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 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, wildflowers, 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]
It's hard to believe we are rounding the corner to November. As I write this, it's snowing near the lake in Chicago where I live. This likely means the end of the flower season. It's always sad for me, especially this year knowing that my usual places to photograph during the winter - Garfield Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Conservatory - are not open because of Covid. It's going to be a long winter, but I'm filled with hope for the 2021 flower season and I have so much processing from the last few months to catch up on.
November is a busy month of online presentations for me and I want to share about two of them.
On Saturday November 14 at 11 a.m. PT (1 p.m. CT/2 p.m. ET) I am honored to be asked by renowned flower photographer Harold Davis to join him for the "Master Photographer Panel with Anne Belmont and Bryan Peterson." You can learn more about this presentation and register here. This presentation will benefit the Center for Policing Equity. Bryan and I will each discuss our work and then join Harold in a panel discussion and Q&A session. I have taught with both Harold and Bryan and I know this will be a fun and creative program.
On Thursday, November 19th at 3 p.m. ET, I am very excited to be presenting an online program "Capturing the Magic of Flowers with Lensbaby" in the B&H Event Space. I'll be sharing my passion for Lensbaby lenses in my flower and botanical photography. I'll give a peek into my approach to flower photography, how Lensbaby helps me create impact and emotion in my images and why these lenses unleash creativity. I will give detailed descriptions and tips for using each of my favorite lenses for flowers, helping you to understand and master these unique and artistic lenses. This program is free and sponsored by Lensbaby and you can register for it here.
I hope you will join me for one or both of these programs. I always love sharing my love for flower photography and I am thankful for the online platform until we can safely all meet in person. Stay well, my friends, and always feel free to reach out if I can help you in your pursuit of photography!
We are now in our 8th month of this global pandemic and, if predictions are right, we'll be fighting this battle well into 2021. It has been a difficult year of loss for everyone – loss of life, loss of jobs and income, loss of time with our families, and loss of many of the simple pleasures we took for granted. Add to that the political unrest, fires in the West, hurricanes and climate concerns – some days it all seems like too much.
Conferences and workshops cancelled, the photography world adapted and moved to online formats. I am very proud to have been involved in two very successful Out of Chicago online conferences, one in April, the second in August. Those conferences helped to contribute to income for photographers who suddenly found their livelihoods in jeopardy, and they provided attendees with some inspiring learning opportunities. I look forward to being a part of more online opportunities during the fall and winter. Although I deeply miss teaching others in-person, online teaching keeps so many of us connected and learning in a safe way for the time being.
When shelter-in-place was issued in mid-March and my beloved Chicago Botanic Garden closed, I wondered how I would continue doing what I love to do – photographing flowers and nature. I couldn't imagine missing my favorite season at CBG - the emergence of spring and the tulips blooming. If I wanted to continue photographing, I had no choice but to get out in my yard and my neighborhood and find spring. That's exactly what I did. My long walks with my camera in my neighborhood have been my therapy, my escape from all the worries and anxiety brought forward by this unsettled time. It centers me and fills me with hope. As a former art therapist, I understand the power of creating art to help us deal with adversity and to better understand our emotions. My personal photography is always centered around healing and bringing my heart and emotions into the process of creating. I am amazed at the treasures I found in a neighborhood I have lived in for over 30 years. I discovered many things I have never noticed before – crocuses in a church yard nearby, tulips in a public park and in neighbors' yards, magnolia and crabapple trees in bloom in many places in our village. Every walk brings new discoveries.
Tulip In A Neighborhood Public Park, Photographed With The Lensbaby Sol 45mm.
Ferns In My Yard – "We're In This Together" – Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Crabapple Blooms At Our Village Community House, Photographed With The Lensbaby Composer Pro II And Soft Focus Optic
During the summer, Chicago Botanic Garden reopened in a safe way, requiring tickets and limiting numbers, as well as urging mask use. It was wonderful to be back photographing the gardens filled with dahlias, zinnias, waterlilies and lotus flowers – all my favorite things to photograph. My happy place was once again open, and more beautiful than ever.
Lotus In Bloom In Morning Light – Chicago Botanic Garden, 70-30mm lens.
