Most of the land around where I live is either forest or farmland. When the ground begins to dry out a bit from the early spring rains, the farmers begin to work their fields. They use enormous equipment to cut the hay for feed, then start plowing to prepare for planting of their summer crops.
All this farming activity usually stirs up lots of dust. And when you combine all that dust, and mix it with a steady wind throughout the course of a sunny day…it’s a perfect recipe for a colorful sunset. Then it’s just a matter of waiting for evening and hoping a few clouds will stick around to add some drama.
On the morning I took this shot, the air was cool, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the sun was shining brightly. With skies this blue, I couldn’t resist using the vivid color as a backdrop for these bright orange and yellow tulips.
To set this photo up, I adjusted the tripod to go as low to the ground as possible. I was able to then lay down in the grass behind the tripod to compose the shot.
I know I’m always promoting the use of a tripod, but if you don’t have one handy, here is an option. It’s much easier to lie on your back and look up for this kind of shot versus lying on your stomach and straining your neck and back. You’ll have to experiment with the position of your arms in order to steady the camera…but it works.
Besides, using this technique gives passersby something to talk about. Their conversation typically goes like this: “Did you see that person lying on their back looking up with a camera? What an odd position to take a photograph. They must really want that shot.”
Over the years I’ve heard a variety of humorous sayings regarding outdoor photographers.
“If you’re not sitting on the ground, you’re not a photographer.”
“You can always tell a good photographer. Their clothes are always dirty.”
Uhhh yup…folks often do look at me a little funny as I sit or lie down on the ground with camera in hand. And that’s okay because I’m creating an image that is uniquely mine. By changing my perspective or viewing angle, I feel I’m likely to create a more compelling image. And of course, there are times when I may get my pants dirty. But who cares about a little dirt anyway. Soap was invented a long time ago.
I took this photo at Longwood Gardens two weeks ago during the Celebration Of Spring Blooms.
Whenever I am in the field, I like to bracket my exposures, if time and the situation permits. One reason is to see how adjusting the amount of light the camera records affects the subject or scene. And as good as camera meters are at predicting what settings to use for a “proper” exposure, sometimes an adjustment from the recommended setting may be needed to get a preferred exposure.
To illustrate what a slight adjustment to the shutter speed can make, here are two photos of the same scene taken at the Hopewell Furnace. The photos were taken within seconds of each other, yet they are different. Neither is an incorrect or an improper exposure. As the photographer, or the viewer, it’s just a matter of personal preference.
In this series about revisiting familiar places, all of the photos were taken with ambient light. I wanted to capture the mood as it was occurring naturally, rather than adding an artificial light source.
These two shots were taken with identical settings except for the shutter speed. It was slowed by half (one full stop) which doubled the amount of light between the two shots.
In the previous post I mentioned how revisiting familiar places often will bring new discoveries. I found a few more during my latest visit to the Hopewell Furnace Historic Site.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I have walked past this doorway to the company store. But I never experienced what I did that morning.
As I peered into the room, the early morning sunlight was streaming through the old window. It may have been the time of day, or the time of the year, but the aged wood was aglow with golden light.
Ambient light from the window was the sole light source in this photograph.
Ever had these thoughts rolling through your mind?
When revisiting a familiar location or even one that has become a favorite, there are several things I like to do to keep it fresh. And to avoid falling into the been there, done that trap.
Sometimes I will limit myself to using only one lens. Or if using a zoom, I will restrict myself to one focal length. Another method is to use my tripod only at a low height. This can get hard on the knees, but a fresh perspective almost always reveals something new. These aren’t hard and fast rules I follow, but guidelines I use to get the creative juices flowing.
One of my favorite places to revisit is the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in southeastern Pennsylvania. It is an old iron making furnace that was in operation from 1771 until 1883. And was one of 20 or so furnaces in operation in Pennsylvania during the 1700’s and 1800’s.
I have been there many times, in good weather and in bad. But I always hope each visit will bring a new discovery. Because I understand the light and weather will most likely be different from my last visit.
