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
I'm excited to be presenting at the Creative Photography Conference in Southbridge, MA., May 19-20, 2018. Thank you to Hazel Meredith for inviting me! More information about my presentation to come soon.
Oh my goodness! I have been so lax in my blog posts this fall. I just realized I hadn't posted anything since August! It has indeed been a busy Fall/busy year, full of so many glorious things - frequent trips to Boston to spend time with family and my new granddaughter, conferences and speaking engagements, Lensbaby demos, as well as trying to honor my promise to myself that I faithfully carve out time for my own creative growth. It is so important as a teacher and an artist to take time for your own photography - a time to play, experiment and reenergize your creativity. That is exactly why I treated myself to three full days of blissful photographing at Longwood Garden near Philadelphia in late August. I love Longwood Gardens; you could not ask for a more beautiful garden full of wonderful subjects, friendly staff and incredible vistas at every turn. And thank you to two friends I treasure - Chung Kim and Mary Malinconico - who live relatively close to Longwood and met me to enjoy some shooting, too.
I timed my trip so that the dahlias would be in their glory. At Chicago Botanic Garden we did not have our usual array of dahlias because the Garden took on a Brazilian theme and areas that usually have plentiful dahlias were planted with tropical plants this summer. As a result, I was especially eager to photograph one of my favorite flowers at Longwood and they did not disappoint.
One of my stops on the first day was the Flower Garden Walk, an area teeming with 1000's of dahlias.
Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Lensbaby Velvet 56mm Canon 100mm Macro Lensbaby Velvet 56mm Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
As I was leaving Longwood after my first full day of shooting, a friendly volunteer stopped me to talk and ask about my photography. I told her how much I loved dahlias and she asked if I had visited the Trial Garden. Well, no, I hadn't gotten there that day but I had an hour until the Gardens closed, so I raced over. Oh my! Talk about dahlia heaven...rows and rows and rows of dahlias they were trying out for future planting! I had beautiful early evening light, so I got to work! I immediately knew where I was going to spend a good part of day two! It was there on the 2nd day that I ran into an Out of Chicago conference attendee, Helen Wagner, who happens to be a horticulturist at Longwood. Small world! Helen is one of those people you meet and can't help but love her immediately.
I am so drawn to dahlias with interesting curls. They have so much more personality. Although a dahlia show judge would tell you this is imperfect and would not even be included in a dahlia competition, it is pure perfection to me!
Canon 100mm Macro Canon 100mm Macro Canon 100mm Macro Lensbaby Composer Pro with Sweet 50 Optic and Macro Converters
Of course, the waterlilies at Longwood captured my attention, as well. They have a magnificent display! The light was challenging while I was there, often too strong for photographing flowers without being able to diffuse them. I typically only shoot aquatic flowers on bright overcast days. I found plenty of flowers in more shaded areas to keep me happy. Most of my waterlilies are shot with my Canon 70-300mm lens because they are farther away.
Lastly, in the Conservatory, which has endless subjects and is so large you can easily get lost, I spent a lot of time with the roses and ferns, two of my favorite subjects at any garden.
How perfect to find a rose with a heart in the center!
Canon 100mm Macro
Canon 100mm Macro Lensbaby Velvet 85mm Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
What a wonderful treat to spend 3 full days at such a beautiful garden! I intend to travel to Longwood more in the future and hopefully do some Out of Chicago workshops there. Stay tuned!
Next up: The National Dahlia Show at Chicago Botanic Garden! Imagine a flower show with 1000's of dahlias, all posed for photographing!
If you live in the Chicago area, we are so fortunate to have three wonderful places to photograph flowers and plant life. Of course, most people who know me know I spend a lot of time at Chicago Botanic Garden. It is just a few miles from my home and it has become my "home away from home" through my years of photographing flowers and botanicals. We also have two other gems in our area - Garfield Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Conservatory, places I spend a lot of time in the winter months. After spending this past Saturday at Garfield Park Conservatory for a unique and wonderful experience called "In the Water with the Waterlilies," I came to realize that Garfield is a wonderful place to photograph year-round and it has incredible and beautiful outdoor gardens to explore in the summer, gardens I didn't even know existed before. The large aquatic garden, teeming with water lilies and lotuses, is only one of those outdoor spaces to explore.
