Starburst

Starburst

Here’s another photo that was directly inspired by my friend Julie and a recent post on her blog called Glow in the Dark. She posted a picture of a white and yellow flower (can’t you tell by now that I know nothing at all about horticulture?) against a dark green background and I was instantly struck by it. Hers was also taken from a low angle which helped give the subject a bit more presence and prominence in the frame, which I thought was a really cool way to frame her shot. I went out not to duplicate her photo, but to take something similar. My rules were:

1. It had to be a flower
2. It had to be centered in the frame
3. It had to stand in stark contrast to the background

This sounds easy, and for many of you it probably is, but for me it was a bit tricky since things are so bright and sunny here in Oklahoma. It’s not like Minnesota where there’s tall pine trees everywhere you turn–here it’s more like tall prairie grass as far as the eye can see :) That makes rule #3 a bit tough since everything is lit up so much during the day. Of course one easy solution to this is to take pics early or late in the day, or on an overcast day, or in the shade. Well, as a married guy with a full time job and two kids I don’t have a lot of control over some of these circumstances so I had to make do with the shady option, and as luck would have it I found this flower on a tree about 50 yards from my building at work. Woohoo!

My only regret here is that the depth of field is a tad too shallow. I shot this at f/1.8 because I wanted a super bokehlicious background, but it wasn’t until I saw this in Lightroom that I realized the error of my ways: the flower was so thick that the colored parts of the petals were in focus but the edges of the flower were not. I’m not a big fan of this and wish I would have taken my own advice (tl;dr: don’t use f/1.8 unless you really really need to) and shot at f/2.8, but all’s well that ends well and I’m kind of getting used to the blurry edges of the petals now. It’s not ideal, but it does lend a bit of an otherworldly quality to this shot of a flower.

Comments

  1. Very interesting that three of the leaf tips are in focus, while the flower edges are more dreamy. Wonder how that worked? Did you use a single focus point or something different? And, it is a perfect star shape!! Nice!

    • Good question, Marsha. The answer lies in the depth of field: shooting super close to the flower at a large aperture of f/1.8 means the focal plane was very very shallow. If you were to look at this from directly above you would see a thin plane where everything is in focus that goes vertically through the leaf tips and the center of the flower. Everything in front or behind that plane would be blurry, and since the flower edges are just outside the focal plane they appeared blurry.

  2. Simon —
    Nice! Thank you for illustrating the effect of an aperture set at 1.8. Indeed, taking the picture with the aperture at 2.8 would have put the entire flower in focus. However, would you have lost any of the background bokeh? Obviously yes — to a degree. But, what degree? Can you enlighten the masses?

    • Good question, David! To give you a bit of a rough example, here’s a few shots of my water bottle with my bike helmet in the background. The first is f/1.8, the second at f/2.8, and the third at f/4. Stopping down from f/1.8 to f/2.8 really does have a noticeable impact on the overall depth of field.

      http://imgur.com/a/tEecY

      • Bravo!!!! Clearly (no pun intended) you were ready for this kind of question! The three photos do illustrate the change in depth of field. I never thought that there would be discernible bokeh at f/4. But, there is quite a bit. I want to thank you for putting this site up and helping us learn more about our cameras.

        • No problem at all, David! I’m glad the information on here is useful to you :)

          And just as a side note, the amount of bokeh is affected not only by the aperture, but by the focal length as well as the distance you are from your subject and your subject is from the background. It’s a lot to think about, but the bottom line is you can get good bokeh from just about any lens (except super wide angle lenses) if you know how to adjust things.

          For instance, I just re-took the same image but moved my bike helmet about 10 feet away. The top picture is at f/4 and you can see there is a lot of background blur, but then I took another one at f/1.8 and there is way, way more blur. And this is with a 50mm focal length–things would change dramatically if I composed similar shots with a longer or shorter lens. It’s enough to make your head spin!

          http://imgur.com/a/WX1I4

          • Simon…the top one at f/4?!?!?! Wow! Just by moving the helmet another 10 feet away! I definitely have a lot more work to do to learn about the interplay of aperture, focal length and distance. Wheeewwww!!!!

            • It sure is a weird concept to wrap your head around, David :) I can’t remember if you said you have a Prime lens or a kit lens, but if you want to play around with bokeh and blurry backgrounds one easy trick is to put your camera relatively close to the subject and use a background that is very far away. Even with smaller apertures you can still get some blurry backgrounds :)

  3. This turned out lovely Simon, I like the softness around the edges of the petals, and the blur in the background.
    It was a common daisy that was in my photo, by the way. :) And thanks for the shout out, I’m honored that that my humble, ammeter photography ever inspires anything. ;)

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