionally. I sometimes find that when I have too much to do, it’s easier to just put it all out of my mind and do nothing. Plus, I’ve been sick with the flu for about a week and a half and just haven’t had the mental energy to think, let alone write coherently.
Well, the rainy weather has finally let up and the flu bugs have left me for another home, so I’ve finally had some time to go back through my photographs for some ideas to jump-start some new art and writing projects. Sometimes you just have to go through the motions even if you don’t feel inspired, you know? The physical work of typing sometimes is enough to get ideas moving. Not flowing, exactly: just sort of creaking along at a glacier’s pace. But that can be enough. Even a slow-moving glacier eventually carves out the whole valley! Anyway, on to the featured picture.
This spider chrysanthemum was one of the first studio photos I took. It’s lit by professional overhead lighting, but a single strong light source at least three or four feet overhead would give a very similar look. If you want to replicate the lighting, make sure you only have one light source: all windows and doors should be shut or covered, and any other lights turned off. You will still need the flash on your camera to help bring out the detail in the petals. This technique is called fill flash, because you use the flash to help fill in the details in the darker parts of the scene. If you don’t use a flash, the upper part of the flower will be lit but the lower part will be too shadowy for you to see detail, and you can’t coax them out in a photo editing program, either, because they won’t be there. The detail has to be there when you take the picture. Start with a good photo before you try to do photo editing. Remember: garbage in, garbage out.
Here, the flower is simply resting on its side on a black cloth, and the camera is placed level with the table about three feet away. I don’t remember the lens I used, but it was most likely in the 75mm range. If you have a macro lens, this is the place to use it. See how the pressure of the flower resting on the table creates an almost triangular shape to the flower? Notice how the contrast of the petals at the top (which are fanned out so nicely) with the petals at the bottom (which are pressed together) creates a dynamism to the photo. There isn’t the traditional symmetry here that you would expect from a straightforward flower shot.
When you’re photographing familiar objects, try placing them in unusual positions. Most people would expect a flower in a vase, photographed from the side. But a head-on shot of a flower gives a whole different image, and placing the flower so that light and shadow give it an unusual shape adds another dimension to the image. It’s this play of light and shadow that gives the photograph its appeal, so don’t be afraid to try unusual settings for your subjects.