ImageSpotlight: Brush Country In Bloom-Part 2

A common mistake many shutterbugs make when they photograph a scene is that they quit too soon. They see the initial image that grabbed their attention, aim their camera, press the shutter, then walk away. However, if they would simply work the scene a little more, e.g. by changing camera angles, lenses, or simply moving a few feet in another direction, they would find that there are other wonderful photos waiting to be discovered. In the last ImageSpotlight post, I showcased a scene of the brush country covered in a blanket of daisies. About 30 yards North of that image, I discovered the picture highlighted here.

Brush Country In Bloom-2: Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 | ISO 200 | Graduated ND Filter.

When I photographed the scene in the prior post, this beautiful inlet of color was not visible. By simply walking around a little, I discovered this long strip of color leading into the brush. Had I simply pressed the shutter on the original image and put the camera away, I would have missed this opportunity. It took some time and practice for me to learn how to work a scene and truth be told I think I’m still learning; but that little bit of extra time and work sure is worth it.

So the next time you take a photograph, challenge yourself to take another with a different lens, or from a different perspective. Don’t be afraid to experiment. I think you’ll find some unexpected treasures if you do.

Until next time, keep shooting. — KEVIN

ImageSpotlight: Brush Country In Bloom

When people think of wildflowers in Texas, they are typically thinking bluebonnets, paint blanket’s and paintbrush in the hill country. If you followed my last post, you’ll understand why. However, there are certain years where the southern tip of the state is showy in its own right and the Spring of 2012 was one of those great years for brush country blooms. On a Friday afternoon headed to the Texas Hill Country, I spotted this beautiful blanket of yellow along Highway 281 between Falfurrias and Georgewest. With a dense population of flowers I had no choice but to pull over and get a few photos. To capture this image, I had to get right up against the barbed wire fence, place my tripod across it, then lean over and try to compose. It cost me a hole in my shirt but to borrow a line from Dance’s With Wolves, I think it was a… “good trade”.  What do you think? (Click on the image to see it in more detail)

Brush Country Blooms: Canon 1Ds MkII | 24-70mm @ 35mm | f16 | ISO 200

Feeling Blue And Loving It: A Day Among The Texas Hill Country Wildflowers

Bluebonnets On Willow City Loop. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @35mm | f22 | 1/50 | ISO200.

I just returned from my first Texas Hill Country wildflower outing and did I have a blast. The timing of my trip would have normally been perfect but given the rains and mild winter, the 2012 blooms were peaking earlier than usual. For my outing, there were still plenty of good flowers and thanks to a few email exchanges with two of my friends (Bill Caskey, Jeannie Lewis) that live in the Austin area, I had a pretty good idea where I should visit. I also read people’s wildflower sightings online so between that and my trusted advice, I decided to begin my adventure from the city of Fredericksburg. From there I would photograph along Hwy 16 toward Willow City Loop, then up to the city of Llano. At Llano, I would take Hwy 71 to Kingsland, Ranch Roads 307/1431 up toward Buchanan Lake, then Hwy 29 back to Llano. Finally, I would make my way back to Fredericksburg, then go East to Lyndon B. Johnson state park to photograph the historic cabins among the wildflowers.

All of this, I would try to do in a single day. Yes, only one day. Could I do it? I would need cloud cover to photograph in the middle of the day and fortunately, I had it for a short while. So why only one day? Quite simply, that’s all the time I had as Sunday was Easter and a day I wanted to spend with my family. It was either now or next year and one day  is better than nothing so in the spirit of Willie Nelson…I was “On The Road Again.”

Bluebonnet-lined Country Road Near Llano Airport (Thanks to Luke Etheredge, a local ranch owner I met, who pointed me toward this location). Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @ 70mm | f11 | 1/125 | ISO 200. Because the sky was bland and grey, I composed this with the intention of cropping into a panoramic view.