"In the Water with the Waterlilies" was, without a doubt, one of the best experiences of the summer for me. The program was led by Kathy Cahill, a Horticulturist and Aquatic Specialist at Garfield. I have known Kathy for a few years and she is one of the nicest, most generous souls I have ever met. Her love of plants is infectious and her willingness to share her knowledge and help others is generous. She is the best possible ambassador for GPC. All the horticulturists and staff at Garfield have impressed me with their friendliness - plain and simple, it's a happy place!
On Saturday we started our morning with breakfast foods, coffee and warm introductions. A huge thank you to Mattie Wilson who organized all the details of the morning, another gem at GPC. The group quickly became very friendly and interactive, which made the experience even more fun. The class was a small group of 10, composed of artists, photographers, scientists and water lily enthusiasts who simply wanted the experience of getting up close and personal with the waterlilies in the water. We learned a bit about the layout of the large pond, what to expect in the water (including the 3 resident Koi named "Noah," "Bubbles" and "Casper" (yes, Casper is white), and how to navigate around waterlilies. I learned an interesting thing I never realized in all my years of photographing waterlilies - a harmless dye is added to the water to darken it. It serves several purposes: controlling algae, making the pond appear deeper and more aesthetically pleasing, and protecting fish from predators. It's also great for us photographers, creating nice dark water to help highlight the real stars, the flowers.
Then, into the water we went! We spent about 1 1/2 hours in the water, free to roam within the two areas of the large pond, with Kathy's total trust and blessing to enjoy ourselves. And enjoy ourselves we did! There were literally 100's of waterlilies in the pond. You had to plan your route, as the water lilies are lush and densely planted and it was challenging getting through entwined stems and pads of the plants. What a thrill to be able to get right up close, to touch and smell the waterlilies. The water was about mid-thigh deep - I wore swim shorts, a quick drying swim shirt and water shoes. I went in with my camera and 100mm macro lens as well as a diffuser to block the strong sunlight.
The above waterlily was my favorite of the morning - 'Nangkwag Muang Prai,' also known as a "Summoning Lady" or "Waving Princess," referring to the foliage that looks like it is waving. I had never seen a water lily with foliage like this - stunningly beautiful!
The two artists in our group parked themselves with their paints and canvases near a Red Russian lotus that was beginning to open. This shot below was taken from the bridge looking down on the lotus from above. The bridge divides the two sections of the aquatic pond.
Below is the underside of a Victoria Waterlily pad. We had to be careful not to get too close to these magnificent pads - the thorns protect them from predators in the water.
What a wonderful day this was! I hope GPC will offer this experience again. I encourage you to visit Garfield and explore the many rooms inside the conservatory but also enjoy the outdoor spaces. It is truly a treasure of a place in Chicago!
This is my 5th year photographing the butterflies at the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit for Chicago Botanic Garden. I dearly love this early morning time with the butterflies - a chance to capture their beauty and learn about these wonderful creatures, then share my images with the Garden. This year the exhibit has been moved to its permanent location at the Regenstein Learning Campus and it is better than ever. After being away for a couple of weeks I came back to a lush garden full of beautiful flowers and so many butterflies, as well as an incredible display of Atlas moths. When I was there on Wednesday, there were 6 Atlas moths in the serviceberry tree near the pupae emergence room. Since then, 4 more have emerged and been released, bringing the total to 10!
Female Atlas Moth
Atlas moths belong to the Saturniidae family and are native to the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia. They are the largest moth in the world in terms of wing surface and their wing span can reach 10-12 inches. There are varying theories as to why the moth is called the Atlas moth - perhaps being named after the titan of Greek mythology, or because of their atlas or map-like wing patterns, or perhaps because in Cantonese the name translates into "snake's head moth," referring to the patterning of the curved forewing tip that resembles a snake's head with eye spot.
Mating Female and Male Atlas Moths - the male is the smaller moth on top
When the moths emerge from the cocoon they have no mouth parts and do not eat, relying only on their fat stores from the caterpillar stage. Their sole purpose once they emerge is to reproduce. They live only 1 - 2 weeks. The female secretes a pheromone to attract her mate. The male Atlas uses his long feathery antennae, which are much larger than the female antennae, to detect the pheromones and find the female. Once the eggs are laid, the moth dies. The caterpillars emerge 10-14 days later and the cycle of life begins again - egg, caterpillar, pupa and moth.
