We have an Euonymus americanus in the yard, more commonly known as a “hearts-a-bustin'” or even a strawberry bush, the latter by people with little imagination and no concept of being confusing as hell, since it has no relation to the plant that actually produces strawberries. As can be seen here, instead it has a remarkable display when the seeds are ripe, and naturally had to appear in the Monday color posts during the appropriate season – these photos were taken just a few days back. And I use the plural because another is coming below. And another is coming below because I am conflicted as to my purpose here – not existentially, because I, we, all life on Earth, has no purpose, we just is – but instead the purpose of these posts and my photography therein.
You see, this image is just a wee bit better aesthetically; the diagonal stem, the framing of the green leaves, the actual position of the berries/seeds… it just works better. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not professing my belief that awards are in order, but when comparing multiple images for which is the strongest, this one stands ahead of the others.
The biggest negative aspect of this image is the common trait of macro photography with flash: the black background. This was taken at 3:45 pm on a perfectly clear day, so certainly not dark conditions, but at f16 and 1/200 second aiming into a shadowy region underneath a tree canopy, the background received no benefit of the flash and thus dropped into darkness. Attempting to counteract this, however, I took the next one.
See? By getting much lower and picking the right pod, I could frame it against the sky and get a bit more daylight-looking conditions from the same exposure, albeit a little dark. What I traded for that was the strength of the elements, since there were few pods that could be used and achieve this background, so the pod and leaves and stem and framing were all weaker. We get a stronger sense of the color theme, but that’s about it.
So now you have both, and can decide on your own, not to mention seeing a hint of the things that go through my head when composing and selecting images. Just brimming with benefits, this post…
But what the hell, let me toss in another. Had I wanted to produce something even more natural looking, by lowering the contrast on the seed pod and getting more light from the sky, here’s what it would have taken. First, either a larger aperture, or a longer shutter speed, or both, to bring out the sky brighter – I would probably opt for longer shutter speed because a wider aperture would shorten the depth of field and might make portions of the pod softer in focus. That would probably necessitate a tripod, and either no breeze at all or a specific anchor to keep the branch itself from moving during the exposure. Then – because all of these pods were deep in shadow – I would still be using a flash, but it would have to be lower in power or more diffuse, to provide the appearance of natural sunlight in a ratio that appeared commensurate with the sky exposure – this can be done meticulously with careful light readings, or more quickly and easily by bracketing exposures. Not with the bracketing function of the camera though – that changes shutter speed and/or aperture – but with the flash power and position itself, perhaps moving it closer and further from the pod until the right light level was achieved. This of course means a highly-flexible light bracket or a separate light stand. While doing this, I would likely select a position that also mimics a natural sun angle, so higher and aiming down more. If I wanted to be really meticulous, a second flash or a reflector of some kind might be used underneath the pod to keep the shadows from becoming too dark.
There was also a very narrow window early in the morning where sunlight could actually hit these pods, but it never occurs again during the day – I could potentially make use of that, with the right sunrise conditions.
And, as mentioned earlier, I would do all this with the idea that some seed pod provided a much better appearance/layout/framing option than the one shown here. If you’re going to get elaborate for an image, it should be as strong as possible to warrant the effort.
This all provides a hint that, when you see a powerful nature image, sometimes it’s luck, right time right place and all that, but it might also be meticulous planning and an understanding of what it takes to control all of the elements (certainly better than these images illustrate.) Just something to keep in mind.