flowers, photography · Techniques

Belated Flower of the Week – Lensbaby Dahlia

This week’s flower is a little late – a week and a bit late to be almost precise. I have no excuse other than that I have been busy by the seaside visiting relatives in West Wales which is a glorious place to visit. But better late than never and this week’s flower is a dahlia – again – but with a difference: this one is an ex-dahlia, a dahlia that is no more, a dahlia that has much in common with Monty Python’s famous Norwegian Blue parrot. I left this dahlia in its vase while we were away hoping that it would die in an artistic way so I could capture it once I got home and make something out of it – and here is the result. It played the part very well:

dahlia 1

In order to play up the fragile and beautiful nature of the almost extinct bloom, I used my Lensbaby lens and then added a lacy texture in post production. It seems a lot of work – but it’s really not.

The lensbaby lens is a crucial part of this process so I’ll just tell you a little bit more about it and how it works in case you’re not familiar with the company. I use a Lensbaby Composer Pro II with a Sweet 50 Optic . The Sweet 50 is a fabulously versatile optic. In essence, it is a 50mm lens but what is different about it is the way it handles focus. Locked and pointing straight forward (yes, it bends – more on that in a  minute), it will give a sweet spot of focus in the centre of the frame the size of which depends on the aperture you choose. At f2, the sweet spot is the smallest and at f16, it’s not a whole lot different from a normal 50mm lens although not as sharp. The point of this lens is the selective focus that you can use for creative purposes. As an example, here is a trio of photos to hopefully show the difference a Lensbaby lens makes:

lansbaby examples

Shot with an ‘ordinary lens’ at 85mm showing softness at the edges due to the wide aperture.

lansbaby examples-2

Shot with the same camera, same distance but focal length of 50mm, same flowers but now you can see a rapid fall off and distortion of the focus while the small centre area remains sharp.

lansbaby examples-4

Taken with the Lensbaby and an extension tube to allow me to get in closer so I can highlight the texture of the centre of the flower but allow the petals to fall away and out of focus. Most of my lensbaby shots are portraits of single flowers so I make regular use of a set of very cheap (about £20) extension tubes from that very famous interweb auction site. Extension tubes don’t have glass in them so cheap ones can be just as good as the more expensive ones – and I focus manually for this kind of shot so have no use for AF extension tubes which also keeps the cost very low.

What makes the Lensbaby even more useful as a creative tool is that you can bend the lens (imagine a concertina section halfway down the lens – a bit like a bendy bus) and move the ‘sweet spot’ of focus to wherever in the frame you want it to be. You’ll notice that in my dahlia picture, I have moved it towards the top of the shot to pick out those few remaining petals that haven’t withered. These lenses take some getting to know but once you’re there, you can start to abuse the possibilities. Flowers are my subject of choice but I have seen some very good street photography using Lensbaby lenses, and some fabulous, artistic silhouettes by Hengki Lee . Their use is limited only by your imagination.

But back to the dahlia – – another wonderful thing about Lensbaby lenses is that there is often little to no post production needed (apart from converting the RAW file) which appeals to me enormously. Once the shot was in my computer, I took it through to PS Elements 14, added a ‘texture’ as a layer, sampled a colour from the texture and then used it as I brushed away some of the texture from the flower and vase without removing the overall colour, and that was about it.

Next week I’ll go through the process of adding a texture in a little more detail for anyone who is interested but, like me, is a reluctant I.T. user. I promise you it’s very easy – or I wouldn’t be doing it 😉

Until then . . .

flowers, photography

Weekly Flower – 7: multiple exposures

This week I had another dahlia burst into bloom in my garden. I can’t recall the name of this one but its an impressive thing, that’s for sure. I’m sure you can see why it immediately made me think of flames! However, it also put me in mind of a technique I had seen in an online course I took recently on creating ‘Painterly’ flower shots with Kathleen Clemons. I thought this might be a good subject to try it out on.

The idea is simple and indeed, I had read about it in an older book in which it described the technique, and detailed how to do it on film cameras. ‘Thank goodness for digital cameras’, is my response to that!

Here’s how it works: look in your camera’s shooting menu and look for something that suggests you can take multiple exposures. If you’re not sure look in your camera manual. Set it to take 3 exposures at first – although some cameras allow many more shots. The idea is that your camera will now take three shots on top of each other and then blend them together. Get ready to take your first shot but before you do, pay attention to where your centre focus cross or square is sitting. Now, take the shot. Assuming that you are using the landscape orientation, turn your camera by 45 degrees – or in other words, halfway between landscape and portrait. Now make sure your central focus square is roughly where it was for the first shot. Take your second shot. Now turn your camera another 45 degrees so that it is fully in portrait orientation. Again, get that focus point in roughly the same area and take your third shot. Once the third shot has been taken, the fairies inside the camera will combine the three shots and give you something fabulous. If not, negotiate with the fairies within and try again. It may be that you haven’t set your camera correctly, or that you accidentally set it for fewer of more than three shots. If you find you cannot take multiple shots in-camera, you can replicate this method in PS or other software programs by duplicating the image so you have three or more copies, and then using the ‘move’ tool to turn the copies a little more each time (you will have to work out how far you need to turn each one to keep it consistent). You will then need to play with opacity of each layer to get it looking right. As a rough guide, try 1/however many copies you are using. If you are using the three, set the opacity of each one to about 33% and work from there. I prefer to capture as much as possible in-camera so my instruction there for PS are very rough and ready.

