Thank you for visiting my blog. Much of this blog is dedicated to my passion for photographing the ever-changing palette at The Chicago Botanic Garden. I am fortunate to live within a few miles of this magnificent garden and I spend several days a week walking, observing and photographing the beauty this 385-acre slice of heaven offers. For me the beauty is in the details - the colors, the patterns, the tiny things that might otherwise be missed. Photography in general, but particularly nature and macro photography, teaches you to slow down and look at the world up-close, to observe the mysteries and wonders Mother Nature provides us.
"The contemplation of beauty causes the soul to grow wings." ~ Plato
Let me catch my breath! It's been a whirlwind of conferences and travel since mid-May and I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that we are already well into July! In May I was a presenter at Hazel Meredith's Creative Photography Conference in Southbridge, MA. It was a small but wonderful conference and I had such an enthusiastic and warm group, all eager to learn about Lensbaby. I throughly enjoyed being a part of the conference and look forward to being a part of Hazel's conferences in the future. I spent the week after the conference in Boston with family, celebrating our granddaughter's first birthday - a wonderful, joy-filled week.
Next up was the Out of Chicago Summer Conference in June, always an incredible experience to be a part of, both as a staff member and a presenter. As a part of the conference, I led a full-day workshop with Lensbaby at Garfield Park Conservatory. It was a magical day, one amazing experience after another. I could not have asked for a more delightful group of participants. It poured outside but we were cozy with our subjects inside - most notably a rare and spontaneous opportunity to be invited to photograph 100's of waterlilies in the greenhouse just hours before they were transferred outside to the pond. I loved the reactions of awe that emerged as I introduced my participants to one of my most beloved places to photograph - The Fern Room, as well as the Desert House. These two areas were full of wonderful subjects for our bunker full of Lensbaby lenses. A special thank you to Lauren Wilcox from Lensbaby for being there and providing her technical expertise. She was awesome to work with!
Then, a few days after the conference, my husband and I were off to Copenhagen to visit our daughter and boyfriend who live there - a great vacation, full of so many adventures, great food and a new-found love for Denmark. I'm dealing with a bit of jet lag but I've taken advantage of my waking very early in the morning to spend some time at Chicago Botanic Garden, catching up on my own photography. There's nothing like shooting at the Garden in the early morning - no crowds, beautiful light and dew on everything. In the week that I was gone, the waterlilies exploded in growth and the lotuses are blooming. Summer is definitely in full-swing! Normally, most of my waterlily and lotus photography is done in the pools in the Heritage Garden. This year, the Aquatic Bulb Garden is lush with waterlilies and lotuses, as well. Don't miss visiting both areas.
Here's a sampling of what I've shot right before I left for vacation and in the two days since I've been home.
I'll be presenting at SWMCCC in Holland, Michigan, July 27-29. Stay tuned this week for an email through Out of Chicago for a super exciting opportunity in early August (make sure you subscribe via the website for emails)...and then we are on to the big Out of Chicago Flower and Garden Photography Conference in August. We still have a few spaces left!
The Crabapples along the Lakeside Garden path and circling the Great Basin are in full bloom now. Begin by entering the Lakeside Garden path near the English Walled Garden. The canopy of blooms reminds me of a fairyland and I often imagine how my 5-year-old self would have felt entering this magical path. Continue around the Great Basin over the Arch Bridge towards Evening Island, viewing the trees from many different viewpoints. Crabapples in shades of white, pink and red are along the paths. I love circling all around the lake, crossing over the Serpentine Bridge to look back and view the crabapple displays on Evening Island with the carillon bell tower. Yesterday the air was filled with the sounds of chirping birds and singing frogs in the lake. It's a magical time that I look forward to each spring but it doesn't last long. A big storm or heavy winds can send those blossoms dancing to the ground like snow, so go now to see this wonderful display.
