flowers, photography · Techniques

Flower Time – textures

Late again!

Since I last posted, the season has slipped from Summer to Autumn, and with it came the colder weather. That being the case, it seemed wise to spend some time with my computer extending on what I had learned about applying textures to photographs to get a more arty and painterly look. I think that this kind of approach to photography is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or you hate it – but I am more than happy to accept it as another facet of the art. And it does seem well so suited to floral photography too.

If I am thinking in terms of a ‘fine art’ approach when I set out t take photographs, then I have that in mind when I am choosing a subject and making choices re composition that may be the opposite to what wold normally be acceptable choices. Textures work well with soft focus and lots of negative space whereas a ‘normal’ flower shot would benefit from sharp focus and a full frame. So here are a couple of ‘before’ and ‘after’ examples:

In both cases, I composed with the subject slightly to one side and with that negative space to show off the texture. I haven’t done very much to the original captures other than to add one or more textures to add to the background.

So, if you haven’t tried this approach, I can thoroughly recommend it. I cannot draw or paint – but adding textured to photographs I have taken allows me that extra layer of artistic choices and allows me to arrive at something that is very much my own creation.

This can be achieved quite easily in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements (PSE – I use PSE 14). I do some very basic editing – tone, crop, saturation etc – in Lightroom first and then right click to take it over to PSE. Once I’m over there with the picture opened up, I then open a texture from a folder on my computer. Textures are available in abundance all over the internet with a simple search. There are also endless sites that you can purchase textures from too: 2 Lil Owls French Kiss Flypaper and quite a few free ones here: Shadowhouse Creations

Now you have both your photo and a texture open, click on the texture and click A to select all and click C to copy it. Now move to your photo and click V to paste and T to take you to the transform mode so that you can alter the size of the texture to fit your photo. Once you have done that, look over to your layers panel and look at the blend modes. In particular, look at multiply, overlay, soft light and hard light. They are the four blend modes I use the most, along with leaving it ‘normal’. Once you have chosen the blend mode, you can play with opacity until it looks right to you. There are no rules – it’s all subjective! Once you have done that, you can go one step further and apply a layer mask to the texture and with a soft brush and low opacity, you can gently brush some of the texture back off the subject. Once you are happy with the look, you simply merge the layer (‘layers’ – ‘flatten image’) and you’re there. Save your creation and share it with the world. In this final pair of pictures, the dead flower was captured with a lensbaby lens so it looked pretty arty as it was, but I still felt that a touch of texture added to the overall look.

And that’s it for this week. I have deliberately kept the instructions simple because you will find your own way to do this if you choose to experiment. Look on youtube for a million and one videos on how to apply textures to a photograph. And if you find a trick I haven’t spotted yet, please leave a comment and let me know 🙂

A bientot . . .

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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

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.

But

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:

dahlia-1

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)

 

 

flowers, photography

Lensbaby Love

I love my Lensbaby. I bought this lens fairly  recently after seeing some fabulous flowers shot with these lenses. Since flowers are my favourite  subjects for photography, I thought I’d give it a go. I bought the Composer Pro II along with the sweet 50 optic. This allows me to decide where I want my ‘sweet spot’ of focus to be and then let the focus fall off sharply around that sweet spot. It takes a little getting used to but if you are already an avid tog with a good grasp of your camera’s settings and how they work, it will probably only take a few hours to take snapshots, review them and understand what the lenbaby of your choice is doing. The Sweet 50 along with a 32mm macro extension tube is perfect for single flower portraits. Although I purchased the dedicated Lensbaby macro converters, I find that a standard set of macro converters does the job just as well – however, I hasten to add that it does just as well for my purposes which doesn’t necessarily mean it will work that way for everyone.

So, my weekly flower for this week is a double osteospermum from my garden shot with a Nikon D750, a 32mm tube and the above lensbaby setup.

If you have a lensbaby, please post me a comment to let me know what your experience with them was and if possible, add a shot to your comment – especially if you use them for other than flowers. I really feel I ought to try them for other things too.

Double purple osteospermum

flowers, photography

Extras

Well, the limit of only one shot per week is already too much for me so I shall rename this project, at-least-one-flower-per-week 🙂

A few weeks ago I jumped in and purchased a piece of software called Topaz Texture Effects 2. I already use Lightroom to catalogue and to process RAW shots (I always shoot raw so I have the maximum information recorded), and I occasionally use Photoshop Elements 14. I also regularly use two of the NIK plug-ins: Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro 4. Yep – sounds like a lot, but it depends what it is I want to do with a photo. Silver Efex Pro gives amazing control with the processing of black and white shots, and Color Efex Pro has some very useful presets to extract a little more detail, or for a blur vignette, or for a coloured vignette. However, Topaz Texture Effects 2 give me the gift of speed when working with textures. I can pull up a shot and hover my mouse over textures in a side column to see how they would look on my shot. Previously, I would have had to open both the picture and the texture in PSE, check it out, play with the blend mode etc and then have to delete all of that if it doesn’t quite work the way I thought it would. This software from Topaz is amazing! Although it comes with built in textures, you can also add your own. Very useful. So, here are two shots from my garden this morning so you can see how the new software is going:

 

I know that the idea of using textured overlays in photography wont be everyone’s cup of tea and indeed, it’s not always mine – but I do like the painterly effect that it gives to flower shots. What’s more, they have now made their base editing software, Topaz Studio, free to all. Check it out. I have downloaded it and will post a review when I get a chance to have a really good mooch round.

Until next week . . .