Like custard

Purple flowers don't ask meI have a rather large, mostly speculative post coming soon, one that’s been in the works for a while now and has been something of a bear to finish, for a variety of reasons. But since I’m not going to finish it tonight either, I decided to span the gap with a handful of recent pics. Thus, this is filler, but quality filler, as the title implies. Or at least I think so. Hey, I could be doing some list of the ten most overused internet memes or something, so be grateful.

[I want to be grateless to someone, someday. Hell, I just want to see how one quantifies ‘grate.’]

Once again, there isn’t a lot of exposition that can go along with many of these images, like this one, and I’m not the kind of arteest that resorts to a lot of existential, grandiloquent prose (except right there) to try and make my photos seem deeper than they are. It’s a visual medium, and if the image doesn’t hit you right away in some manner, then no attempt at rescue with linguistic appeals is called for. So, these are some species of flower that I can’t be bothered to look up, still bearing the morning dew, momentarily, because they just emerged from the shade. You’re going to see a lot of flowers, since most of these came from a trip to the botanical gardens. Unfortunately, I tend to forget to search out the identification plates when they exist, and I know better too.

All right, all right, they’re some variety of aster, I think. Another variety is coming up shortly.

cloudless sulphur butterfly Phoebis sennae on cardinal flower Lobelia cardinalisI’m a little more sure about the identity of both the butterfly and the plant in this image: cloudless sulphur buttefly (Phoebis sennae) on cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis.) While I have images that show the appearance of the butterfly much better, I liked this one for the angle and the visible feeding behavior.

I really try to avoid shooting subjects this colorful when the light is bright, because contrast gets hard to manage and subtleties are often lost, but when I have a student, they schedule the day and locale most times, and I just point out how to use the light to best advantage. Thus, this one has actually had the contrast lowered a little for web display, but I would have much preferred a hazy or semi-overcast day for colors of this nature.

high contrast backlit leaf grayscale in red channelSo what can you do with high contrast lighting? Well for one, you can produce some nice effects with backlighting, further enhanced with a minor editing trick. While the original version of this shot was in color, and a lovely brilliant green at that from the sun shining through the leaf, I tried a simple Photoshop trick and deleted the green and blue color channels from the image, leaving just the red, then converted that to grayscale. Since the image had been predominantly green, the red channel provided the greatest contrast range, making the details stand out even further. The same probably could have been done with converting the entire RGB image to grayscale and then tweaking contrast, at least for this image, but sometimes the selective channel thing produces effects which would be hard to duplicate in other manners. Definitely something to try out if you like monochrome images.

I want to point out that the sun produced a lot of the effect too, coming at a semi-oblique angle that threw some starker shadows from relatively gentle curves of the leaf. This is one way that autumn and spring can provide opportunities not always available in the summer, because the sun rides closer to the horizon and comes in more from the side rather than overhead.

hoverfly on asterAnother variety of aster, or perhaps the same one but having bloomed a little later so the centers are still vibrant yellow. Nothing much to say about this – just took advantage of the visiting hoverfly to provide a different point of focus. Had the hoverfly been on the lower blossom and thus in less-direct light, the effect would have been different, likely not as strong – something to consider while chasing pollinators on flowers. Pick a good position with the sun giving the best angle of light, and watch for the subjects that leap out at you because of the way the light plays across them.

Bog Garden artificial waterfallWe leave the botanical garden for a moment (or a single image – however you want to measure the time) to visit a place called the Bog Garden in Greensboro, which I checked out Tuesday while in the city. Interesting place, but we got there at a difficult time, too late after sunrise to have any soft, orange light to work with, but still too soon to prevent it from coming straight into the lens in too many situations, so my opportunities were greatly limited. This is a small man-made torrent within the park, recirculated from the nearby lake by pump, but otherwise pretty natural in appearance (though a geologist could probably spot the anachronisms easily, since I could see a few.) Deep in the forest canopy and having come without a tripod, I was pushing the limits by shooting handheld, and most frames show the effect of motion-blur from the camera shifting ever-so-slightly during the longish exposures, but this one didn’t come out too bad. On other compositions, I got down on the ground alongside the stream and braced the camera on the rocks and my stacked fingers to make a serviceable support, not to mention a more interesting low-angle viewpoint. I think it’s easy to imagine that, had I been shooting from a standing position looking down on this small torrent, it would have had a much less dramatic appearance.