Side View of a Female Atlas
Close up of the female Atlas from a previous year - note the transparent triangular windows on the wings.
If you haven't been to Butterflies and Blooms yet this year, I highly recommend getting there soon to see these fascinating creatures before they are gone, along with lots of other butterflies and beautiful flowers.
Hello Friends! Lensbaby asked me to do a review of the Velvet 85mm for their blog and you can read it here.
So many people have been emailing me with questions about the difference between the Velvet 56mm and the Velvet 85mm. I hope this review will help you understand the differences. I personally would not want to choose between the two lenses. They are both in my bag all the time and used every time I am out on a shoot. Please don't hesitate to contact me through my website if you have questions I can help you with.
A few images shot recently with the Velvet 85mm...
Yesterday Lensbaby finally launched the new Velvet 85mm lens. I was honored to be asked by Lensbaby to beta test the lens, so I have been shooting with it since the beginning of March. I was literally jumping up and down when the UPS man rang the doorbell and I immediately headed out to give this lens a whirl! Do you know how hard it is to shoot with a lens you are so excited about and not talk about it or share any images until launch day - for four full months?! Finally I can bring those images out of hiding and share them along with my enthusiasm for this lens with others. I'm already getting lots of questions, so hopefully this blog post will answer them.
First, some specs:
Manual Focus and Manual Aperture
Focal Length: 85mm
Aperture Range: f/1.8 - f/16
Minimum Focusing Distance: 9.5 inches (Macro 1:2)
Compatibility: APS-C and Full Frame - Canon DSLR, Nikon DSLR, Sony E, Sony Alpha, Fuji X, Micro 4/3, Pentax K, Samsung NX
Weight: 18.7 oz.
Like the Velvet 56mm (which many of you have heard me say is my favorite lens ever), the Velvet 85mm has that signature velvety, ethereal glow when shot in the lower apertures. The Velvet 85mm is being marketed primarily as a portrait lens. The added compression with the longer focal length and the beautiful bokeh makes it a perfect choice for portrait work, rivaling any great quality 85mm portrait lens.
That being said, it is also a great close-up lens capable of capturing detail along with that signature glow. I primarily use both the Velvets between f/2 and f/5.6 because I want that ethereal look to my images. Focusing at 9.5 inches means it won't get in quite as close as the Velvet 56mm, which focuses at 5 inches, but when you need to get closer, you can always use an extension tube to move in closer. Like the Velvet 56mm, it is perfect for flower photography. The area where it outperforms the Velvet 56mm in my opinion is when you do pull back a bit to include more background. What the Velvet 85mm does to backgrounds will make you swoon (see image above). There are no other words than to say that bokeh is delicious! Yes, the Velvet 56mm produces gorgeous backgrounds, too. If you have heard me talk about flower photography, I talk a lot about the importance of backgrounds. One of the reasons I love all Lensbaby lenses is the beautiful backgrounds they create straight out of camera, very little if any post processing needed. The Velvet 85mm takes that beautiful background a step further. I will be curious to hear other reviews of the lens, but I also found it easier to focus than the Velvet 56mm. That may be due to the fact that I have an easier time focusing when pulled back a slight bit. I have found myself nailing the focus with very little struggle.
So bottom line, I know I'm going to get asked, "which one is for me?" Well, in all honesty, being the Lensbaby addict that I am, I will use both equally. If you are a flower photographer who likes to work close to your subjects, the 56mm probably fits the bill. But, if you like doing portrait work or you like pulling back a little in photographing flowers and want that added compression, then the 85mm would be your baby. When I want to be up very close, I'll have the 56mm on, but when photographing groups of flowers (it was amazing with orchids), I'll have the 85mm on. And when I'm photographing my new granddaughter (I'm learning to love newborn photography), I'll reach for the 85mm.
I also encourage those with both the 56mm and the 85mm to do some magical landscapes with the lenses. I have never considered myself a landscape photographer but I began experimenting with both lenses this spring and it has opened a new door for me. I'm now constantly on the lookout for landscapes and small scenes to capture with a bit of magical glow.
And now I'm going to deluge you with a lot of images from the Velvet 85mm...Enjoy!
