With the fluctuations in temperature and wetness there are days when it feels like spring wants to stay in bed with the covers pulled up. Still, there is a gradual warming as the sun stays in the sky longer, and there are pockets of rain enough to encourage the plants to come out and get started on another year.
I got down close to see what’s coming up in the back yard forest and was rewarded with a few plants getting ready to bloom. Wrestling with the macro equipment, tripod and lighting was a challenge, one that made me start wondering whether I have the right tools for the job. Maybe I’d do more macro if it didn’t feel like I needed four arms! Nonetheless, the images worked out fine.
The trillium is a woodland flower that seems to appear overnight – suddenly they are everywhere showing off their three petal flower. I was lucky to find a few just getting ready to bloom.
The purple trout lily (named such apparently due to the spotted leaves) is all over the forest – looks like a new lawn coming up with all the green against the brown of the dead leaves. The blooms will open up and curve back soon so I’ll need to be ready for that.
It’s the time of year a photographer could just simply go to the same place in the woods everyday and expect to see something new. Have you looked in your yard lately?
Purple trout lily bloom
Purple trout lily stretching
We’re working through a book on local hikes, a way to see places we didn’t know about or may have ignored. The hikes are mostly through state or county parks, none of which are a wilderness area, but rather sculpted paths through areas someone felt was important for the public to see. These are leisurely strolls, looking for photography materials that call attention to the small details rather than the grand scenes. A return to searching for Porter’s “intimate landscape.”
Walked the perimeter trail at Cam-Roc park in south central Wisconsin. In the late 19th and early 20th century a local creek was dammed to make a millpond. After the dam was removed the land was a marsh and now a wetland. People got together and made it and the surrounding hills into a county park, complete with camp sites, playgrounds, prairie and picnic tables. The trail is only a little more than 2 miles and meanders through the woods and along the wetland, making a complete circuit of the park.
Spring is launching full force right now; just about every plant is showing signs of waking up and getting ready for summer. The early forest flowers are out in bloom and the tree buds are spreading gradually into new leaves. Even the mushrooms are sprouting wherever they live.
More than plant life is starting to become visible. Birds of all types are staking out territories and loudly alerting all passers-by of this fact. And with the sun higher in the sky warming the ground longer each day, the reptiles are coming out to search for food.
I think this is a DeKay’s brown snake, ubiquitous to Wisconsin’s fields and prairies. It’s the only one I could find in the guide that comes close to matching the markings – possibly a young one as it was only about 8-10 inches long. It was warming up on the trail as we walked by and didn’t seem to concerned with us looking it over. My policy is if the animal isn’t concerned, get closer (I check this policy when the animal is bigger than i am!). So I laid down in a spot with good lighting behind me and eased up closer to get this shot. It’s tonguing the air trying to figure me out, and right after this it slid into the taller grass.
Another county park makes available a limestone/sandstone bluff that has been exposed over the centuries. From the top there is a great vista showing the local fields and forests. It is a wonderfully rural park – even on this great weather day we only saw a dozen or so people.
Plants insist that spring is here now, in spite of the recent snow and chilly temperatures. Yeah, flowers get all the attention with their bright petals and colorful throats designed to attract pollinators. What does the beginning look like? Who pays attention to the small sprout coming up out of the cold ground announcing the change of seasons?
Well, I did lately. Playing around with a focusing rack designed for macro photography I made some really close images of early spring. I’m still learning the ins and outs of focus stacking, both the mechanical and processing tricks. Very short depth of field close-ups are perfect for this since you can control the viewer’s attention by defining what’s in focus and what’s not.
Here’s a crocus that’s made it up ready to bloom.
And here’s a peony sprout pushing its way up to form a stalk that will be 2-3 feet tall and support a huge blossom.
I liked the tones in this image. It was a cloudy day with the sun over my right shoulder and the lighting turned out looking like a studio set-up. But no, I’m down on my knees with my camera on the ground making a dozen images that will be blended into this broader depth of field. But about those tones. I thought this one would look better as a monochrome – let me know what you think.
What I’m looking for, strolling through my image catalog in search of intimate landscapes, is that small vignette of a space filled with interesting characters. The interest may be texture, shape, contrasts, personality, whatever seems to come together in a composition to want you to take a second look. Stripping the color away means I have to pay attention to form, placement, tonal quality, dynamic range – all those technical aspects that when used correctly contribute to a well crafted image.
Here the flowers are bright against a darker background. They are lacy in a field of flat. Behind them is a gradually darkening space leading to whatever your imagination conjures. The ferns break up the space into ordered pieces with their planar, sectioned leaves. They generally point to the flowers, emphasizing and reinforcing your eye to return there.
Where does this miniature jungle lead? What’s behind the dark ferns? Are the flowers struggling against the encroaching ancient ferns or is there a symbiotic relationship between them? What creatures might inhabit such a world?
You stop to look and gradually you are imagining all sorts of things. About a picture of ferns and flowers.
I’m back on a sharpness kick. Guess it has to do with what happens when you take some time to really see what you’re looking at in the world around you. Snapping pictures casually is great for documenting your presence at a place and time, but to really show what you’re seeing means you’ve actually seen it. And really seeing is an individual activity – each person sees something unique, some aspect that defines the whole just for that person.
For me the incredible sharpness that results from good technique and good gear enhances the three dimensional appearance of the subject. Every nuance stands out but also merges with all the other elements to present the expected aspect of the subject. Sharpness enables the photographer to shape the story in the image, telling the viewer to pay attention here, but it’s OK if you ignore over there.
Flowers make great subjects for this type of work. They aren’t going anywhere, they have marvelous details, and although they constitute the scenery for a whole season, they are gone before you know it and won’t be back for a year. All this means paying attention to them right now, in this moment, returns wonderful rewards.
It’s also one place where color isn’t a distraction!
Well, it seems to be returning to Wisconsin with the longer days and somewhat warmer temperatures. Right now my hope is that thinking strongly about it arriving will make it show up faster. In the meantime I’m going through my Lightroom catalog to see springs past just to get the image juices flowing.
Every year at this time there’s a sea of color in Carlsbad, CA as the Flower Fields open. You can read more about the reason this is here and see some images by clicking here. My images below pre-date my digital days – these are all Kodachrome slides I’ve digitized and processed.
This is a place you almost need to spend a couple of days wandering through. Not that it’s so large but because it can be overwhelming to the eyes. Your choice of compositions abound – macro, panoramic, landscapes, portraits, wedding, kids, etc. It just takes patience to find the image you want and wait for the lighting that makes it shine.
California is under a severe drought – I hope this place hasn’t been affected. It’s one of the treasures of southern California if you’re a flower photographer!
What does spring look like where you are?