Close-up photography, playing with light & shadows

Close-up photography, playing with light & shadows

I tried my hand at a little close-up photography again. Everyone seemed to enjoy my night photography experiments, so I thought I’d be a bit more adventurous. Too cold to wander around outside, ok, I’m too lazy to wander outside and freeze my tail off so I set the tripod up inside and dimmed the lights. This photography experiment turned out to be more fun than I anticipated.

My original aim was to capture smoke curling up from a candle. This didn’t work out at all. The smoke was too wispy and fleeting and I experienced a lot of difficulties focusing the camera on it. Not to be deterred, I shifted gears and decided to move everything up close and play around with getting the flame and candle. I created a makeshift lightbox, turned off all the lights and played with various camera settings and lighting.

Many shots had horrible glares or odd flashes on the lens from the flame flickers.  I kept moving the candle about until the camera focused correctly. As you can see in the first photo, I never achieved a sharp focus, which is annoying. I prefer super sharp edges, so this was a frustrating experience. I kept the photos and soldiered on. If nothing else, they offered me a chance to learn where I went wrong.

Here’s the mostly untouched photo

Except for a bit of cropping and lens correction, not much was done to this.

Close-up photography shot of a candle flame with black background

Original close-up photograph

Lopsided, but good. I was happy with the framing in this photograph. It took 12 tries before the light and black balance was achieved. Not able or willing to leave well enough alone, I fired up Photoshop and decided to experiment with filters to see if I could make the candle pop a bit.

Close-up photography – part two

Same photograph but with a filter applied to give the candle a 3d effect

See the difference?

I adjusted the vibrance and leveled the photo. Next came Bas relief overlaid on the original. This gave the candle a three-dimensional feel. Not as sharp as I prefer, but this is a good start. Yea, it did start to break down, but I was willing to live with that for this experiment.

Finally found a use for diffuse glow

The candle looked good, but the flame was weak in comparison. The gentle application of diffuse glow made the flame shimmer.

Close up photo of the candle with the flame improved

Diffuse glow

I didn’t pull the orange down because I liked the glowing effect it gave the wax. Still a little heavy handed, but far better than previous attempts at close-up photography. I’m not sure how to handle the flame correctly yet. More experimentation is going to be needed. I’ll also finish off my little light box. Not so sure it’s a light box, it’s more a containment box that will reflect the light the way I want it to. A bit of tinfoil on one side creates interesting effects that I will investigate. If I perfect the technique, I’ll post the photos. I’ll also wander out to get some incense to play with. The wind is rattling the windows and Covid is making it difficult to go anywhere, so I’ll make do with fusting about indoors.

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Another stab at close up photos

Another stab at close up photos

I enjoy trying my hand at taking close up photos. It takes an incredible amount of patience to get the subject in focus and I’m getting better at it. The trip to Stratford last month offered a prime opportunity for photography. I was happy drifting with the weekend, and I didn’t pull the camera out a lot. I mostly pottered about with it, taking lazy photos, most of which aren’t terribly good. A few, however, are worth looking at.

I didn’t do a lot of editing on these photos. A little contrast and brightness adjustments and a bit of cropping seemed to do. I did seem to have a few problems with focus in many photos, which will remain unseen. Not sure what the issue was, but I just couldn’t seem to get it right. Maybe I was too relaxed.

A rose is a rose

Photo of roses in bloom

You can never go wrong with a photo of a rose


The contrast and bokeh affects in this photo thrilled me. It has a deep vibrancy that surprised me when I looked at it on the computer screen. It wasn’t until I blew the roses up on the monitor that I realized out wonderful the outside of a rosebud is.

Close up photo of rose bud getting ready to bloom

Just about ready to pop out of its shell

The little fuzzy white lip around the edges gives the photo a sense of texture. I want to reach out and pat the rose bud.

The bee’s knees

Oh, come on. You grimaced, admit it? I’ve been waiting years to use that line!

