If you read my last post, you know I have been frustrated by not having time to go out and shoot. I’m still pretty busy with other stuff, but did find a few hours last Thursday to sneak out with the camera. The evening sky was partially overcast with light clouds, which provided a nice diffuse, low-contrast light. The air as still. A perfect evening for macro flower shots. Luckily, I live less than two miles from one of the nicest dahlia and rose gardens in the Puget Sound region. I grabbed the gear and headed over to Point Defiance Park.
As I was entering the gate to the garden (the garden is surrounded by a 10-foot tall fence to keep the deer out), a gardener was coming out. She told me they had just dead-headed the whole garden and it was in prime condition. I couldn’t have picked a better time. The dahlia blooms did look like they were in their prime, as were most the roses. I set up the tripod, slapped on a 100-mm macro lens and some extension tubes and lost myself in the work. Perfect!
I wasn’t the only photographer there that night, there were three portrait photographers in the garden, two doing senior-high photos and one was shooting two young children (I don’t envy that poor photog). They were making money, and may or may not being enjoying their work. I was not making money, it is highly unlikely I will ever sell any of the images I made that night, instead I was enjoying my craft and saving my sanity.
Occasionally, there was the slightest breath of a breeze, slightly moving the blossoms. I turned up the ISO a couple stops to keep the shutter speed less than a second, and kept on shooting. I ended up shooting for about two hours until the light started fading and the exposure times became increasing long. It was the perfect antidote to my pent-up need to create.
April in the Skagit Valley is one on the photographic highlights of Washington State. April is when the tulip and daffodil fields west of Mount Vernon are in bloom (actually, the daffodils typically start blooming in March). These fields, and the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, attract big crowds – and, therefore, I’ve avoided them for years (actually I did photograph some of the early daffodil fields a few years back, visiting at non-busy time). However, I did venture up to the fields last Friday – and wow, was I missing out by not going earlier. Actually, I picked a good day. It was rainy in Seattle and Tacoma, but not too bad up in Mount Vernon, and the weather may have kept the crowds down (being a weekday also helped). There still were plenty of people, just not the mobs the flowers attract like bees on sunny weekends.
Here’s a quick report:
- best time to go – go now! The tulips are at their peak. The early tulips have already been headed (the growers de-head the tulips to prevent disease and promote bulb growth, and the longer you wait, the more flowers will be de-headed), the mid-season tulips are in full bloom, and the late-season ones are just starting. Most the daffodil fields are long-past their prime, though a few still have decent flowers.
- best display garden – Roozengaarde. There are two major tulip growers in the valley, Roozengaarde (a division of Washington Bulb) and Tulip Town. Both have display gardens. Roozengaarde’s is larger and better developed. There is an entry fee of $5 – well worth it. This fee also gets you into their tulip field across the road. Roozengaarde’s other tulip fields, elsewhere in valley, are free to visit.
- best tulip field – Tulip Town. Behind the display garden at Tulip Town is relatively small tulip field, but one packed with lots of colors and varieties. Most the other tulip fields in the valley are very large, and though they may have several varieties of tulips, it’s difficult to get more than a couple of varieties into a single image. No such problem at Tulip Town. Another big advantage at Tulip Town is two red barns next to the field that make good backgrounds. Like Roozengaarde, there is a $5 entry fee.
- weather – it rains a lot in the area in April, you just have to work with it. Sunny days (like today) are great, but not very predictable unless you have a flexible schedule. You can make great photos on cloudy days, or even in the rain (as long it is not a downpour).
- footwear – the fields are muddy – extremely muddy if it has rained lately. Wear boots. I wore hiking boots; many people had rubber bo0ts.
- pets – of course, Tanya and I had Carson with us. Dogs are not allowed in the display garden at Roozengaarde or in Tulip Town, but are allowed in most the fields. Carson had a great time laying in mud puddles.
- parking – the entrance fee to Roozengaarde also pays for parking at their fields – assuming the parking lots are open (they close if it is too muddy). There is also a parking lot at Tulip Town. Otherwise, you will need to park on the road. Be warned: if any part of your car is across the marking the edge of the road, you will get ticketed. The local cops were out in force when we were there.
