As a professional photographer I spend quite a lot of my time with my face behind a lens. There's always a photo there. People often say to me, 'nothing much to photograph here'. But there always is, you just have to look.
At last this week we had a decent frost. I gathered my kit into my car, threw on a few layers of clothes (-3 not great but could be worse) and headed off to a garden I have been waiting to photograph for a few years (yes, sometimes it is a waiting game and you have to be patient).
When I arrived, the light was good but as the minutes ticked by it got better. Not bright, gentle filtered light through hazy clouds. In January, after a lousy, windy, wet, winter (and pretty similar summer to be fair) gardens have had a rough ride. As I approached this garden I wondered if the owner would have cut back the seed heads which looked so magical just a few weeks before. I suspected that he might have - but I was in for a surprise.
'They were all there, spangled with frost and sparkling in the hazy, dawn sun.'
I had worked out a lot of the shots I wanted to take from previous visits, but when you get to a location, it all depends on what's there, the light and just what works. After getting the main 'garden' shots I work on the profile shots of key plants. By now, my fingers were frozen, I was cold and unfortunately a minor problem with my tripod turned out to be a real glitch and it wouldn't hold the camera still. A must for this kind of work. Improvisation is the key here, it's happened before and it's not worth packing up and going home, because if the light is good and the subject is good you may not get this opportunity again.
In the past, I have improvised a macro lens, shot a garden with a tripod that turned into a bipod (I lost a leg somewhere, I seem to have trouble with tripods) and now the central column didn't lock. Not great, very irritating, but I wasn't giving up (even though I felt like throwing it under a truck, not for the first time).
So how do you shoot great profile shots - with well-behaving equipment?
You need the gear. A macro lens, a tripod this is important, buy a tripod that is sturdy, don't skimp because they may have to carry a heavy camera and even heavier lens which needs to be kept stock still.
Here's my equipment list:
Canon 5D MkII
Canon macro EF100 F2.8
Manfrotto tripod 055XPROB with,
a Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head (which I find easiest to use for my work)
Ok, this is why I love what I do, because things like this happen...
So how did this happen?
There were lots more seed heads behind and this made the backdrop. I love using a natural backdrop.
The sun was filtering through clouds (at about 2 o'clock to this shot). Filtering light into the lens.
These were my camera settings:
Shutter speed 1/125
ISO 400 (racked this up as it had started to get breezy)
Oh yes, and manual focus-this it the key- I focussed on about 3/4 of the way up at the papery seed head.
The whole seed head is shot at an angle-better composition than straight up and down-this is where a tripod is invaluable.
I took several shots because the seed head was moving in a light breeze- and...I needed to get the shot.
Here's the message:
-don't be afraid to shoot into the light, use the light, experiment, don't listen to all the received wisdom...experiment
-Look at something like this - fairly unspectacular - and see it through your lens, with a narrow depth of field to blur the background and watch the magic unfold.
-If you are not sure what depth of field to use (aperture) try several....I do!
-Use a faster ISO, what's better, getting a great shot or having a blurred shot? Again, ignore received wisdom. -Set you're ISO at the lowest you can afford. GET THAT BIT? The lowest you can afford. These days you can go to higher ISO's without losing clarity. Experiment. You won't regret it.
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