Close up photo of a bee pollinating a Black Eyed Susan flower

Lots of bees in the garden that day

Black Eyed Susans are a real pain to photograph. The orange is so intense, it swamps every other colour. I had to do a bit of colour correction on this one, so the bee and petal definition didn’t disappear into a sea of orange. I took quite a few photos of these flowers trying to figure out how to compensate for the overwhelming orangeness. It’s odd, even the shadows were overpowered.

I love taking close up photos of bees. Their wings are like stained glass. When you look at them with a bright flower behind, they are ephemeral. You catch a fleeting glimpse of beauty and they are gone.

Close up photo of a bumble bee backside

I always seem to catch the back end of bees

The edges on the petals have a feathery delicacy to them. I’m pleased as hell they came out so clear. The bees don’t really care if you hover around them. They are busy doing bee stuff and don’t notice people. I get up so close to some of them, I’m surprised they don’t turn and say “working here! Back off”.  Just leave them be and admire them. And no when I first wrote that line, I didn’t notice the pun.

I am beginning to get a clearer idea of back lighting and the position of the sun. I experimented with angles a lot, seeing how the colours and lighting changed as I shifted around. I tried adjusting light and shadow on the bee a bit, so it stood out, but that destroyed the balance between light and shadow on the petals. Turns out it wasn’t the bee that was the focus I wanted; it was the flower itself.

In all her morning glory

Photo of a morning glory against a white brick wall

Loved the contrasts

Honestly, I’m not sure what gives with all the corny headers. Must be the espresso rushing through in my veins.

I loved the contrast in this one. The intense purple against the old, stained white brick, and the bright vibrant greens begged to be photographed. The purple is a bit too much, but I left it because it seemed to capture the mood of the day.

I’m ready for my close-up photo

Photo of purple flowers with a large spider's web in the middle

Webbing and more webbingI was attracted to the mass of webbing in this photo. It looked like a weaver on speed swept through. To my mind, it was a chaotic jumble of threads. Maybe a couple of abandoned spider webs caught up together. Until I looked closer.

Close up photo of spider sitting in the web

Okay, not so little spider

Oh yea. Those are beady little spider eyes staring out from behind the web. I didn’t spot it until I was processing the photos today. Nearly jumped out of my skin when I realised someone was home. I have a bit of a spider phobia. Ok, a big spider phobia. He’s a bit largish too. Not sure how I missed him. Had I known he was there; I would never have gotten that close.  In hindsight, I’m glad he was hidden. The webbing is amazing.

The gardens at Stratford are breathtaking.  Theatres be damned, I’d go back just for the sheer joy of wandering about without any plans.

More bee photos – summers gone

More bee photos – summers gone

It’s Sept already, summer is gone and I didn’t get much time to wander the city taking photographs. I did get a some decent bee photos so all wasn’t lost. Bees don’t really care if you lurk around taking photos of them and by and large ignore any pesky photographer.  I’m using a standard kit lens that came with my Canon Rebel which doesn’t have the best zoom abilities. I have to exercise a great deal of patience when trying to photograph small objects, especially those that zip about on wings.  I spent nearly an hour stalking different bees recently. Out of nearly 100 photos, I came out with 4 or 5 that were publish worthy.  The rest were blurs of activity.

These photos were taken at Ramsden Park (Yonge St across from Rosedale subway station) and Queen’s Quay’s flower gardens. The bumble bee was in the flower patch in front of my apartment building though.

Here’s the first Portrait of a Bee Ignoring the Irritating Human:

Photo of a bee on a purple flower

Bees seem to love purple flowers

Not sure why, but they all seem to be drawn to purple flowers. If I spot a patch of purple, I’ll bee line to the flower patch to check out the activity. I’m never disappointed. The colours were pretty good and the bee photographed nicely. Not as sharp as I wanted but I was content with it.

Photo of a bee on a purple flower closer view

Here’s a closer look at the bee

This next photo was a bit blown out, colour wise. I had a hard time adjusting for the sun’s intensity that day. I’m still working at mastering camera settings so they are second nature. The bee came out pretty good though.

Photograph of a bee on purple flowers

Too busy working to care about me

I was super excited about the wing clarity on the next bee photo.

Up close photo of a bee showing wings in detail

Beautiful translucent wings on this one.