I had three primary photographic objectives on this trip: 1) Big open bluebonnet fields with large hills/trees in the background, 2) Intimate pictures showing the wildflowers amidst their surroundings (natural and man-made),  and 3) Macro shots of individual flowers. I also had three secondary objectives: A) Scout the countryside for future photographic adventures, B) Capitalize on any serendipitous discoveries, and C) Avoid getting bit by a rattlesnake. Now, some of you may be wondering why “C” is not a primary objective and it essentially is, but it was not a primary photographic objective…semantics. 🙂 I was wearing my snake boots so I did take some precautions and for the record, I did not see any snakes on this trip. So how did I do on all of these objectives? Well, below is only a small sample of what I photographed so you tell me.

To capture Objective 1, I was trying to layer the photograph from foreground to background, i.e. having interesting subjects from front to back, creating depth in the picture. I was able to do some of that but in many places, either the background was uninteresting or the foreground flowers were sparse.

How I wish this field would have been full of bluebonnets along the Willow City Loop | Canon 1DsMkII | 17-35/2.8 @ 35mm | f/22 | 1/15 | ISO 200 | Graduated ND Filter.

Bluebonnet Meadow Near Fredericksburg. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @ 70mm | f22 | ISO200.

Bluebonnets & Mesquite Trees Along Willow City Loop. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @ 35mm | f16 | ISO 200.

Bluebonnets Among Mesquite Brush Near Llano. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @ 70mm | f16 | ISO 200.

Objective 2:  I was not finding many massive fields but still, the flowers were very nice so I turned my attention to more intimate images of the flowers in their surroundings (around plants, other flowers, trees, and man-made structures).

Bluebonnets And Yucca, Llano. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @ 70mm | f13 | 1/60 | ISO 200.

Ranch Gate Among Bluebonnets, Hwy 71 near Llano. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @150mm | f8 | 1/200 | ISO 200.

Roadside Bluebonnets Along Willow City Loop. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @ 70mm | f14 | 1/60 | ISO200.

Indian Paintbrush Among Bluebonnets and Stonewall, Hwy 71 Near Llano. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @ 70mm | f10 | ISO 200.

Bluebonnets & Prickly Pear Cactus Along Willow City Loop. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @ 135mm | f13 | 1/40 | ISO 200.

Wildflower Mixture Along Willow City Loop. The symphony of colors along the fence-line caught my attention. Canon 1DMkII | 70-200/2.8 @ 80mm | f13 | ISO 200.

Indian Paintbrush & Bluebonnets. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70/2.8 @ 70mm | f9 | ISO 200.

At mid-day, I used the cloud cover to focus on macro images of the flowers (Objective 3), adding a little fill flash to bring out some of the colors.

Texas Bluebonnet. Canon 1DMkII | 180mm macro | f8 | ISO 200.

Indian Paint Blanket Near Llano. Canon 1DMkII | 180mm | f7.1 | ISO 200. The colors really were that saturated and I contemplated removing some saturation in Photoshop but I left as is.

I ended the day at LBJ State Park near Johnson City. I knew they had these historic buildings on the premises and a phone call prior to the drive assured me that the flowers were great. I’m not sure what that ranger called great but the flowers were way past their prime here and the grass was way too tall. Oh well, I made the most of it but I’ll be back next year.

Historic Cabin At LBJ State Park. What an image this would have made with a full field of bluebonnets in the foreground. Canon 1DsMkII | 17-35/2.8 @ 17mm | f18 | ISO 200.

Historic Cabins At LBJ State Park. Canon 1DsMkII | 17-35/2.8 @ 32mm | f11 | ISO 200.

So how about the secondary objectives? Well, the fact that I’m sharing this blog post is a testament that I avoided the snakes. Throughout the drive I took note of places I’d like to go back and visit. As for the serendipitous moments, there were several. The fragrance of the bluebonnets was amazing and something that you’ll just have to experience for yourself. I met a really nice ranch owner, and his son, and he pointed me toward a really good place for a great photo. I enjoyed the historic town-square building in Llano. While I was photographing that building, I could hear violin music, which is when I noticed that a “Fiddle Festival” was underway. Well what’s a guy to do? I popped in for about 30 minutes and enjoyed the festivities…and the A/C wasn’t bad either. Connecting with my country roots, I found a fantastic BBQ spot that served up a mean Peach Pie Ala Mode. What a day I was having! Oh I almost forgot, I saw two full-moons at mid-morning…but that’s another story. 😉

Town Square At Llano. Canon 1DsMkII | 17-35/2.8 @ 17mm | f16 | ISO 200.