Lakeside Garden Path with the Lensbaby Burnside 35mm
Arch Bridge with the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Lakeside Garden Path with the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
The Out of Chicago Summer Conference is quickly approaching. I'm excited to be teaching two Lensbaby classes during the weekend conference: "Unleash Your Creative Spirit: Creating Beautiful Flower Portraits with Lensbaby." We also have a Shootout scheduled for Saturday and Sunday where the Lensbaby reps and I will be available to loan out lenses to shoot a variety of flowers, as well as provide instruction in their use. Learn more about the conference and the amazing line-up of instructors here. You can use my special code BELMONT50 to receive $50 off the weekend conference price.
I am also excited to doing a pre-conference workshop on Thursday, June 21, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., at Garfield Park Conservatory. Garfield is located just west of the Loop and the conference center. Spend the day photographing the treasures of Garfield Park Conservatory with me and our Lensbaby reps. This is one of my favorite places to photograph year-round – from the Fern Room with its primeval, misty ferns unfolding, the Desert House filled with cacti and succulents to the 12 acres of outdoor summer gardens and a waterlily pool – we will have many interesting subjects to practice our macro and close-up photography skills and discover the creative possibilities of shooting with Lensbaby lenses. Lensbaby reps will be accompanying us to loan out lenses and provide instruction. We will have a classroom at Garfield for storing our gear as well as gathering for lunch, which is included in the price, and some instructional time.
There are only two spots left in this small workshop. You can check out the details and register here.
Hope to see you at the conference! This is one of my favorite events of the year. The Out of Chicago conferences are like no other. If you have questions, please don't hesitate to email me through this site.
After a tease of warmer weather earlier in April, we plunged back into colder temps and more snow flurries, and spring was put on hold. It certainly has made a very late appearance in the Chicago area this year. The colder temps helped the crocuses and irises stay around for a longer period than usual, but delayed everything else from blooming and delayed the planting of spring gardens at CBG. Finally, this week we seem to be on the road to full-fledged spring. The Garden staff have been in a whirlwind of planting this week - all hands on deck to get those spring gardens in! So please, spring, don't disappear again - we are all rooting for you. It was an impossibly long winter and we need you!
So, what will you find if you make a trip to the Garden right now? The daffodils are in bloom, the fields of Icelandic poppies in the English Oak Meadow have been planted, many, many anemones have been planted in various places around the Garden (the entrance gardens, the Bulb Garden, the Enabling Garden, the Sensory Garden), ranunculus are in a few areas...and lots of other spring blooms. Some early tulips are in bloom in the Bulb Garden and in the Waterfall Garden area, and a few tulips are starting to open in the Circle Garden. Most tulips, however, are still at least a week, maybe two, from blooming. We seem to be a good 2-3 weeks behind schedule this year. Magnolias should be in bloom over the next week but no sign of crabapples being close.
The wind (always a problem in spring) has made photographing poppies and anemones challenging. I have a lot of patience when it comes to flower photography. If you wait long enough there are usually lulls in the wind...usually, but you have to work fast when that lull comes because it may only last a few seconds. Here's some of what I've been capturing this week. The anemones and the poppies are captured with my 100mm macro. I was eager to photograph these flowers with my Lensbaby Velvets but because the wind was so challenging and I was reliant on autofocus to get anything at all in focus.
The last of the crocuses, captured late last week with the Lensbaby Composer Pro II and Sweet 80 optic and Velvet 85mm respectively.
A brief update on what's in bloom at Chicago Botanic Garden. Lots of ups and downs in temperature the past two weeks, and even a bit of snow, has delayed the full emergence of spring. Luckily, the snow and cold temps didn't keep the crocuses from their glorious show on Evening Island. They are definitely at their peak right now and with the warmer temps these last two days, they are open and showing off their colors. The bees are busy gathering pollen and you might even see a few geese wandering among the crocuses snacking on the newly emerging grass. The crocuses won't last long, however, so if you haven't made a trip to see them, go now. The beautiful Harmony irises in the Sensory Garden Woods have lasted a long time this spring due to the colder temps. Normally they would be gone by now, but they have lingered and are also at their peak. Tulips, well, we still have a way to go. They are slowly peaking their heads out of the ground but seem to be a bit later in emerging due to the colder weather. The CBG staff are busy planting annuals in all of the gardens. I am waiting eagerly for ranunculus to go in. Hopefully, by early May all will be in bloom, along with the crabapples and magnolias. Stay tuned for further updates!