The lens is currently selling for $499.95. For more information or to preorder the lens, visit the Lensbaby website at lensbaby.com. Lens will be available for shipping on July 11. Please don't hesitate to email me through my website with any questions about the new lens. I'm always happy to talk flower photography or Lensbaby!
This spring the tulips at Chicago Botanic Garden have been extraordinary. When I photograph flowers, I am on the lookout for interesting subjects with personality or character. Tulips have always been one of my favorite flowers to photograph. They are flowers full of personality, wonderful lines, curves and unique curls. Some years are better than others for finding interesting tulips. This year I feel like I hit the jackpot! Of the early tulips, these pink beauties were my favorites. I shared a post earlier with some of these tulips. They were not labeled so I don't know the name but they were so full of personality, I spent days photographing them.
The graceful curving leaf wrapping itself around this bud made it a beautiful subject.
This one is clearly a dancer. I think she's doing the flamenco!
And perhaps another dancing pose.
This one was shot with the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm to create a soft, ethereal look to this tulip with its beautiful curving leaf.
Another tulip I loved photographing was the Tulipa 'Akebono' in the beds outside the Graham Bulb Garden. The beautiful sherbet-like colors, popping red edge and the sweeping lines of the petals made these perfect to create more abstract compositions.
Or pull back and show the graceful lines of these tulips. But my favorite tulip of all time made an appearance again this year in the Sensory Garden and I was thrilled - Tulipa 'Ice Cream." Talk about personality! This tulip is loaded with personality and looks good enough to eat when it fully opens. These are the latest of the tulips to bloom, in fact, they are still opening slowly but surely. They are spectacular at each stage, from bud to fully open.
And look at that unique curl of the leaf. What a great find! As they open they begin to reveal the "ice cream" within. I'm thinking vanilla, what about you?
I even stood in the rain with my umbrella to catch this one covered in raindrops. Just like an ice cream cone! And fully open...it's a bowl of ice cream! I adore these tulips! Although many of the tulips have come and gone, there are still so many beautiful things to see at the Garden right now. Did you read my last post about the crabapples in bloom? They are still beautiful, but they won't last much longer before dropping all their petals like snow. Soon the spring gardens will make way for the summer gardens and there will be a whole new palette of color and beauty to capture. Can't wait for water lilies and dahlias!
Lensbaby Velvet 56mm
I was thrilled to be asked to write an article on flower photography for the Lensbaby blog. It is such a pleasure to share my enthusiasm for their wonderful lenses. Please enjoy the post at lensbaby.com. My favorite lens, the Velvet 56mm, is on sale right now at lensbaby.com - $100 off. That's a great deal! After reading my post you'll understand why it is my all-time favorite lens.
There is still time to join me at the Out of Chicago Summer Conference, June 23-25. I'll be presenting two programs and leading an all day workshop at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Lensbaby reps will be there, too, and you can try Lensbabies all weekend, during my workshop, my flower shootout and for the photowalk Lensbaby is leading. You can read more about this wonderful conference and register here. Use the code "belmont100" to receive $100 off the conference. From Art Wolfe's opening talk on Friday to Rick Sammon's closing talk on Sunday, the weekend is jam-packed with learning and fun.
It's been a beautiful spring at Chicago Botanic Garden. I've been photographing almost every day and will be sharing more images soon. Happy spring and get out and enjoy nature!
One of my favorite events at the Chicago Botanic Garden is the week when the scores of crabapples burst into bloom. We are right at the peak of that bloom now. A walk around the Great Basin is a must this time of year. Start at the Lakeside Garden path near the English Walled Garden and enter a canopy of crabapples lining the path. Each year when I see this view, I feel like a young child entering a fairyland. It is a magical sight that fills me with awe.
This year I decided to try my Lensbaby Velvet 56mm to capture the mystical and ethereal feeling the trees evoke. I love the results! Today was quite sunny and the Velvet captured the sparkling flowers as if they were dancing in the sunlight.
If you continue on the path to the right toward the Arch Bridge, the canopy of beautiful blossoms continues.
Cross over the bridge to Evening Island and continue around the Lake Basin with beautiful views of the crabapples and their variation in color from white to pink to red. Beautiful views abound at every turn. This is one of my favorite views looking back toward Evening Island at the Serpentine Bridge.
There are other lovely garden views scattered around the Garden, as well.