Wind is often the bane of nature photographers. We are often photographing in fairly low light conditions at sunrise or sunset, and often want a wide depth of field, so end up using small f-stops. Most of us know that using high ISOs leads to objectionable digital noise. These conditions all combine to require a slow shutter speed. So what do you do if there is a breeze moving your foreground around. Not a problem with rocks as a foreground, but what about wildflowers?
The above photo of the Tatoosh Range was taken at Paradise on the Golden Gate trail last month shortly before sunset. To get both the flowers and the mountains in acceptable focus, I took one shot with the aperture at set f/16 and the ISO at 100. This resulted in a shutter speed of 4 seconds (I also used a split neutral density filter). There was a breeze and it was impossible to get a frame without some movement in the flowers.
I then shot another image with the aperture at f/11 and the ISO set to 1250. This allowed the shutter speed to be 1/8 seconds. This was enough to stop most of the flower movement; but as you might imagine, the noise was unacceptable.
To get the above image, I processed both photos in Lightroom and imported them into Photoshop. I used the low ISO image as the background layer, then added the high ISO image in a new layer and added a layer mask filled with black (making none of the high ISO image visible). Then, using a soft brush, I painted white on the mask wherever the flowers were soft due to movement from the breeze. The end result is the image above. Below are close two closeups that show the before and after effects of painting the high ISO image onto the low ISO one.
This technique to stop the wind doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can save a shot.
Earlier this week, Tanya,, Carson and I went camping for three days at La Wis Wis near White Pass. I took the opportunity to drive up to Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park for one sunset and one sunrise. Though it looked like they were slightly past their prime, the wildflowers were incredible at Paradise. If you want to see them this year, you best get up there fast.
For my sunset shots, I hiked from the visitor center eastward on the Skyline Trail then partly up the Golden Gate Trail. The flowers were great on the Golden Gate Trail, but the view of Rainier is partially obstructed by a ridge. Luckily for me, the view of the Tatoosh Range to the south put on a good alpenglow show.
The next morning, after arriving at Paradise at 5:45 a.m. (no trouble finding parking at that time!), I headed north on the Skyline Trail to Glacier Vista, then back to the visitor center via the Deadhorse Creek and Waterfall Trails. Again, great flowers, but also more unobstructed views of Rainier (the featured photo above is of Rainier from the Deadhorse Creek Trail). Unfortunately, there wasn’t much color in the sunrise. However, low-lying clouds below Paradise made for some good shots.
Anyway, I just wanted to post a few photos from the trip to show you why they call it Paradise!
Monday, Tanya, Carson and I returned from a 4-day weekend on the Oregon coast. I’ll post some photos of that trip soon, as I haven’t had a chance to download them all yet. Meanwhile, I wanted to post about another day trip to Seattle last week. Since we are in the prime spring blooming season for azaleas and rhododendrons, I wanted to photograph Kubota Garden and the Washington Park Arboretum.
It was my first visit to Kubota Gardens, though I had heard many good things about it. It is a wonderful little park, about 20 acres (8 hectares) filled with a blend of Japanese and Pacific Northwest gardening styles. Fujitaro Kubota, an early 20-century immigrant from Japan, developed the garden for his personal pleasure and to serve his landscaping business. In 1972 Kubota received the Fifth Class Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Japanese Government for his efforts introducing Japanese gardening to the United States. Kubota died a year later. When the garden was later threatened with development, the garden was declared a Historical Seattle Landmark and the City eventually purchased the property from the Kubotafamily. This place is definitely worth a visit.
I had been to Washington Park Arboretum before, but it has been about 30 years (back in my college days). The arboretum is jointly administered by the University of Washington and the City of Seattle. The arboretum is also home the Seattle Japanese Garden, which because of photography restrictions (no tripods except by becoming a “photographic member” and then only on 8 special days per year), I did not visit on this trip. Regardless, there was plenty to see in the rest of the arboretum. Azalea Way is the main path through the arboretum, and indeed it does have lots of few azaleas and rhodies along it. I spent most the visit along this path taking photos of the blooms.
Near the end of my visit, I was walking back to the car along Azalea Way hoping to get a shot of the path lined with colorful flowers. Even though there were lots of flowers, finding the right spot for this shot wasn’t as easy as I hoped (I wanted a shot with flowers on both side and the path curving – there weren’t too many spots like this). Finally I found a spot I thought might work. I stepped off to the side to take a shot. At this point I noticed a shirtless man sitting on a park bench about 25 to 30 yards (23 – 27 meters) away a short distance off the path. I really didn’t want him in the photo, but figured it added a bit of human interest and he would not be prominently visible in the frame (as I was using a wide-angle lens).