The Heart Of The Dahlia – Chicago Botanic Garden, Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Zinnia Patterns – Chicago Botanic Garden, Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Weekends proved to be a bit more crowded than I was comfortable with at the Garden, so I resurrected my neighborhood walks during the weekends. Something remarkable happened! One day I felt myself pulled in a direction I don't usually walk. I remember distinctly switching directions at several times during that walk and saying to myself, "let's go this way instead." I found myself walking down a street I had only walked down once before early in the spring and now being face-to-face with the most magnificent dahlia garden. As I am standing there on the sidewalk with my jaw dropped, looking at these amazing, prize-winning dahlias lining the sidewalk, Karin, the homeowner, drove up and greeted me. That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship of two people with a passion for dahlias - one growing them, one photographing them. Karin is amazing. She has only lived in this house for a year, yet she has completely transformed her entire yard into a paradise of flowers, veggies, herbs, and so many other beautiful plants. She plans to start a dahlia farm and has already ordered 12,000 dahlia plants for next year. Her deep love of flowers, her expertise in growing them and, most of all, her passion will no doubt lead her to success. She sells many of her dahlias and donates the money to a food bank. She also gives many flowers to neighbors and friends, helping others to share in the joy of her beautiful flowers. She is one of the kindest, most generous spirits you could imagine. I am so honored to know her. I have been back to her garden several times and each time she shares tidbits of knowledge with me and I give her tips on photographing her dahlias. She has sent me home with dahlias to photograph at home and that has led to many, many blissful hours lost in those beautiful flowers. We hope to collaborate in many ways in the future. I feel so blessed and so fortunate that fate led me in her direction that Sunday in September. Here is a sampling of photographs I have taken of Karin's dahlias. Everyday I post new images on my Instagram page @annebelmontphotography and be sure and follow Karin's page @choosingcalm.
Dahlia 'Gitt's Perfection' – Karin's Dahlia Garden, Lensbaby Sol 45mm
Dahlia 'Cafe Au Lait' – Karin's Dahlia Garden, Lensbaby Velvet 56mm
Dahlia 'AC Chelan' – Karin's Dahlia Garden, Lensbaby Composer Pro II With Sweet 50 Optic
Lost In The Curves Of The Beautiful Dahlia 'Steve Meggos' – Karin's Dahlia Garden, Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Dahlia 'Camano Buz' – Karin's Dahlia Garden, Lensbaby Sol 45mm
I have some exciting learning opportunities coming in November and I am busy preparing new presentations for these events. On Nov. 9th I will be doing a Zoom presentation for Morton Arboretum Photographic Society at 7 p.m. I have presented for this group before and I'm excited to do it again. MAPS is a wonderful and active photography group.
On Sat. November 14th at 1 p.m. CT, I'll be joining Harold Davis and Bryan Peterson for a Master Photographer webinar to benefit Center for Policing Equity. You can learn more about this webinar here.
On Thursday, November 19th at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT, I'll be doing a free webinar on Lensbaby lenses and flower photography for B&H Event Space: "Capturing the Magic of Flowers," sponsored by Lensbaby. You can register for this webinar here.
Remember that, as a Lensbaby Ambassador, I always have a discount code for you if you interested in purchasing anything from the Lensbaby website. Reach out to me and I'll provide you with the info and code.
I hope that each of you is doing well during this difficult time, continuing to get out in whatever way you can to photograph, and finding joy in the beauty of nature.
What a year it's been! Covid 19 has certainly put a damper on travel and photo opportunities this year, even closing down my beloved Chicago Botanic Garden for several months. I used the time to find subjects in my neighborhood and, I have to admit, those daily walks kept me centered through this difficult time. I hope all my readers were able to get out and do some photography, too. Out of Chicago came to the rescue in April with a wonderful online conference that brought 70 photographers and over 800 attendees together for a successful and uplifting learning experience. We are about to do it again and I'd like to share with you some details.
Please join nature photographer Sarah Marino and me as we pair up to teach a deep-dive into "Photographing Plants and Flowers in New, Creative Ways: An In-Depth Exploration" at Out of Chicago IN-DEPTH: A Live Online Photography Workshop Weekend, August 21-23, with image reviews on September 2 and 3. I am excited to teach this in-depth class with Sarah. She has been one of my photography heroes from way back. I admire her work and her skilled teaching. We have been working hard on this new presentation and can't wait to share it with others.
