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 hope you are enjoying the summer and finding lots of opportunities for photographing flowers and plants.
I am excited to announce that I will be an instructor at two upcoming Out of Chicago Conferences - Out of Desert Botanical Garden, March 19-23, 2023, and Out of Chicago Botanic Garden, August 27-31, 2023. These are amazing opportunities to immerse yourself in 5 days of garden photography and learn from a group of passionate and knowledgable instructors who truly love to teach others.
Join us in Phoenix, Arizona for an immersive experience focused on photographing some of the best collections of unique desert plants in North America. This conference is limited to 45 attendees to make this a more intimate, personalized learning experience. We will spend most of our time together at the Desert Botanical Garden, which features 140 acres of desert plants, including cactus, succulents, trees, and flowers from around the world showcased in cultivated outdoor exhibits and along naturalized trails.
We will be timing our visit with the Garden’s spring flower season, with opportunities to photograph blooming cactus, an extensive range of colorful desert plants, butterflies, and possibly hummingbirds. This conference will also include an extended day trip to Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. During the conference, you will have extended time to work with each instructor, photograph on your own, and create a cohesive portfolio of desert plant and flower photographs. Deserts are sometimes perceived as dry, inhospitable places. This conference will challenge that perception through an exploration of these amazing, specially-adapted plants, with the gardens proving a broad range of inspiration for any nature photographer.
I will be teaching alongside a passionate group of instructors: Sarah Marino, Alan Shapiro, Gerri Jones, Colleen Miniuk, and Chrissy Donadi.
Learn more and register here. Use the discount code 2023GardenAnne to receive $250 off the conference price. The offer expires on July 25, 2022.
Immerse yourself in the Chicago Botanic Garden's 385 acres, which includes 27 individual gardens full of dahlias, roses, waterlilies, lotuses, hummingbirds, butterflies, and much more, along with 3 greenhouses that feature desert plants, tropical, and semi-tropical plants. The Chicago Botanic Garden cultivates a collection of more than 2.6 million living plants, including native species, unusual nonnatives, and adapted cultivars, making it a paradise for flower, plant, and garden photography. Many of you know that this is a garden near and dear to my heart, a place I visit many times a week, and where I do most of my photography.
Late August is the ideal time to visit Chicago Botanic Garden: the gardens are at their lushest and the summer crowds have begun to diminish. During the conference, you will have ample time to wander the garden paths, explore your creativity, practice mindful photography, and explore your subjects deeply. The conference, which is limited to 45 attendees to make this a more intimate, personalized learning experience, includes extended time to work with each of our talented, supportive instructors in the field.
I'm excited to teach alongside an incredible group of instructors: Sarah Marino, Alan Shapiro, Krista McCuish, Charles Needle, and John Barclay.
Learn more and register here. Use the discount code 2023GardenAnne to receive $250 off the conference price. The offer expires on July 25, 2022.
I hope you'll join me for one of these exciting events!
If you missed the recent Out of Chicago webinars leading up to the garden conference announcements, please take some time to watch our inspiring instructors:
A-Ha Moments in Flower and Plant Photography with all the instructors is here.
Beyond Flowers: Finding New Opportunities in the Garden and in Nature with Anne Belmont and Sarah Marino is here.
Today Lensbaby launched a new product, the Soft Focus 2 Optic. As a Lensbaby Ambassador, I've had the privilege of beta testing this optic since early October, and I have to say it is high on my list of Lensbaby favorites. I can quite honestly say that I love this optic! The optic has spent a great deal of time on my camera since I received it. The Soft Focus 2 Optic produces a dreamy soft glow with subtle sharp detail beneath. The glow is 2 stops stronger than that produced by the Velvet lenses. I found myself drawn to the glow in the wider open apertures, but by increasing the aperture, you can achieve more and more sharpness. This gives the optic wonderful versatility. The dreamy softness is a beautiful effect that fits my style of flower photography perfectly. It didn't take long to fall in love with this optic and the ease of its use. I feel so fortunate that I was able to capture the end of dahlia season last fall when I first received the optic.