On this particular spring morning, it was sunny and the temperatures were cool. So I spent a good part of the shoot outside photographing the buildings and old equipment used in the iron making business.
As the morning progressed, the temperatures quickly rose to what felt like summertime. I soon realized I was way over-dressed for the occasion. Knowing it always feels cooler inside the old restored buildings, that’s where I headed.
This is part of the old blast furnace. While I have been inside this building many times, I never witnessed the sunlight pouring down the chimney as it was on that morning. This photo was taken only with the available light in order to capture the golden color. Because of the long exposure needed to capture the light in this situation, the use of a tripod was an absolute necessity.
shutter 1/4 second
“Chase the light. Find the light. The magic is in the light.”
“The camera captures light, our mind captures images.”
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
In essence, these quotations all say the same thing. And I do believe light truly is the key to photography. It’s what we all try to capture on film or on a digital sensor. For me, taking a second look or finding a different vantage point to capture the light is worth the effort.
These tulips were growing in a small flower bed next to the side of a building. As I approached them, I couldn’t help notice their vivid color. However, when I sat down on the ground to get to their level, and I saw the sunlight accenting the petals from that angle…that was the moment the small grouping of flowers became even more visually impressive.
I metered this shot for the flowers rather than the overall scene. Also by slowing the shutter speed one half stop from the camera’s recommended setting, the background went dark and become under-exposed. This made the flowers really pop.
Dramatic light can occur at anytime of the day or night, and not just in the early morning, late afternoon, or immediately after a major storm passes through the area. This photo was taken a few days ago, shortly after 5:00 pm.
When we left on the doggie walk yesterday morning, I saw these tulips in our next door neighbors front garden. They were still shaded from the rising sun which really made the color pop. I had to get a few shots.
Later in the day I asked our neighbors if I could photograph them the following morning.
They said “go to it!”
I told them I wanted to ask first if it was okay that some man was crawling around in their front lawn at 7:00 am with a camera.
They said they wouldn’t have even known.
Imagine another neighbor talking to them and saying “K&J, there was a prowler crawling around in the grass right in front of your window this morning. Did you call the police?”
Glad I asked first.
I know I have mentioned this in the past, but garden centers, farmers markets and other local outdoor venues can provide a wealth of photographic opportunities. This time of year in the area where I live, garden centers are my personal favorite.
Whether I am shooting indoors in a greenhouse or outdoors in the nursery, I like to wander around a bit before I get out the camera. By really looking at the displays, I see things I may have missed had I not taken the extra time to snoop around.
This is what I would like to illustrate here. The first photo is a close up of the spring flower blossoms from an Echeveria plant. The second shot is an overall view of the whole plant as I first saw it in the greenhouse. Clearly, the first photo is more dramatic. Had I not scouted the location first, I may have passed by this beautiful plant due to the uninteresting setting and distracting background.
Spending a little more time in your surroundings before picking up the camera is worth the effort.
Photo of the flowers
Photo of the overall plant
Finding good vantage points for sunrise and sunset photos in the valley near where we live is not that difficult. Most of the small country roads criss-crossing the farms and small towns in the area eventually make their way to the rims of the valley. From these vantage points, the views can extend for miles, so it’s just a matter of waiting for the right light. And for the relentless wind to end. A good sturdy tripod is a necessity.
This time of the year, we’ve been experiencing sustained winds of 10-20+ mph and gusts to about 30mph. March came in like a lion and never left. For several nights I have witnessed magnificent skies. But with the high winds, and the real-feel temperatures in the teens, it just wasn’t practical for photographing sunsets.
Finally one night the conditions eased up a bit as the sun neared the horizon. I mounted the camera on my tripod and got a few shots of this sunset. And I didn’t even have to tie sandbags, heavy boulders, or a ship’s anchor onto the tripod to keep it from blowing away.
This shot was underexposed 1 full stop from the camera’s recommended setting in order to intensify the color a bit.