This is a brand new, interactive format from Out of Chicago with new, unique classes that have never been taught before, including 30+ advanced sessions from over 50 world-class photographers, some brand new to Out of Chicago. We'll have a variety of topics and genres, including landscape, nature, travel, street, architecture, post-processing and more. Two instructors lead each session and share with you their individual methods and practices on a favorite topic. Assignments will be given to get you out to shoot and return for two days of image reviews that highlight what you've learned. You'll be able to watch up to 5 sessions live throughout the workshop weekend, and then have access to all the presentations on video for up to a year after the conference. Please visit our website to see the amazing line-up of instructors and learn more details: www.outofchicago.com/in-depth. If you are interested in registering, please use my personal discount code to get $50 off: BELMONT.
Another exciting opportunity leading up to the conference:
Botanical Beauty: Case Studies on Creatively Photographing Plants and Flowers
Tuesday, August 11 - 6PM ET, 5 PM CT, 4PM MT and 3PM PT
Join Sarah Marino and me for a free webinar about creative approaches to photographing plants and flowers. Using in-depth case studies, Sarah and I will talk through these topics: the importance of connecting with your subject, deeply observing details, creating a compelling composition, working with different kinds of light, using a shallow depth of field, and processing to help realize your vision of a scene. This webinar is a free preview of the four-hour, in-depth class that Sarah and I will be teaching together on this topic for the upcoming Out of Chicago In-Depth online photography conference.
This webinar is a great opportunity to learn from two photographers, each with a different perspective and approach to photographing similar subjects. Due to limited space, you must register in advance if you would like to participate in the live webinar. By registering for this webinar, you consent to being added to our respective mailing lists (you can unsubscribe at any time and your email address will never be shared). The link to register for the webinar is here.
I hope you'll join me for one or both of these events. Always feel free to reach out if you have questions. Lastly, if you ever need a discount code for Lensbaby products, I'm officially a Lensbaby Ambassador now. My affiliate link to Lensbaby is here. Use the discount code WBELMONT to receive 10% when you check out.
Stay well and keep learning and photographing! I hope to see you online in August!
Our Out of Chicago team has been busy putting together a very exciting event to help us all connect with others during this time of social isolation. Please join me at the Out of Chicago LIVE! Online Global Photography Conference taking place April 24-26, 2020. Without leaving home, immerse yourself in photography inspiration and learning with three days of live presentations and 100+ interactive sessions, including panel discussions, tutorials, individual photo challenges and group image reviews. Learn face to face from over 60 world-class professional photographers that love to teach. Watch what you can during the conference weekend but everything will be recorded so you will be able to watch for a year after the conference. The majority of profits for this event will go directly to the instructors who have lost workshop and teaching opportunities during this time. I'll be teaching about flower photography, creativity and, of course, Lensbaby! To register and for more information, visit our website at www.outofchicago/live. It's going to be an amazing event!
Happy almost spring! With the time change and a few days of warmer, sunshiny weather, it feels like spring is closer. I know here in Chicago we can get tricked into thinking spring is almost upon us, and then we get that unexpected snowstorm that throws us back into winter. I'm waiting patiently! Meanwhile, I have been busy photographing the beautiful orchid show at Chicago Botanic Garden, as well as the spring flower show at Garfield Park Conservatory. I hope to get to the spring flower show at Lincoln Park Conservatory sometime this week. This is how I stay excited about flower photography and continue my own development as a photographer while waiting for the blooms to begin outdoors.
Phalaenopsis Orchids photographed at Chicago Botanic Garden Orchid Show, Lensbaby Velvet 85mm
Having fun with tulips at Garfield Park Conservatory, Lensbaby Sol 45mm, background straight out of camera.
I want to share some thoughts about working with backgrounds, something that flower and macro photographers often struggle with. I wrote an article about creating beautiful backgrounds on the Visual Wilderness blog a few months ago and, to begin, I would encourage you to read that here. In the article, I write about the importance of backgrounds, checking your whole frame/composition, simplifying, learning to position yourself for the cleanest background, and using aperture and lenses to control backgrounds. At the end, I talk about using textures in your background to add visual interest and create a more beautiful background.
