I’m always telling my workshop students that there are pictures everywhere, that we’re only limited by our ability to see them. How many shots have we just walked by because we were so focused on the larger world, or because we were simply distracted by life? But sometimes I need to be reminded to listen to my own words.
Last week in Yosemite I gave my group a couple of hours to explore the dogwood blooming above and beside the Merced River near the Pohono Bridge. After a brief orientation, I told everyone to be back at the cars by 5:00, then set them free. A few minutes before 5:00 I was back at my car waiting for the others to return; as I started to pack up my gear I noticed a single dogwood suspended no more than fifteen feet from the road. The breeze had eased somewhat, and I already had my 100-400 lens on my camera, so I figured, what the heck.
I started by setting up my composition, positioning myself so the branch moved diagonally from one corner of the frame to the other, and zooming as close as possible to eliminate peripheral distractions and soften background distractions. I placed the bloom in one of the rule-of-thirds “hot-spots,” and raised my tripod to allow a downward view into the flower’s still intact central cluster (older dogwood blooms tend to look raggedy at their center, but this one was still nice). I spot-metered on the bright flower, setting my exposure to one stop over a middle tone—the flower was actually a little brighter than this, so slightly underexposing like this set the bright flower against a nice dark background. With everything else in place I live-view focused on the central cluster.
I started with f5.6 (the lens’s widest aperture at that focal length), but quickly realized that focused as close as I was, the background was still nicely blurred at smaller apertures. So for the next five minutes or so I kept my composition but dialed in different apertures in (mostly) one stop increments. This is one of the things I love most about photographing with a tripod, this ability refine an earlier shot without having to reconstruct the composition each time. In this case I just counted f-stop/shutter dial clicks without even looking through my view finder before snapping the next frame: 3 clicks (one stop) less f-stop light + 3 clicks more shutter speed light. When I got concerned about the breeze, I replaced my shutter speed adjustment with an ISO adjustment. As I worked the rest of the group started to tickle in and I was able to share my process with those who were interested (I love the large LCDs and live-view for training).
When I got my images on my big screen at home I had a dozen or so versions of the same composition to select between, each with a different f-stop, shutter, ISO combination (but all with the same exposure). I selected this one because it’s sharp (a few images suffered from slight wind blur), and it has the best combination of foreground DOF and background blur. (The soft circles in the background are distant flowers and backlit leaves.)
Based on “Likes” and comments, these intimate scenes are rarely as popular as the vivid, dramatic landscapes, but in many ways the make me happier because they’re an opportunity to rally my creative and logical instincts toward an image that’s uniquely mine. And it’s these little scenes that make me wonder how many images I’ve left behind simply because I was too lazy to set up my camera, was focused elsewhere, or simply just in a hurry to move on.