The optic is a 50mm focal length with a minimum focusing distance of 15 inches, and can be used with the Composer Pro II system, and paired with the 46mm macro filters or the macro converters to enable you to photograph closer to your subject. It is recommended that you use this optic straight ahead rather than bending it the way many of the optics in the optic swap system are used. If you already own the Composer Pro II (or any of the older Composer Pro systems), you only need to buy the optic. The Composer Pro II comes in all camera mounts. You can also buy the optic in a stand-alone lens holder - the same as is sold with the Twist and the Obscura optic, optics that are also used straight ahead. The stand-alone lens is sold in Canon DSLR, Nikon DSLR, and Sony Mirrorless versions. Hop on over to lensbaby.com to see product images of the optic with the Composer Pro II or the stand-alone lens.
I own the original version of the Soft Focus optic, purchased on eBay many years ago. If you are familiar with this version, you remember that you use it with the drop-in aperture discs. So what's different about the new optic? The new optic features a 12 blade internal aperture system - f/2.5-f/22. You control the aperture by setting it on the optic itself, not by using the drop-in discs. It is all-metal, beautifully made, and a much more sophisticated version of the older optic. It comes with four additional drop-in discs, but these have a different function than controlling aperture - 3 multi-hole discs (a small, medium, and large hole disc) and a sunburst disc. The discs are used to create bokeh effects/shapes in the background as well as serve to balance the sharpness and glow in the optic. You drop them in and take them out with a small magnetic tool that comes with the disc holder.
I'll be sharing lots of images taken with the new Soft Focus 2 optic on social media over the coming weeks, so be sure to find me on Instagram at @annebelmontphotography. For now, I'll share some favorite images made with this optic with you here! These images were all photographed in f/2.5-f/4 without the discs, and with macro filters. I fell in love with the effects in this range, but I will be experimenting with the discs more as the spring season unfolds. I can hardly wait for the spring blooms to appear because this optic is going to be amazing for capturing all my favorites - magnolias, tulips, crabapple blooms, and all the flowers of spring!
Thank you to the many people who attended my Out of Chicago Photo Challenge - "Photographing the Beauty of the Garden in Winter." If you missed it there is a recording of the webinar available on the Out of Chicago website here. This free photo challenge, along with many others, leads up to the Out of Chicago LIVE! Online Photography Conference, March 11-13, 2022. During the conference weekend, I will be presenting a program "Bringing Your Flower Portraits to Life with Post-Processing, as well as doing an image review of images created after my photo challenge. To learn more about the conference and register visit the Out of Chicago website.
I am excited to be teaching at The Out of Chicago LIVE! Online Photography Conference again this year. This is a once-a-year event where over 60 world-class photographers come together to teach and inspire through pre-conference photo challenges, general presentations by each instructor, team collaborations, image reviews, and tutorials. We have an impressive line-up of instructors this year and I am honored to be among them. During the conference weekend, I will be presenting “Bringing Your Flower Portraits to Life with Post Processing.” This will include post-processing demos of a number of flowers, simple to more complex. Although my true love is being in the garden, making photographs, I do feel even the simplest of post-processing steps can make a big difference in bringing our flower images to life. The images I process will cover the following concepts:
This year I’ll be doing a pre-conference Photo Challenge on Friday, February 4th at noon CT - “Finding Beauty in the Winter Garden.” This photo challenge is free to the public - you just need to be on Out of Chicago’s mailing list to receive the link to view it live. It will also be recorded and available to view later on the Out of Chicago website. This is a lead-up to the conference and I will discuss the winter project I began in the winter of 2020-2021 and have continued this winter. It began during the early pandemic when many indoor spaces were closed to the public - the conservatories, greenhouses, and flower shows I normally photograph during the winter months. As someone who previously hated winter and being cold, I learned to dress warm, be comfortable outdoors, and embrace the beauty that is abundantly present in the winter garden. This project was transformational both in how I learned to see my subjects and in my attitude about winter. Join me for this free photo challenge. I will challenge you to get out and photograph the unexpected and quiet beauty of winter. For those that take on the challenge and submit images, I will give an image review of images by attendees during the conference weekend, but you do have to be registered for the conference to participate in the image review.
The conference is a great deal for $300, with 100+ different presentations by over 60 amazing photographers. All presentations are recorded so if you can't view them live, you can watch them for up to a year after the conference. To learn more, sign up for emails, and register go to outofchicago.com. I hope you'll join me for what promises to be an inspirational weekend of photography and connecting with the Out of Chicago community of instructors and attendees.