Although I know that using textures for backgrounds is very popular in the flower photography world, my use of textures is very minimal and a little different from most. My true love is to capture a beautiful background in camera by employing all the techniques I talked about in the Visual Wilderness article. I actually enjoy the challenge of creating beautiful backgrounds. Rather than assuming I can use a texture to correct a difficult background, I will work hard to create the best possible background in camera. It might mean finding a different flower or it might mean changing my position, my aperture, or my lens. I live for those images where the background is so beautiful straight out of camera, it compliments and adds to the flower itself. It's one of many reasons I love photographing flowers with Lensbaby lenses – they can create stunning backgrounds straight out of camera. The majority of my work is created that way.
This tulip image captured with the Lensbaby Sol 45mm was such a time, where a lucky combination of a beautiful subject, a beautiful background and knowing the lens that would capture it successfully was pure magic. I had so much fun photographing that beautiful tulip! The fixed aperture of f/3.5 in the Sol 45mm captured enough detail in the tulip - the sensuous lines and raindrops - along with the beautiful blur and bokeh of the colorful Moroccan Toadflax set in the distance behind the tulip.
What if those perfect set of circumstances don't present themselves? What if no matter what you do, you still end up with a messy, distracting background? What if you just can't move on from that flower to find another with a better background because you LOVE THAT FLOWER and it has entangled you in a relationship and pulled you in? This certainly happens to me. When it does, I ask myself what I could do in post processing to make a stronger image, to correct that less-than-perfect background. Here are two suggestions.
Let's start first with a technique you can use without using textures. If you photograph flowers on a tripod, you have some added power over that background. Yes, those of you that know me are saying, "But, Anne, you rarely use a tripod!" Yes, I do prefer to shoot handheld when possible, but there are times when it is necessary to be on a tripod, and this is one of them. In the orchid below, photographed with my 180mm macro lens, I knew I needed a higher aperture to get the important parts of the foreground flower in focus. The complexity and depth of the orchid called for more depth of field. I experimented with a range of apertures (i.e. f/6.3 - f/11) and found that I liked the focus at f/8. Just enough of the foreground flower was in focus at f/8 to portray my vision of this grouping of orchids. You might prefer more or less focus in the image; there is no one right or wrong answer. This is why I always recommend shooting in a range – give yourself choices and look at them carefully on your computer screen. Although the flower was where I wanted it, an aperture of f/8 brought forth too much detail and more distracting elements in my background. Orchids are some of the most difficult flowers to photograph because their backgrounds can be very challenging and full of distracting elements. I definitely wanted a softer background. After photographing the orchid in that range of higher apertures, I then photographed the flower wide open at f/3.5 to get a softer background, knowing that I would blend the two images together in Photoshop. You need to be on a tripod and make sure you don't move your camera between shots if you are going to blend two images together. This ensures that they can be perfectly aligned in Photoshop. Change your aperture carefully between shots and use a self timer, cable release or remote to keep your hands away from the camera as much as possible.
In Lightroom I chose the two images (f/3.5 and f/8) I wanted to take into Photoshop by holding down the Command key and selecting the two images. From Lightroom I brought the two images into Photoshop in layers (Photo...Edit in....Open as Layers in Photoshop). There are other ways to bring images into Photoshop in layers but this is a simple way I like to use. I made sure that the image shot at f/3.5 was on top of the image shot at f/8 in the layers panel (you can drag the layers up or down to rearrange them). I created a mask on the second layer, the image shot in f/3.5. The mask icon is the white square with a black circle in it below the layers panel - simply click it to add a mask to your layer. I selected the brush tool and set it to black with an opacity of 100% to paint over the foreground flower. This revealed the more focused orchid in the layer underneath. You could also do this in reverse. If the more focused layer is on top, you would simply paint the background through, rather than the flower. I chose the way I did it because the flower required much less painting than the background, but either works. You do need to be precise in your painting, particularly at the edges of the flower. Make your brush smaller around the edges to give you more control. If all of this sounds like Greek to you, I would suggest finding some Photoshop video tutorials on using layers, masks and blending images. It may sound intimidating but it's actually quite easy. I'm far from a Photoshop expert and there may be other slightly different ways to accomplish these steps, but this is the way I learned and it makes sense to me.
So there you have it – the focus in the flower and the beautiful soft background with two images!