And, yes, as a macro flower photographer I am always on the lookout for subjects to capture up close. This one was captured with my 180mm macro and look at the gorgeous background that lens creates.
And this with the Lensbaby Composer Pro with the Twist optic. What a fun optic the Twist is!
If you live in the Chicago area, this is the time to visit the Garden. Not only are the crabapples at peak but there are still many beautiful tulips in bloom. I wish we could hold on to this time of year a bit longer - it is so fleeting but, without a doubt, my favorite time of year.
Spring is well on its way at the Chicago Botanic Garden! This week the staff has been busy planting all the gardens and pots with spring blooms. Each day new flowers are being added. The daffodils are in bloom, the magnolias are opening, a few early tulips are already in bloom and the rest of the tulips are not far behind. If temps stay warm and we continue to get some sunshine, it looks like many will begin to open next week and, as always, it will be a spectacular display of color. These past few days I have been photographing a small patch of pink tulips in the courtyard between the Sensory Garden and the Enabling Garden. These tulips were transferred there from the production greenhouses already in bloom. I fell in love with their soft, interesting petal variations and lovely leaves, many of them enveloping the buds in a hug.
This same type of tulip was planted in an indoor display in Regenstein last week and I enjoyed photographing them there while waiting for more blooms outdoors. These have since been replaced with other tulips and spring blooms.
Another patch of tulips that I have found blooming are in a raised bed at the south end of the Graham Bulb Garden, a colorful treat for the eyes. In this first image, I was much more interested in the graceful curve of the leaf than the flower itself.
This is just the beginning! In the coming weeks there will be tulips in bloom everywhere. Stay tuned for more updates! Happy spring and happy Easter weekend!
Spring is finally arriving! It has come slowly with fits and starts - some encouraging and much-welcomed days of warmth and sunshine, followed by cold, rain, grey skies and even some significant snow in March. The appearance of the crocuses blanketing the grassy hillside on Evening Island at the Chicago Botanic Garden this past week is a sure sign that we are well on our way. They were in full bloom this past weekend and will likely last through the week. It is always a breathtakingly beautiful sight and a welcome sign that spring has truly begun. I spent two days photographing them this weekend. There is ample space between the clusters of flowers to sit (take a garbage bag to sit on - trust me on this one!) and get low to the ground to photograph them. I use my 100mm macro as well as my Lensbaby lenses to capture these flowers in a variety of ways. When pulled back to include a cluster of flowers, I tend to shoot in a lower aperture to blur the brown grass. When getting in close for a macro shot of the inside of the flower I experiment with a range of apertures and have extension tubes handy if I want to get in extra close.
I will be presenting a program on "The Art of Flower Photography" at the Morton Arboretum Photographic Society on Monday, April 10th at 7 p.m. Guests are welcome. Please visit the MAPS website for more information.
We are still accepting registrations for the Out of Chicago Summer Conference, June 23-25. I will be conducting an all-day shoot at The Chicago Botanic Garden on Friday, a class "Let's Get Creative with Flower Photography" (all about Lensbaby) on Saturday as well as a flower shootout in the afternoon. On Sunday I teach a class "The Art of Flower Photography." Please join us for what is the best photography conference around - loads of fun, learning and hands-on shooting. Use the code "belmont100" to receive $100 off.
Enjoy some spring crocuses and stay tuned - I'm watching carefully for the emergence of tulips - we are getting close!
Sometimes those of us who enjoy photographing the world up-close have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden is truly spectacular this year! One of my favorite views is of the arches filled with Vanda orchids of every color in the palm allée of the Tropical Greenhouse. The Garden really outdid itself with so many of the displays. I'm proud to have my 40 X 60 inch orchid photographs exhibited Krehbiel Gallery once again this year. Come step into a paradise of over 10,000 orchids in the midst of winter.
If you missed my articles on orchid photography last year, both here in my blog and the article I wrote for the Out of Chicago website, I have provided the links below. I hope they will help you get some great photographs in the show this year. My one recommendation I would add for this year's show is to pack a longer focal length lens in your bag. Many orchids are set back or up high, making them difficult to photograph unless you have a longer lens. I carry my 180mm macro and my 70-300mm along with my 100mm macro and all my Lensbaby gear. Yes, my pack gets a bit heavy, but I'd rather be prepared than sorry!
Enjoy the show and have fun photographing the beautiful and always fascinating orchids!