The wings are gorgeous. I’ve tried repeatedly to get clear photos of bee wings. Their delicacy is breathtaking. But, they are rarely still long enough. I got really lucky this time. I was happy with the colour balance and exposure as well. The hairs and eyes were pretty sharp too.

The garden’s outside the building I live in is alive with bumble bees. Every plant is loaded down with them. I stalked around the garden for nearly an hour in August trying to get good shots. I especially like the colour combination on this one.

Photograph of a bumblebee on a pink flower

Bumble bee working away on the flower

I was so close to this particular bumble bee I’m surprised she didn’t come up and sting me. She just worked away and ignored me. The eyes came out nicely. I feel like I could reach out and pat her.

And finally, the one that made me the happiest.

Extreme closeup photo of a bee on purple flowers

The details on this photograph still surprise me

No idea how I managed it, but I finally captured a bee with stunning (for me) sharpness and clarity. The little hairs on her back are wonderfully clear. It was brilliantly sunny out. I really struggled with the sun’s intensity that day. Many of the photos were washed out, with the purples looking anemic. I adjusted settings over and over until I got this. F11 1/500 ISO 100 if you’re curious.

Love the details on the flower petals as well. I can usually get the flower focused or the bee, but rarely the two at the same time. Bonanza with this photograph. I’m thinking of getting this one framed for my wall. It gives me a big high water mark to strive for in future photographs.

I’m hoping Sept is a bit better for getting out around the city. So many places to go and so little time lately.

Improving photo exposure & focus with buckets ‘o seeds

Improving photo exposure & focus with buckets ‘o seeds

I’ve been mulling over photos I took last week, brooding over the lack of sharpness, and decided it was time to backup and refocus (no pun intended) on remedial skills. I spend  time composing shots, but  not enough on the basics of exposure & focus. My shaky focus, sharpness and exposure skills are sore spots so I pulled up some lessons and ran through them again.

I decided to start with something small and unmoving, but with good shadows. Hence, the reason you’re looking at a bunch of bird seed photos.  The aim was to keep taking photos, experimenting with various exposures, until I achieved clean edges, crisp colours and sharp focus. About 30 photos later, I started to feel like I was finally getting it.

This one isn’t bad, but up close the seeds lost focus. I adjusted a few settings on the camera and went back at it.

Photo of pan of bird seeds

I kept working until:

Photo of pan of bird seeds

The only work done on the photos was a bit of cropping, with exposure and saturation untouched. A major component I need to focus on is getting the colour balance right coming out of the camera rather than depending on Photoshop so much. I like the browns and blacks on these shots. For once I haven’t blown out the blacks and they have a natural look. Could be much sharper, but that will come with practice.

Photo of pan of bird seeds
I opted for the bucket o’ seeds because they were fine and fiddly to try and capture. Different shapes and subtle colour shifts that were merciless if I tweaked the exposure or saturation too much. Turned out to be a fun session. The shadows were much better in this series than in many photos I’ve taken.   The white pebble at the top faired quite well.

Photo of pan of bird seeds
The sun casts strong shadows across the balcony late in the afternoon, so it was a perfect opportunity to fuss.  These are blow ups of specific sections from around 50 or 60 shots. The first in the batch didn’t enlarge well at all. As a matter of fact, they were rather dismal.  I trotted back out to the balcony, adjusted the camera settings, adjusted the focus points and kept shooting.

seeds 6

There’s still a lot of work to be done on focus though. Still not sharp, but I think I finally get it. Next project will be going back out to the street and seeing if I can apply some of these lessons to a broader subject.

This last one was tweaked in Photoshop. I was losing the sun by then and the shade was too strong. It was a good chance to try a bit of adjustment rather than the usual ham fisted approach.

Photo of pan of bird seeds

I tried for a natural look.  I often go overboard with sharpening photos and under expose them. The end result is a bizarre harsh look that can be jarring to look at. So I’m pleased with this outing, even if I didn’t get off the balcony.   I’ll do more sessions working on exposure and focus this week as well as heading out to the wild for more experiments.