A few images from my winter project:
'Pirouette,' Lensbaby Velvet 56mm
'Graceful Dancer,' Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
'Still Dancing,' Lensbaby Sol 45mm
Happy New Year to you all! We are in the midst of winter, snow, and very cold temperatures here in Chicago. I continue to enjoy working on my winter project "What Remains: The Beauty of Winter in the Garden.," a project I started last winter when so many indoor green spaces were closed due to the pandemic. I have produced some new work this year that I love. In my next blog post, I will share an opportunity for you to learn a little more about this project, see my work and challenge yourself to get out and find interesting subjects to photograph in winter. Stay tuned for that!
Winter is also a great time to catch up on processing my work from the summer and fall of 2021. Those of you who know me, know that dahlias hold a special place in my heart. I love all flowers, but dahlias have such incredible beauty, and they come in a myriad of varieties, sizes, and a rainbow of colors. They can be photographed in so many different ways. I find such joy in both photographing them and learning about growing them. During the late summer of 2020, while walking in my neighborhood, a daily practice I started during the early pandemic, I stumbled upon the most beautiful dahlia garden a mere 3-4 blocks from my home. That day was an incredible blessing because I met the grower of that garden, Karin England Fink, whose greatest passion is growing dahlias. Karin and I became instant friends, sharing our love for these flowers. That summer and fall, I had the pleasure of photographing all the dahlias in her garden. This past year, Karin leased land and started a micro flower farm, Choosing Calm Farms, planting thousands of dahlia tubers along with other flowers, and creating a successful business of selling her flowers to florists in the area. Flower farming is a lot of hard work, but Karin has the tenacity and passion to make it a successful business. I spent many a happy day at the farm with her photographing her incredible flowers, talking about life and flowers and how they are so intertwined for both of us. Despite the hardships of the pandemic these past two years, there have been many joys. Meeting Karin was certainly one of those joys. I am so grateful for the friendship, and it is that sense of gratitude that has kept me centered and sane during this time. I want to share some of my favorite images from this summer.
Dahlia 'Chewy,' Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Dahlia 'Labyrinth,' Helios 44-2, Vintage Russian Lens
Petal Dance, Lensbaby Sol 45mm, Macro Filters
Dahlia 'Café au Lait' with Curls, Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Dahlia Symmetry, Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Dahlia 'Peaches 'N Cream,'' Helios 44-2, Vintage Russian Lens
Dahlia 'Café au Lait,' Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Dahlia 'KA's Mocha Katie,' Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Dahlia 'Valley Porcupine,' Lensbaby Sol 45mm, Macro Filters
These are a few of the many dahlias I photographed this summer. To see more of the collection visit my gallery "Karin's Dahlia Garden."
Always feel free to reach out to me if you have questions about Lensbaby lenses. As you see, much of my work is captured with these lenses. As a Lensbaby Ambassador, I can offer you a 10% discount on any non-sale items at lensbaby.com. Use the code WBELMONT at checkout.
I hope the summer is bringing you many opportunities for photography as life begins to return to normalcy. The Chicago Botanic Garden is fully open now and we are excited to be moving forward with holding our Out of Chicago Botanic Garden Conference we had to postpone last summer. I'm excited to be teaching alongside some of my favorite photographers at my favorite garden in the world. This is an immersive, 5-day flower and garden photography conference taking place August 29–September 2nd, 2021, with excursions to the Chicago Botanic Garden and presentations, workshops, classes held at the Embassy Suites North Shore, Deerfield, IL. Spaces are almost full. Learn more and register at www.outofchicago.com. If you have questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected]
Lensbaby released a new lens this week, the Obscura! I had the opportunity to beta test the lens over the past few months. A blog post with my impressions of the lens is posted on the Lensbaby website - "Capturing Landscapes with the Lensbaby Obscura." This lens is a lot of fun to use and it gave me an opportunity to shoot in a totally new way. Lensbaby is known for getting you out of your comfort zone and stretching your creativity and this lens really did that for me. As always, if you have questions about Lensbaby products, please feel free to reach out to me.
I am very excited to be teaching alongside Mike Moats, Charles Needle and Jackie Kramer next summer at the Madeline Island School for the Arts - "Madeline Island & Bayfield in Bloom: A Macro Photography Summer Immersion Retreat," June 20-24, 2022.