If you’ve never been to the Texas Hill Country when the wildflowers are blooming, you owe yourself a drive. Until next time, keep shooting. –KEVIN

The Craft Of Studying Other’s Work

Every photographer, from novice to professional, is a fan of someone else’s work. I’m a fan of Rolf Nussbaumer, Moose Peterson, David Stocklein, Tom Mangelsen, John Shaw, Huntington Witherill, and Alan Murphy just to name a few. Locally, the works of Larry Ditto and Lance Kreuger, two professional photographers whom I am fortunate to call friends, have also served as a source of inspiration. Each of these photographers have their own unique style of shooting and I enjoy studying their images. Consider the work of fine art photographer, Huntington Witherill. Regardless of the subject, his images have a common thread of form, space, and line and how they come together in a rectangular frame. I shoot very little fine art stuff, yet Huntington’s work inspires me.

When I see a picture that really moves me, I attempt to place myself in the photographer’s shoes, trying to understand what they were thinking/doing to get the image? Regarding the picture itself, I make notes of what is in the photo that I really like, i.e. what caught my attention. Was it the lighting (e.g. frontlit, backlit, natural lighting, flashed) or colors in the picture? Was it the use of a specific lens (e.g. fisheye, telephoto), use of filters (e.g. polarizer, neutral density), or depth of field in the image? Did the photographer use a fast shutter speed to freeze action or a slow one to capture an intentional blur? How about the composition? Did they follow the rule of thirds or break the rule in a unique and inspiring way? If they broke the rule, I study how and why it worked in that image. I look at other things too, such as perspective and setting. For example, where was the camera angle in relation to the subject? How did they get a subject to land on a particular perch and why did they select that perch to begin with?

Obviously, I will not ask all of these questions for every image. Rather, I’ll make a mental note of the things that inspired me on that particular image, then I’ll adapt some of those things on my next photographic adventures. Do take note that “adapting” what I liked from other’s images does not mean photographic plagiarism. I do not want my photos to be carbon copies of other’s work. For example, consider John Shaw’s linked image: “Clouds at sunrise over Frenchman’s Bay; Bar Harbor, Maine.” I really liked the drama and colors in the sky, as well as the transition of colors from gold to that bold orange strip in the image. So, I made mental notes of places where I shoot that would look awesome under similar light conditions. Then one day the elements came together and I was able to capture the windmill shown here and showcased in previous posts. Inspired by other’s compositional elements, I captured my own work of art.

South Texas Sunset.

Alan Murphy is an excellent photographer known for his beautiful setups. I’ve spent countless hours studying his work, trying to incorporate things I like into my own photographs. The Green Jay highlighted here is one of my attempts to combine elements to create this photograph. I placed that perch inside the cactus patch, then decorated the scene with the blooms of a lantana bush growing nearby. To get the green jay to land where I wanted them to, I placed a bird feeder just outside the frame. I knew the birds would use this perch as a staging area prior to jumping onto the feeder. The background was a large stand of mesquite shrubs/trees that were a great distance behind the setup so I knew that the 500mm would render a beautiful green background that was pleasingly blurred. While it’s a far cry from an Alan Murphy setup, the image came together rather nicely.

Green Jay. Canon 1DMkII | ef 500/4.5 | f11 | ISO 400. This image placed third in the 2008 Valley Land Fund Photo Competition-Small Tract.

So my advice to you is to find those photographer’s whose work you respond to, study their images, and then take that renewed sense of inspiration to go out and capture some spectacular photographs with your own signature style.

Until next time… –KEVIN