As I put the camera to my eye to line up a composition, the man on the bench stood up. I lowered the camera, not wanting him standing in the shot. He then proceeded to pull on some black shorts; he was not only topless, he was bottomless as well! (I had previously noticed his bare legs, but I had thought he was wearing shorts.) After pulling his shorts on, he quickly jogged straight at me, stopping about 5 feet (1.5 meters) away.
Though he was taller than me and probably outweighed me by 30 or 40 pounds (14-18 kilograms), he puffed himself up threateningly and sternly asked what the hell I was doing. I answered that I had not taken a picture. He said, “I made eye contact with you and you ignored it!” to which I thought “probably because I wasn’t looking at you and didn’t even want you in my photo in the first place.” Again I said I had not taken his photo, and again he ignored my response. He called me an obscene name, and again asked why I was taking his photo, and again I said I did not. He made a few other choice comments, and we sort of stared at each other a while longer. He finally said not to take any more photos. I said I wouldn’t and we both walked off. However, I couldn’t help but think, if he’s sunbathing in the nude next to a popular walking trail in a city of 600,000 people, why does he care if someone takes his picture? I still want the shot, but thought better of it and moved on down the path.
A short distance further, I actually found a better spot for the photo I wanted (with the added bonus of no naked men). Here’s a few photos from the trip, minus any naked men; the featured photo above is of the Moon Bridge in Kubota Gardens.
I wanted to label this post “Weather Forecasts Suck” but thought that was too self-evident. I’ve been trying to take a day off from my day job for the past 2 week to go out and do some photography. Unfortunately, I keep making the mistake of looking at the weather forecast.
Yesterday was the perfect example, the forecast called for 50% chance of rain, thunderstorms likely. So instead of taking the day off, I went to work. Sure enough, it did rain a bit in the morning, but then it stopped and the sun came out. Most of the day was partly cloudy, and it didn’t rain again until after the sun set. All in all, not much rain, no thunderstorms, and not too bad of conditions for photography (though the sunset was totally lacking). The spring weather foiled me again!
I keep reminding myself, that western Washingtonians need forget about the rain, or they will never go outside. So tomorrow, I’m taking the day off, rain or shine. In case you are curious, the forecast for tomorrow from the Weather Channel’s webpage: “Clouds and limited sunshine with the possibility of some scattered showers during the afternoon. High 53F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%. “
Just so I could post a photo or two, I did take the camera out in the yard yesterday evening to get a few spring flower shots. These were all taken with my Canon 100mm macro lens.
In another break from the Southwest series of posts, I recently spent several hours with the Mountaineers at the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle. My friend and fellow photographer Gerald Reed led the trip several weeks back in mid-November. This trip gave me a chance to practice with my macro work, which I don’t do nearly enough. I use a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens with or without a set of extension tubes. Using natural light through the conservatory windows, a tripod was necessary for these shots, particularly on the cloudy, rainy day we were there. However, that cloudy sky did provide a nice light without a lot of contrast to work with. Luckily the conservatory allows tripods on weekdays (we were there on a Wednesday).
Macro photography is a different world. It’s amazing what things look like when you really get in really close. It takes a practiced eye to spot good compositions when looking at a greenhouse full of plants, particularly when looking for composition of several inches or less.
The other challenge with macro work is depth of field. Even with small apertures, the depth of field is amazingly small. For example, with my 100mm lens set to f/16, if I’m shooting from 10 feet (3 meters) away from my subject (which I normally wouldn’t do for macro work, normally I’d be much closer), the depth of field is 1.81 feet (55 centimeters). However, if I am shooting from only 1 feet (30.5 centimeters), a much more typical distance when doing macro work, the depth of field at f/16 is only 0.15 inches (3.8 millimeters). Move 25% closer, to 0.75 feet (22.9 centimeters), and the depth of field drops more than 50%, to 0.07 inches (1.8 millimeters). (I used the equations provided by DOFMaster for these calculations. The DOFMaster website also contains a convenient, on-line depth of field calculator for larger working distances.)