In this five-day photography retreat, you will learn a wide variety of significant techniques from four master macro and floral photographers utilizing the environs of Madeline Island and the historic port town of Bayfield. Your creative muse will include lupines, wild flowers, boatyard gardens, and beach vegetation.
This summer immersion retreat offers a unique macro and intimate landscape scene photography adventure. Capture over 50,000 blossoming florals, a vivid mosaic of roadside lupine, undulating fruit orchards filled with efflorescence, and Island gardens erupting in a vibrant array of color.
Your retreat experience will include a combination of shooting in the field, classroom lectures, and unique post-processing training utilizing specialized software. Enjoy a ferry ride from Madeline Island to Bayfield, as well as a boat cruise to the Devil’s Island sea caves with in depth evening discussions.
To learn more about MISA and this wonderful retreat visit the website. Come join us for what promises to be a wonderful learning adventure in a beautiful place!
I'm excited to be teaching at Out of Chicago LIVE!, April 9-11, 2021. Last April's first online conference was so inspiring and I'm looking forward to another great weekend of learning and fun. Energize your photography, connect, and engage with some of the world's best photographers. Our line-up of talented instructors is amazing - Sarah Marino, Charlotte Gibb, Bryan Peterson, Michael Frye, Franka Gabler, Harold Ross, Gerri Jones, Harold Davis, John Barclay, Alister Benn, Cole Thompson, Richard Martin - to name a few. Learn about all our instructors, their classes and register at outofchicago.com.
I will be teaching a session on "Creative Flower Photography: Celebrating the Beauty of Spring."
Let's celebrate the arrival of spring with a deep dive into some new and creative approaches to photographing the favorite flowers of spring - tulips, crocuses, ranunculus, magnolias, hellebores and more. We'll talk about how taking a slow, mindful approach and fully exploring the unique characteristics and personalities of each of these flowers will help you create images that convey impact, emotion and sometimes even a story. An exploration of unique compositions, controlling light, weather considerations in spring, using a range of apertures and lenses, controlling backgrounds and some helpful tips on gear and post processing will all be explored.
What you'll learn:
I'll also be doing a session "Photographing the Chicago Botanic Garden with Chris Smith and Anne Belmont."
Chris and I will take you on a virtual walk through the gardens of the Chicago Botanic Garden and talk about the upcoming Out of Chicago Botanic Garden Conference, August 29 - September 2. Chicago Botanic Garden has 27 different gardens and 4 natural areas where we will be photographing during the conference, and it is one of the most beautiful gardens in the world for flower and garden photography. If you plan to attend the conference or are interested in photographing flowers in garden settings, this session will help you learn about the beautiful spaces at the Garden, what flowers will be blooming during the summer and some tips and suggestions for equipment for photographing them.
Come join the fun and the learning! The conference is $300 for the entire weekend and you will have access to all the recordings for a full year after the conference. Please also join me for the Out of Chicago Botanic Garden Conference, August 29-Sept. 2, or the Out of Acadia Conference, October 10-14, where I will be teaching this year. When you register for the Out of Chicago LIVE! conference, you will receive $250 off any of these destination conferences.
Spring will be here soon! Meanwhile, I'm still enjoying capturing the beauty of winter in the garden. We had a period of frigid temperatures and two feet of snow, and it was too cold to be out. We have finally climbed back into the 30's again and I'm back to capturing more subjects in the winter garden and enjoying my time outdoors. Nonetheless, I am very excited about spring and I'm observing more and more signs that is is closer. Those tulips and colors of the garden are calling!
I just did a podcast "Photography as Art Therapy" with David Johnston of The Landscape Photography Show. It was a great conversation and David is a wonderful interviewer.
David and I will both be presenters at the upcoming Out of Chicago LIVE! online photography conference, April 9-11. I'm busy preparing brand new presentations for this conference. My main presentation will be Creative Flower Photography: Celebrating the Beauty of Spring. I'll be going into lots of approaches and tips for photographing the favorite flowers of spring, including tulips! Last year was an amazing success and we know this year will be, as well. We have lots of new instructors and new ideas for a weekend filled with photography inspiration. I'll be posting more info about the conference and we'll be releasing the full schedule soon, but check out the website and register!