Crocuses with the Lensbaby Composer Pro II and Sweet 80 optic
Crocus, conducting the orchestra of spring, Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Harmony Iris in the Sensory Garden Woods, Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Harmony Irises, 100mm macro
For some tips on photographing the crocuses read my previous blog post here.
I am a contributing author for Visual Wilderness. This wonderful website, run by Jay and Varina Patel, is full of resources for learning nature and landscape photography. Please enjoy my latest article "Capture Stunning Photos Using Selective Focus." Using selective focus is my favorite way to photograph flowers, a way of shooting that is not only fun, but gives me a tremendous amount of creative control. If you missed my first two articles on Visual Wilderness you can find them here and here.
I know that spring has finally arrived when the crocuses start to blanket the hillside on Evening Island at Chicago Botanic Garden. I love this time of year! To be outdoors photographing nature again after our long winter is exhilarating. It is wonderful to watch the emergence of spring; each day brings new blooms to capture.
The crocuses have just emerged this week but keep in mind that they don't last long. I've spent a couple of days this week photographing them. A few quick tips. Take a variety of lenses if you have them. I use everything - my 100mm macro, my 180mm macro and, of course, my arsenal of Lensbaby lenses, which are perfect for photographing these flowers. I search for a pleasing clump - I particularly like to find the purple 'Remembrance' crocuses in a cluster surrounded by the golden yellow crocuses to provide a blurred backdrop and pop of color. Make sure you have a diffuser to soften the light and a tripod helps if you are shooting in higher apertures trying to capture the details within the crocuses. My tripod extends all the way to the ground because it has a tilting center column, which is essential when shooting low. A Platypod is another great gadget to get you down low and steady your camera. You will likely need to raise it slightly with the included spike feet to get you at the perfect angle. Most often I am shooting handheld, however, lying flat on my tummy, my elbows on the ground keeping my camera steady. Most importantly, take a large garbage bag to sit or lay on. The ground in spring can be wet and because the geese frequent this hill, they leave lots of surprises behind. There is plenty of room between the clumps of flowers to carefully lay a bag.
Controlling your backgrounds can be one the challenging parts of photographing crocuses. Because the grass is brown and not attractive this time of year, I am most often shooting in lower apertures to blur my background and create a watercolor look to my image. I'm pretty hands-off when it comes to flowers but it's ok to pull stray bits of brown grass and dead leaves out of your image.
Enjoy spring and get out and enjoy the many treasures that are emerging each day! More bloom reports to come as I'm at the Garden as much as possible this time of year.
I visited Garfield Park Conservatory on Monday to photograph the flowers in their Spring Flower Show. Thank goodness for places like Garfield that put together these extraordinary flower shows that help us endure that transition from winter to spring. Winters are very long in Chicago and by February and March many of us are eagerly counting days until we can be outside in the sunshine to watch the emergence of spring. While we wait ever so patiently through the ups and downs in temps, places like Garfield provide us with a beautiful haven to enjoy spring indoors. The flower show is spectacular this year - I promise to do a post with some of my images in the coming days. Oh my, the tulips!
First, however, I would like to introduce you to a very special flower propagated and officially registered by the talented Kathy Cahill at Garfield...Nymphaea 'Garfield Park'. Kathy was excited to take me behind the scenes to see and photograph this special waterlily that will join the outdoor collection in the waterlily pool. Last summer I experienced the most amazing class with Kathy when we got to go in the water with the waterlilies. If you missed that post, you can read it here. Nymphaea 'Garfield Park' is proudly wintering and flowering in one of the greenhouses at Garfield and she's a beauty. What a treat to see her and be able to spend a blissful hour photographing her in her winter home.