leaf-footed bug and bumblebee on some orange flowerOkay, I tried finding out what flower this is, and had no luck whatsoever. The foreground insect is an Eastern leaf-footed bug (Leptoglossus phyllopus,) but there are too few details visible on the bumblebee to pin it down any further than that. The leaf-footed bug demonstrates why light angle and contrast can make such a difference, because it’s on the fine edge of throwing its own back completely into shadow – meanwhile, some of the flower petals came out with wonderful shaping (bottom center) while others almost lost all detail from the light (right.) So, now that I got you to look carefully at the image, did you notice the fence in the background? Because I always do, and fret about it, but I’m curious to know who else actually catches these, or whether I should stop worrying so much about them.

basking green frog Rana clamitans and tadpole
As the student and I approached this small pond, I vouchsafed that the conditions were right, and other visitors far enough away, that a cautious approach might allow us to spot a resident frog. True enough – we won’t talk about how much luck was actually involved – a green frog (Rana clamitans) was spotted basking in plain sight. As we leaned in for the detail shots, however, we spotted the tadpole posing alongside in a remarkably cooperative manner. I only regret that there was no other angle to work from, the little garden pond liner being blocked on all sides but one, so no other compositions could be managed. I’d much rather do a portrait shot than a top-down view.

Now, bright light usually helps with shooting aquatic and underwater subjects, because it penetrates well – hazy or cloudy skies reduce a lot of the light that can get beneath the surface, but much worse, the broad expanse of sky producing the same light level throughout only serves to reflect from the surface, making it near-impossible to see through it. But even with the nice penetration of clear days, reflections and contrast still play their own roles, especially when the pond denizen is sitting half out of the water like this one, and I reduced contrast on this image too, as well as darkening the exposure slightly, to make the frog a bit more natural-looking.

some purple flower and skipperOne last shot of purple, just to give your monitor a workout. I have no idea what this flower is either, though it’s very pleasant-looking, but the butterfly is some variety of skipper (Hesperiidae,) possibly a clouded skipper (Lerema accius.) It was intent on getting the most out of that blossom, so I was able to shoot a series of images while steadily leaning in closer.

This is, in fact, something that I have to tell my students fairly frequently. The best pics, naturally, are going to come from getting in as close as possible, but this should actually be done in stages, and quite slowly at that. Start farther out and fire off a frame or two where you stand, then start going in closer. At some point, you’re very likely to spook the subject away, and if you haven’t gotten any frames by that point, you’ve lost the opportunity. Also bear in mind that many species respond to more overt visual cues than subtle ones – not surprising I suppose, but it does require a moment to consider what this means. Raising the camera and/or closing in are overt, and doing both together far more likely to provoke a flee reflex. Raise the camera slowly to your eye while farther away, and then you’re making no other motions as you close in except growing in size, which is less likely to spark a response. And don’t check your LCD to see if you got the shot – that’s another unsubtle move.

Now, while doing this, it’s good to already know just where to put your feet, and awareness of your surroundings is a good habit to develop. Is your footing secure, are you going to brush against any other branches which might move, can you work to the side for another angle while in close? And even, and this is a big one, are you going to throw your own shadow across the subject as you close in? This happens very frequently, and requires a bit of experience to know how to position yourself automatically so you won’t do this. But little things like this can greatly improve your chances of getting the shot you want.

The shadows in that image are still a little harsh, especially when the light is failing to reach the interiors of the blossoms. A better light angle would have been ideal, and even hazy skies can scatter some light from other directions and soften the difference between highlights and shadows. I also could have used a reflector to throw some light into the shadowed side, or fired off some fill-flash to illuminate from the camera’s viewpoint – the reflector would likely have scared off the butterfly, but the flash probably wouldn’t have, despite common beliefs. And the more I talk about this, the more annoyed I am that I didn’t make the image better. I think I better stop here…