I often don’t venture beyond my own backyard to make my photographs. Some have been great and popular images, while others, although very good images, languish in my files waiting for a buyer.
As I cross my patio and step into the deep green grass, I smell the fresh Florida air. November air is fresh and clear, not bound by the humidity of the summer months. I live in the city but my backyard offers a short break from the world around me. I have made a myriad of photographs here, including some nights under the stars. Just a few steps off the concrete edge of the patio and I am in a plethora of nature. Dragonflies buzz along the water, water hyacinth, pickerel weed, lily pads, and an occasional alligator make their homes where my property plunges into fresh water. Towards the house, butterflies and hummingbirds visit my garden. There is nothing special here, but to a photographer it is a cornucopia of opportunities.
Often, it’s just my camera and me out here. Occasionally my dog will brave the Florida sun and come along. I have never walked out here with the intent to photograph a specific thing. I simply let the inspiration find me. I have Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) in my back yard, which is also known as leadwort or sky flower. I use them as low shrubs around my palm trees. They grow quickly and provide colorful light blue ground cover. Not being one to correct during post processing, my philosophy dictates getting the image correct in the camera first. Afterward I will make minor adjustments with tools aligning with the traditional wet darkroom. As I stand back pre-visualizing the photograph I want to take, I begin the decision-making process.
For this shoot, I chose diffused light for a better and softer blue. I also wanted to highlight the flower and create a 2-3 stop difference from the background. This creates a darker background and a brighter flower. As for composition, the rule of thirds seemed appropriate.
Figure 1: The Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) in my back yard as it appeared in the late morning light. As you can see, the strong sunlight can create strong differences in lighting, shadows and even effect color reproduction.
Figure 2: I mounted a Photoflex 41”x74” White/Translucent LiteDisc to a LiteStand and positioned it in between the flowers and the sun. The light, now diffused, evened out. The translucent Disc softened the harsh shadows and allowed me to actually see the color of the flower and the unique textures of the petals. Under non-diffused light (Figure 1) these subtle qualities get washed out and lost. In the darkroom, much like the digital darkroom of today, highlights can seldom be saved. Shadows and mid tones fare much better in post processing. Using the diffuser evens the light and removes the highlights, bathing the subject in a less harsh light.
Figure 3: Next, the white balance needed adjustment. Even though I was working in daylight, I had altered the color temperature of the light slightly by using a diffuser. By setting a Custom White Balance using the Photoflex QuikDisc®: 12 inch white balancing tool, I was able to achieve an accurate color reproduction of the scene in front of me. The camera chose 5774K, but remember that midday daylight can range between 5000K and 5600K. Diffused light, clouds, shade and even flash all have varying amounts of blue in them. These hues can alter the overall appearance of an image. Conversely, tungsten lights (2900K-3200K) as well as fluorescent lights have varying amount of yellow to red in them – also altering the appearance of your images. The simple act of setting your white balance can render your images true to the color you see and want. To set the white balance, simply placed the Photoflex QuikDisc®: 12 inch white balancing tool in front of the object you want to photograph. The camera will read the reflectivity of the 18% gray and calculate the correct color temperature.
Figure 4: With the light diffused and the white balance corrected, I then began to form the image I had envisioned. Adding the use of a LiteDisc 12 inch White/Silver (Pocket Reflector) I was able to “throw” some silver light into the image. I didn’t do this to lighten the image or fill in shadows in this case; I solely wanted to create a greater difference in exposure than was in the scene. I wanted to make the Plumbago blooms 2 or 3 stops brighter than the green leaves behind it. By brightening the flowers with the reflector and using my spot meter to set my exposure, I underexposed the background, rendering it darker. This created a stronger separation of the subject from the background.
Figure 5: For a final touch, I switched the picture control on my Nikon D7100 to portrait from standard, which brought out a slight highlight on the Plumbago.
George Wilson has more than 30 years of experience as a professional photographer, and his work has appeared in many national and international publications. Now focusing on nature and wildlife photography, George exhibits his infrared black and white landscape work and teaches photography at numerous art centers, botanical gardens and at the Walt Disney World Resort in his home state of Florida. A key element to George’s work is his dedication to traditional photography as his post processing is strictly limited to tools aligning with the traditional darkroom. To see more of George's work, visit wilsonphotographyfl.com
Photoflex LiteDisc® Oval 41"x74” Translucent
Photoflex LiteDisc® 12 inch White/Silver
Photoflex QuikDisc®: 12 inch white balancing tool
Photoflex LiteDisc® Holder
Photoflex LiteStand: Extra Large
Photoflex RockSteady Bag