I had fun photographing her with both my Lensbaby Velvet 85mm (I thought she definitely deserved a very soft focus look with the Velvet) and my 100mm macro. I was within inches of this water lily - truly an encounter that doesn't happen often with water lilies. Normally I'm much farther away and using a 70-300mm lens to capture aquatic blooms.
Thank you, Kathy, for this special treat...and for the other treat, the delicious chocolate cake! You truly exemplify what is so special about Garfield - a staff of the most passionate and generous people imaginable. As I always say, it's one of the happiest places to spend a day among the flowers and plants.
I am excited to announce Out of Chicago's first ever Flower and Garden Photography Conference! We've been dreaming about this conference for a long time and it has finally become a reality. It's happening August 26-30th. Registration is open today and it is limited to 100 people so we expect it to sell out quickly. Join me with 9 other instructors to learn everything you could ever want to know about flower and garden photography. We've gathered a dynamic and enthusiastic group of instructors who can't wait to share their varied passions with you in five days of jam-packed learning and fun. Presentations, critique sessions, post-processing sessions and lots of socializing will happen at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Deerfield, IL. (hey, even happy hour is included) and we'll be taking small groups out all day for instructor-led shoots at the beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden, a few miles from the hotel. Out of Chicago is known for its dynamic, fun and hands-on conferences where you get to spend lots of time with instructors - learning, interacting, shooting and sharing our passion for photography. I'll be doing the opening keynote to introduce you to one of my favorite places in the world, The Chicago Botanic Garden, as well as my approach to flower photography. I'll be teaching lots of Lensbaby during the conference, too. Be prepared for a creative, fun, energizing week of learning! To get details, see our line-up of fantastic instructors and register visit outofchicago.com/garden.
(good until midnight Monday, March 5)
If you enjoy photographing flowers in the warmth of the greenhouses during these cold winter months, The Orchid Show, “Asia in Bloom,” at the Chicago Botanic Garden is the perfect place to be. Regenstein Hall, the galleries and greenhouses have all been transformed into a magical and elaborate display of 10,000 orchids with a beautiful Asian theme. The show opened February 10 and runs until March 25 and is open each day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tripods are only allowed in the exhibit during “Photographer’s Hours,” Thursdays, 8:15 - 9:45 a.m. (best to purchase tickets online as these special hours will sell out and are limited). Tickets are $10.00 for members/$12.00 for non-members. To order tickets online or find more information about the show, please visit the Chicago Botanic Garden’s website: https://www.chicagobotanic.org/orchid
100mm macro f4.5, handheld
For those of you who live in other parts of the country, many botanic gardens have wonderful orchid shows going on this time of year - Longwood Garden, New York Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, to name a few. Some conservatories, like Chicago's Lincoln Park Conservatory, have a dedicated orchid room, open all year. Even if you don’t have a local orchid show or conservatory, find a greenhouse or florist that supplies orchids and go there to shoot. In the Chicago area, we have Orchids by Hausermann in Villa Park, my favorite place to shoot and buy orchids. My neighborhood florist, Hlavacek Florist, has a wonderful orchid collection and they work with Chicago Botanic Garden to set up a beautiful display within the Orchid Show. I’ve gotten some of my best orchid photographs in these places because I can often move the orchids or stage them since they are in pots. Get permission first and I always buy an orchid or two as my thanks for letting me shoot. As you can imagine, orchids are taking over my house!
Image in CBG exhibit, The Orchid Show 2015-2017, shot at Orchids by Hausermann, 100mm macro f/9, tripod
Orchid shot at Hlavacek Florist, 100mm macro, f/32, tripod
Orchids are complex and exotic flowers and, in my opinion, one of the hardest flowers to photograph. They are worth the effort, however, as they are one of the most beloved and beautiful flowers. One of my favorite things about orchids is the stories they elicit - orchids can have such wonderful human or animal-like characteristics.