So, here are three shots to show how it looks when it’s all done. In this case, I think the technique emphasised the flame-like qualities of the flower. You may have to try several subjects to find one that it works well for but have a go – and have fun with it!

Shot 1 – the straight flower shot using a 105mm macro lens

dahlia flames single-

Shot 2 – same lens but using the three exposures to bring out the ‘flames’

dahlia flames single 105-6527

Shot 3 – same flower, different lens. This time I shot the three exposures but with a Lensbaby lens to soften the flames as they reached the edge of the frame

dahlia flames-6517

Now to come up with something fancy-pantsy for next week’s flower of the week 🙂 . . .

flowers, photography

Choices, Choices . . .

If I cast my mind back a year or so, I wouldn’t have dreamed of using anything ‘artificial’ on a photograph. I enjoyed getting really sharp shots of flowers so I could see the tiny details.


Then I began to look at work by photographers such as Kathleen Clemons and Denise Love (2 L’il Owls) and there was something about their treatment of flower shots that brought forward the essence of the flower – the romance of the flower. So, I began experimenting with textured finishes and realised that by using various effects, I could produce something far closer to what I had seen through my rose-tinted spectacles. And the more I experiment, the more I like the finished product. However, that doesn’t make any difference to the importance of getting as much as possible right in-camera which includes lens choice, choices of angles, choice of aperture etc etc.

This week’s flower of the week is a dahlia. A particularly striking pink dahlia from my garden. Now, the first thing that struck me about this dahlia was its symmetry – and that the flowers are actually really heavy. In this case, its essence didn’t seem to be about anything fragile or delicate but rather about how bold and striking it was. That being the case, I chose to use a dedicated macro lens, the Sigma 105 macro. I shot at f6.3 to give it some depth of detail and show off that symmetry and I shot at 1/125 second on a fairly still day to keep it sharp. I also chose to face the flower more or less straight at the camera, again to emphasise that symmetry.

deep pink dahlia-1

However, I kept on looking at this flower and as well as being quite striking, it’s still very fragile and delicate. I am always amazed at what can grow from a tiny seed and what the odds must be against that tiny seed managing to grow into something so complicated with so many chances to fail along the way. But, my choices above don’t really show that side of the flower.

For the next shot, I used the same camera and lens but I opened the aperture a little to f4 which meant I needed to slow down the shutter and as the light had also changed in between, I ended up shooting at 1\80. The slightly larger aperture allowed the focus to start falling off noticeably thereby softening the whole image. I also shot from the side to make the flower look less bold and I included the little bud that seems to be shyly dipping its head. Once I had converted the raw file, I then took it into photoshop and added a layer of texture by Jai Johnson in a sympathetic shade to soften everything a little further. I then did a little further work to the blend mode and opacity of the texture until I had found the mood I was trying to create. All in all I felt that by now, the flower looked far more delicate and romantic – far from the very clear and strking image above:


So there you have it: the same flower, same camera, same lens but different creative choices. I did notice that where I have posted these shots online, the first one has drawn comments that note is as ‘striking’ where the texture edit is more often referred to as ‘so pretty’ which sort of tells me I did the job I was trying to do which was to take one object and apply deliberate creative choices to affect the mood of the shot and sway the viewer to a particular way of seeing.

And the other bonus is that when you play around like this, you learn an awful lot about your own gear and what it can do with a few tweaks 🙂

Until next week . . .

flowers, photography

Weekly Flower Shot

It’s Dahlia time. There’s just something about Dahlias that is perhaps equalled only by Rudbeckias. Put either of those two flowers with a Lensbaby and it has to be a winner.

This particular Dahlia bloomed in my garden a couple of days ago and by the time it was fully open, the curly petals were gorgeous. I wanted to capture that swirly, delicate nature of the bloom and what better tool to do that with than a Lensbaby Composer Pro II with a Sweet 50 optic. I also got to thinking about Ted Grant’s statement that goes something like this:

“When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

Now he is clearly talking about people – but when you photograph a single flower, I think you approach it in pretty much the same way as you would for a head and shoulders portrait. Ted Grant thought that to photograph people in colour would mean that those colours would draw the eyes away from the essence of the person: we would look at the colours rather than scrutinising the character that lies in the finer features of the person’s face.  I decided to give it a go with this particular shot to see if it worked and I certainly noticed that once I had stripped the colour, my eye was drawn first to the contours of the petals which is, I think, what gives this flower its character. If the colour is there, I am drawn straight away to the streaks of deep pink leading to the bright yellow centre and only then, maybe to the outer countours.

So, in the end, I have the unprocessed version, which I like – the processed version with a few tweaks and a little bit of texture added, which I like – and a black and white version, which I like! So, that’s takes me to the next dilemma of deciding which version is the ‘final’ one. Well, I guess that decides on whoever may be looking at it.

And that’s art for you 🙂

As a final word, if you like this kind of dreamy, soft focus effect on flowers, you really should google Kathleen Clemons and take a look at her work. Stunning!!

dahlia bwThe Black and White Version


dahlia rawThe Unprocessed Version (processed only to convert raw to jpeg)


dahliaThe Colour Version with added texture (processed in Topaz Texture Effects 2)