The extremely small depth of field makes focusing very critical – you purposely need to think about where to focus and how the composition will look with potentially large areas of the frame out of focus. If you try this type of photography, play around with your aperture to see what different results you can get (as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’m an habitual bracketer, including bracketing by aperture). By choosing a large aperture, you can force most everything out of focus to create more “artsy” images. Or go for a larger depth of field with a small aperture (though with very small apertures, you lose sharpness as well; though my macro lens goes down to f/32, I almost never use that aperture because it is so unsharp). If you want a wider depth of field that even a small aperture can’t give, you may have to give up magnification and back up from the subject to increase the depth of field.
In macro photography, your subject needs to hold still. Even using fast shutter speeds to freeze movement, this is true because of the limited depth of field. It’s very easy for a flower moving in the breeze, or a wandering bug on that flower, to move outside the depth of field. This is why I am so impressed with all those photographers who get great macro shots of insects. That’s why, as a relative beginner to macro work, I like working with plants – they don’t move on their own accord. A conservatory makes it even easier, no natural breezes to deal with.
Last month, I blogged about the lavender fields in Sequim, Washington; about how they weren’t quite ready for prime time even though the annual Lavender Festival was at hand. I was up in Sequim the past several days for the annual Becker family campout, held this year at Sequim Bay State Park. Being so close to the lavender fields again, I decided to make a second visit to see what another month had brought.
There was definitely much more lavender blooming than a month earlier. However, it appeared that all the farms have started harvesting the blooms, some more than others. Some fields are completely flowerless. Others are in full bloom. Still there were many good photo opportunities to be had. The Purple Haze farm we visited in July had many cut fields, but did have other fields in bloom, as well as many other flowers. We were not able to visit the Jardin du Soleil farm, the other farm we visited in July, as it was temporarily closed. However, from the road, its fields looked in good shape. By just driving around north of town, we found and stopped at four or five other farms as well.
Many of the farms are currently distilling lavender oil. At the Port Williams farm, Tanya and I learned about lavender farming, how the oil is distilled, what products are made from it, as well as other interesting facts. For example, we learned the lavender is not irrigated, because it creates more oil when it is water stressed, and that humans are the only animals to eat lavender.
Overall, it was definitely worth doing the lavender redux. You might try it as well if you find yourself in the Sequim area.
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you know we are not having a typical summer. It’s been generally much cooler than normal. This weather pattern has affected a lot around here. For example, August is usually prime wildflower season at Paradise on Mount Rainier. But currently, there is still snow on the ground there (check out the Paradise webcam). Summer flowers down here in the lowlands have been another casualty – there are less of them and they are blooming late.
However, even though the temperature is rarely getting above 75 degrees this year in Tacoma, there are some flowers out there. Last Tuesday I went with the Tacoma Mountaineers Photo group to the gardens at Point Defiance Park. The roses are blooming very well right now. The dahlias are wonderful now too – some of the earliest dahlias are starting to fade, the late dahlias are starting to bloom, and the mid-season dahlia are in their prime. I’m sure the fuchsia garden was doing well too, though I was so busy with the other flowers, I’d didn’t have time to get over there Tuesday night. So if you like taking flower images, it’s a good time to go to the park.
I meant to report on the state of the lavender fields up in Sequim, Washington after my trip there last week, but got caught up in preparing for the Art on the Ave, which was held last Sunday. I’ve wanted to photograph the Sequim lavender fields for years, and finally made time to do it. I was able to visit the Purple Haze lavender farm and the Jardin du Soleil farm. Unfortunately, our seasonally cool weather this spring and early summer defeated me again – at least partially. I did come away with a few nice photographs, as you can see by the images illustrating this blog entry, but not with shots I was really looking for.
The Lavender Festival is coming up this weekend. It is always the 3rd weekend in July, supposedly timed with peak bloom. Well, peak bloom is late this year. There is some lavender blooming, but a lot of it still needs several weeks of summer to reach full bloom. The early varieties were blooming nicely last week, and probably are still doing so this week. But most of the fields are planted with later blooming varieties, which were showing much yet (at least last week they weren’t).
So when will peak bloom be this year? No one is sure, but I doubt it will be this weekend. I spoke with one of the employees at Purple Haze about when they thought the peak would be. Their best guess was toward the end of July, or even possibly into early August. My best advice, which of course I didn’t follow when I went up there last week, is to check out Purple Haze’s webcam. However, don’t wait too long, the lavender gets picked after it blooms; and with the late bloom this year, I imagine they may want to not wait too long to pick it.