'Graceful Ballerina' 100mm macro with macro ring light, f20, handheld
Experiment with a range of apertures to create different effects with orchids. When my goal is to create an image with every part in sharp focus, I move in close and use a small aperture, going as high as f22 - f32, depending on the depth of the flower. Sharp close-ups of orchids require these higher apertures to get everything in focus. Many orchids are complex and have great depth and interesting details to capture. Apertures this high require the use of a tripod to avoid camera shake with slow shutter speeds. If you worry about lens diffraction, the loss of sharpness that can happen when shooting in the higher apertures, use focus stacking if that is of interest to you. I personally don’t use focus stacking or worry about diffraction - a few simple steps in post processing can bring detail back to the image. Keep in mind that shooting in higher apertures will bring forth more detail in your background, too. This is often why I move in close to simplify and eliminate as much background as possible. As with all flower photography, paying attention to your backgrounds is just as important as the flower itself.
Image in CBG exhibit, The Orchid Show 2015-2017, 100mm macro f/22, tripod
180mm macro, f/32, tripod
My favorite way to shoot flowers of any kind is to use selective focus to produce a softer, dreamier image. Using a wider aperture will help blur the distractions of the background and bring only one flower or part of a flower in focus. There is enough light in many parts of the greenhouses to handhold your camera if using wider apertures. This is a great way to shoot when tripods are not allowed in the exhibit. I study the orchid carefully, looking for interesting details that catch my eye - a beautiful curve or a soft ruffle. Using selective focus to draw the eye is a powerful, creative and fun way to shoot. Decide what is most important to have in focus and experiment with a small range of apertures to see what effect is most pleasing.
100mm macro, f/6.3, handheld
100mm macro, f/4.5, handheld
100mm macro, f/6.3, handheld
70-200mm lens shot at 200mm, f4.5, handheld. The compression of longer focal length lenses helps blur backgrounds.
To achieve a softer look I always reach for my Lensbaby lenses, particularly the Velvet 56mm and Velvet 85mm to create a beautiful, ethereal portrait of the orchids. The Lensbaby Velvet will give me a beautiful blurred background, as well, and images are often perfect straight out of camera.
Lensbaby Velvet 85mm, f/4, handheld
Lensbaby Velvet 85mm f/4, tripod
Lensbaby Velvet 56mm, f/4, handheld
Lensbaby Composer Pro II with Sweet 35 Optic, f/4, handheld - another fun lens system to shoot orchids.
It may be challenging to find a good composition for an orchid or grouping of orchids. Many orchids grow in clusters or in close proximity to other orchids or plants, making it hard to isolate one orchid from others and eliminate distracting backgrounds. Take your time and experiment. Move around to find the best background. Look for darker foliage and backgrounds that might be further back. Sometimes positioning yourself just a fraction of an inch in a different direction can make all the difference in eliminating distracting elements and spots of light. If you can’t control your background, cloning out areas or darkening areas in post processing will help. I prefer to get as much right in camera as possible, but the reality of photographing orchids is that you may have to do a bit of post processing magic to improve your image and eliminate distracting elements.
100mm macro, f/13, handheld. Distracting background darkened in layer in Photoshop.
100mm macro, f/4, handheld. Foliage in a distance paired with a lower aperture created a beautiful blurred background.
Another trick I have found helpful in photographing orchids in exhibits is to use a macro ring light. I own the Yongnuo YN-14EX, which is compatible with my Canon camera. I consider myself a natural light photographer; I had never used or liked flash with flowers, so it was a big step for me to even give it a try. When shooting in dimly lit exhibit spaces where I can’t use a tripod, a macro ring light allows me to get sharp, well-lit images handheld. It also allows me to get in closer in a way I may not be able to do with a tripod in an exhibit. Sometimes I like the effect, sometimes I don’t, but it’s always in my bag to experiment with while shooting orchids. By powering up or powering down the flash I can control the amount of light in an effort to produce as natural-looking an image as possible. It is also helpful for illuminating the deeper centers of orchids and in darkening the backgrounds.
