I get very restless if I don't shoot flowers and botanical subjects almost every day. During the spring, summer and fall this is no problem. I head to the Chicago Botanic Garden, a mere 15 minutes from my home, and I have endless subjects to keep me happy. In winter it's a bit more challenging to find subjects. The three greenhouses at CBG are a place I often head for shooting tropical flowers, plants and desert succulents indoors. We are also lucky to have two amazing conservatories in the Chicago area - Lincoln Park Conservatory and Garfield Park Conservatory, both are within an hour of my home. Both conservatories have holiday flower shows and wonderful collections of plants and flowers to keep me happy throughout the cold Chicago winter. I also enjoy shooting orchids at various flower shops and orchid production houses in the area. I'll be talking about all these winter shooting opportunities over the next few months. In the Chicago area winter lasts from November through March, so that's a lot of months of indoor shooting.
Often I simply bring flowers home to photograph or enjoy photographing my own orchid collection. Last week I set up a little project of shooting an orchid I brought home on the plane from a Macro Shoot-Out I did with fellow macro photographer Mike Moats at the Out of New York Conference in October. I bought a variety of beautiful flowers from a lovely little flower shop in mid-town Manhattan. It wasn't practical to bring the other flowers home but I was determined to get that sweet orchid home safely because I knew it would continue to bloom for months. I carried it in my bag and it survived the trip in perfect condition. I have it on my kitchen window sill and have enjoyed watching it open fully and evolve. Orchid blooms can last a long time!
I shot the orchid in the natural light of my kitchen using every Lensbaby lens I own. I wanted to compare the results of each of the lenses shot at different apertures. I used a creamy beige-colored background I printed and mounted on a large board, placing it about a foot behind the orchid. I used my tripod, which I generally don't use when shooting with my Lensbabies, but it was actually simpler and more effective this way with my set up and the more limited light indoors. I also wanted to use Live View to zoom in and accurately focus on a part of the orchid. When I teach about using Lensbaby lenses the number one issue people seem to have is getting accurate focus on the part of the flower they want to draw the eye to. The Lensbaby lenses are all manual focus so it can be a bit challenging at first to master the focus. If you are having a problem, get on your tripod and focus through Live View. With practice, you will be get better and be able to focus more effectively off the tripod, especially when you have ample light. The tripod (and believe me, I have a love/hate relationship with tripods) really does help you slow down, compose carefully and get more keepers.
Here a few of the results of that shoot:
Lensbaby Composer Pro with Twist optic, 8 mm macro converter, f/2.8. Notice the sweet spot of focus is on the center orchid and the resulting beautiful twisty blur around the edges. The blurred effect of this lens is even more pronounced when working further back. It's a sharp lens in that sweet spot!
Composer Pro with Sweet 50 Optic, 8 mm macro converter, f/5.6. Notice how much more is in focus at that aperture. If you want blur, stay in those lower apertures.
Nice and close with the Velvet 56mm, f/4, (the Velvet focuses within 5 inches of your subject). f/4 gives me the focus I want but maintains that beautiful ethereal blur in the background.
Composer Pro with Soft Focus Optic, 16mm macro converter, f/4. The soft focus optic is no longer available for sale but I found this one on ebay. Love the softness of this optic! Velvet 56mm, f/2 - just a hint of focus on the middle flower and that characteristic dreamy blur. These are just a brief sampling of the 100+ images I experimented with. An afternoon with one orchid plant, all my Lensbabies = lots of fun and creative experimentation. Challenge yourself with a simple project to help you grow. This is what keeps photography fun! I'll be teaching a class about selective focus and the magic of Lensbaby lenses at the Out of Chicago Winter Conference, February 18th, and we will have hands-on time to play with a variety of Lensbabies the people at Lensbaby are providing for us. Maybe I'll bring this orchid, along with a lot of other beautiful flowers to shoot. Registration is already open to email subscribers to outofchicago.com and will open to the public in a few days. Watch here for more information! The folks at Lensbaby approached me this summer about partnering with them to spread the word about these wonderful, fun and creative lenses and, of course, I said YES!!!