I have written an article for the Nature Photographers Network "What Remains: The Beauty of Winter in the Garden." This project has been meaningful and transformative, and has helped me find subjects of beauty in the midst of winter and a pandemic. Writing the article was cathartic and helped me to organize all the thoughts swirling in my head about why this project was meaningful to me now, at this particular time. This project is ongoing, so I will continue to post images in the gallery I have set up here. Enjoy, and I hope it will inspire you to get out and find the beauty of winter. I promise you it's there - just open your eyes and your heart!
If you were unable to attend the Lensbaby Conference on December 8-10, here is a link to the YouTube video of my presentation: Finding Your Heart: Creating Flower Portraits with Impact, Emotion and Joy.
The Spark 2.0 is a new and unique lens in the Lensbaby line-up with a very spontaneous, organic and dance-like feel. The lens is based on the design of the original Lensbaby 2.0, introduced in 2004. The accordion-like base of the lens allows you to bend or squeeze to get your focus where you want it. It is sold with the Sweet 50 optic, but any of the optics in the optic swap system are compatible with the Spark 2.0. Just as with the Composer Pro II system, to remove the Sweet 50 optic from the Spark 2.0, gently twist the optic counter-clockwise. To add another optic insert and twist clockwise until it clicks into place.
I have received many questions from people struggling to understand the lens and how to use it, so I decided to write a blog post with some tips I have learned as I experiment with the lens. With continued closings due to Covid, all the local conservatories where I normally photograph during the winter are closed. I am seeking the beauty and grace in the dying flowers and plants outdoors during winter. This has been a fun and creative project and the Spark has been a perfect lens for this new adventure.
When starting with the Spark, shoot with the sweet spot in the middle to practice understanding how near or far you need to be from your subject. Don’t worry about bending yet. The close focusing distance of the Sweet 50 optic is 15 inches. If you want to be in closer to your subject you will need to add the 46mm macro filters or macro converters to the optic. A good place to start is to use the +4 macro filter or one of the macro converters and begin to experiment. Start by moving your body and camera to figure out how close or far away you need to be to get focus. Move your body and camera further from or closer to the subject until it’s in focus.
After you’ve gotten a feel for distance you can also combine squeezing to attain focus. Try backing up a bit and gently squeezing the lens straight back to see your image come into focus. For shooting close-up subjects, I use a combination of moving my camera and body in and out with the gentle squeezing to focus.
To focus subjects further away, as in a landscape shot, squeeze the Spark toward you until your subject comes into focus. The more you squeeze the lens, the further away it will focus. It will focus all the way to infinity. Try this without bending the lens first and just practice focusing on things in a distance by pulling straight back and watching the center come into focus. Later you can add bending and moving your sweet spot.
Once you feel you understand finding your focus in the center, start to practice by composing the area you want in focus in other parts of the frame. Use the grid in your viewfinder to help you know where your sweet spot of focus is going to be placed and what direction you are going to bend. If you want to focus on something to the right of the frame, bend the lens a little to the right (don’t bend too much - a little will do it). If you want to focus on something in the left, top or bottom of the frame bend in those directions until you see it come into focus. If you have focus peaking technology in your camera, use it to help you know what area is in focus in your frame. When you feel like you’ve found your area and the correct bend of the Spark, hold it steady while you take the photo. It might feel a bit awkward at first to hold the Spark and try to release the shutter, but it will become intuitive and easy with practice. I personally find that I hold and bend the Spark with my middle and ring finger on the right side of the lens, leaving my pointer finger on the right to reach up and press the shutter button. On the left side of the lens I use my middle and pointer finger to bend. You’ll find the positioning that feels best for your hands.
The Sweet 50 optic has an aperture range of f/2.5 - f/22, so experiment with a range of apertures. The lower apertures will give you a small sweet spot of focus surrounded by a lot of blur and the higher apertures will give you a larger sweet spot and less blur. I love to use this lens wide open to get the beautiful blur and a smaller sweet spot of focus, but it depends on my subject as to how I make that choice.
Remember to keep your shutter speed high enough to counter any camera shake or movement. If your shutter speed dips down too low, you will get blurry photos. Raise your ISO as needed. Also, remember that when you are shooting closer than the 15 inch minimum focusing distance of the Sweet 50, you may have to add or subtract those macro filters or converters to find the right focus, or use in combination with squeezing to bring your subject into focus.
If you are interested in purchasing the Spark 2.0, please feel free to use my affiliate link and put in the discount code WBELMONT at checkout to receive an additional 10% off. As always, if you have questions, please reach out to me at [email protected]