100mm macro with macro ring light, f/11, handheld. Note how the flash darkens the background.
100mm macro with macro ring light, f/5, handheld
Don’t forget to carry your diffuser and reflector. On a sunny day, the light in the greenhouses can be harsh and contrasty. The diffuser will soften the light and the reflector will bounce light into those inner recesses of the orchid. Remember, you always want the part of the orchid you are drawing the eye to to be well-illuminated.
100mm macro, f/11, handheld
Some of my orchid photographs that were on exhibit in the 2015-2017 Orchid Shows at CBG were captured with black backgrounds. For someone who prefers shooting with the backgrounds nature provides, this was a new way of shooting prompted by this commissioned project. It’s important to know that these were staged with potted orchids outside the exhibit. You are not allowed to use black backdrops or even slip a piece of black mat board behind the orchids in most orchid exhibits. Save that kind of shooting for home or a place that will allow you to move potted orchids.
100mm macro, f/32. Shot in my kitchen near window light. Orchid purchased at Orchids by Hausermann.
100mm macro, f/32. Shot at Orchids by Hausermann.
Give orchids a try and keep in mind that, as with anything, the more you practice and experiment, the better you will get. Have fun and enjoy the beauty of these exotic flowers!
2018 is off to a very busy start! I've been busy planning and preparing for so many exciting events. Just a summary of some of the things to come:
I am honored to be a featured speaker at Hazel Meredith's Creative Photography Conference on May 19th and 20th in Southbridge, MA. I will be representing Lensbaby and my presentation will be "Unleash Your Creative Spirit: Creating Beautiful Flower Portraits with Lensbaby." We'll also have hands-on shooting with Lensbabies. To learn more about the conference, visit Hazel's website by clicking here and more about my talk here. Use my special discount code to get $50 off: anne50. The code expires on 2/28.
Although our Out of Chicago Winter Conference was cancelled due to a big blizzard the day before the conference, the following podcast with Out of Chicago's Chris Smith was a lead-in to the conference where I talk a bit about my presentation and thoughts on creativity. It was a huge disappointment that we had to cancel but it was done with everyone's safety in mind. I'll be doing this presentation at our Out of Chicago Summer Conference, June 22-24. Details will be coming soon on that conference at outofchicago.com.
Meanwhile, we are about to announce a very exciting new Out of Chicago conference, The Flower and Garden Photography Conference, August 26-30. This conference has been a dream of Chris Smith and mine for a long time and we've finally made it a reality. We are bringing an amazing line-up of instructors together to teach you everything you could want to know about flower and garden photography and we'll be shooting every day at the beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden, my home away from home. If you aren't on the email list for outofchicago.com, go sign up now so you will receive an email when registration opens for this event on Tuesday, February 27. We expect this event to sell out quickly since it is limited to 100 people. Check back here or on my social media sites for a special discount code you can use to get $300 off. Stay tuned for lots more info. I am so excited about this event! Here's a podcast Chris and I did to talk about the Chicago Botanic Garden and the event.
Stay tuned for more info and please don't hesitate to contact me through this website with questions. Keep shooting - The Orchid Show at Chicago Botanic Garden is amazing, the Spring Flower Show at both Lincoln Park Conservatory and Garfield Park Conservatory are open. Despite it still being winter, there are always ways to capture flowers year-round!
I am excited to announce that I am now a guest author for the wonderful learning community, Visual Wilderness. I am so honored that Jay and Varina Patel asked me to join their team of writers, so many of whom I greatly admire and follow. Visual Wilderness is an amazing site for learning about all aspects of nature and landscape photography. Subscribe to their newsletter and check out all the video learning experiences they offer. Follow the link to Part 1 and Part 2 of my article. Enjoy! I look forward to writing about many aspects of flower photography, Lensbaby, and creativity in the future.