Before I move on to technique #2, you might be asking, "How is she using a tripod in an orchid exhibit? Isn't that prohibited?" Yes, during normal hours, tripods are prohibited in most flower shows. At Chicago Botanic Garden, we have "Photographers' Hours," a time they sell a limited number of tickets for an early morning shoot on Tuesday from 8:15 a.m. until the exhibit opens to the public at 10 a.m. Tripods are allowed during this time. It's such a nice perk for us photographers!
Here's another variation of blending two images together in Photoshop. Suppose you have that flower that you have fallen in love with, as I did with the tulip below shot last week at Garfield Park Conservatory. Those ruffles had me at the get-go! As I looked through the viewfinder of my Lensbaby Velvet 85mm, experimented with aperture and moved around, I quickly realized that I just couldn't get the focus I wanted in those ruffles and have a pleasing background. Garfield restricts the use of tripods on most days, so I was limited to hand-holding my camera. The tulip was surrounded by foliage that was pulling my eye away from the tulip. I could have shot it in a wider open aperture, creating more blur in the background, but I'd be sacrificing some of the focus where I wanted it. I could have worked hard to deemphasize that foliage in post processing, perhaps burning in the leaves a bit, perhaps further blurring them, but I had a different idea of how to deal with the problem and to bring more impact to my image.
First, I photographed the image of the tulip at the aperture that was most pleasing to me and expressed the vision I had of the flower itself. In this case it was f/4. You can see the result in the raw image below. The tulip was the way I wanted it, but the surrounding leaves of the tulip were drawing my eye away (yes, I know, I'm picky about my backgrounds – it's not that bad, but it's not the image I wanted). Second, I looked around the same garden for some nice complimentary colors that would add some visual interest to the image (purple is complimentary to the orange in the tulip - an article I wrote about color theory might be helpful). I photographed a scene with purple flowers nearby, throwing it completely out of focus (see the blurred image below). In Photoshop I did the same steps as the orchid above, bringing both images into Photoshop in layers, with the blurred layer on top of the tulip image. Creating a mask, I painted the flower and stem through with the black brush, leaving the beautiful background with the blurred purple flowers to compliment the tulip. In this case, you may need to lower the opacity of the blurred layer on top so you can see the flower underneath to do your painting, then pull it back up up when you are done. I love the result! The image came alive!
Although I have purchased textures to use in my processing from outside sources, I have found many of them to be too strongly textured to fit my vision. I tend to gravitate to very soft textures or background blends so that they look more natural. I don't necessarily want you to know I've used a texture; it needs to be subtle – simply a way to introduce more blur or add subtle visual interest or color when I can't get it in camera. That's not to say that using more defined textures is bad. On the contrary, I've seen a lot of beautiful work created with textures. It's just not always my personal vision of a flower or my style. I love the idea of creating a blurred background in the same garden, too, although it can certainly be a blurred image you have photographed at another time, another garden. I have been collecting these images for years, some used, some waiting for the right image to be paired with. With this technique the image is completely mine, not a blend with someone else's texture. I can also control what colors I want to bring into the image to add even more impact.
This is a technique that, after teaching together last summer at Longwood Gardens, I discovered my dear friend Jackie Kramer uses, as well. Jackie creates bold, beautiful backgrounds, often combining multiple images of textures she has photographed, but the work is completely hers.
Unedited Image - Flower is great but the background is just not doing it for me!
Image photographed in the same garden completely out of focus.
Finished image combining both images to create blurred, colorful background with complimentary colors.
I keep a folder of those out-of-focus images shot in gardens and I might choose one later on that works well with an image, as I did in the cattleya orchid image below photographed at Longwood Gardens last summer with the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm. I sat with that image for months, not sure how I wanted to work with the unappealing background but loving the beautiful orchid. I came upon a blurred background I had shot over a year ago in a garden and the colors coordinated perfectly with the orchid. Viola!
Unedited Photograph of a Cattleya Orchid
Blurred background used with cattleya orchid
Think about these two techniques when you have a challenging background to deal with in the field. I still urge you to look for subjects that have pleasing backgrounds you can create in camera. I think it is a skill worth practicing and learning well with any macro photography subject. Backgrounds can make or break your image. Challenge yourself to create the best possible backgrounds in camera. When, however, you want to add a little visual interest to an image or further blur distracting elements, these techniques will help you create that vision of a flower you love.