The creative choices we make about what and how to shoot expand our skills as artists.
Healthy discussion yesterday, after I posted a processed image of the yellow flowers from yesterday's post.
Do I ever think about focus stacking, rather than selectively focusing (or soft focusing) on only a portion of an image?
Of course I do, and some clients what a crisp, tack sharp image. Plenty of nature photographers work exclusively in this spectrum. I can and I do and I'm growing my skills at focus stacking.
However images, and in particular flower images, creatively inspire me first as soft focus subjects.
But does that mean I never consider shooting another way?
I worked with just-blooming Irises this past spring, at the John C. Campbell Folks school.
Our instructor that week, Larry Winslett, is a master at all elements of nature photography. He encouraged us to experiment and play.
So, I did this morning, with Lensbaby Velvet 85. My first image: a soft focus of the heart of the Iris with just the kind of glowy bokey in the background that mesmerizes me as I shoot.
Then the artist in me, encouraged along by my mentor for the week, asked... What if?
It had rained the night before. There were water droplets still, decorating the grass like Christmas ornaments fashioned from crystal.
What if I set up my tripod as low as I could get, shot up at the iris through the shiny grass, and created a near abstract perspective of the same flower--by focus stacking with my soft-focus lens.
The lead pic in the post is a crop of this one.
Notice the background bokeh is still that soft velvet my Lensbaby achieves. I love the exaggerated glow of an art lens as it catches the sunlight hitting the grass.
Only this time, I stacked 5 images to grab those water droplets in as sharp focus as possible.
Meanwhile, the Iris's vivid color splashed at the upper left of the image and running diagonally through the center to the lower right is "painted" in an almost abstract way I find perfect in all it's softness.
But... What if I only focused on the flower and stacked soft-focus, macro images?
After this result (which was worth the time and effort put into taking and processing it because of all I've learned), I doubt I'll choose again to attempt a stacked macro shot with my Velvet 85.
Or at least I'll stack MANY more images than I did in this 10-image stack. This close with soft-focus macro, with the art lens distorting the images the way it does, there's not enough detail to align and merge properly.
There are still a lot of flaws in the finished capture, and yet I spent a great deal of time in post cleaning up the problems I could.
I'll keep practicing macro flower photography, just with my Nikon 105mm macro lens from now on.
Which doesn't mean I gave up on a soft-focus focus stack of that Iris.
My next choice? I backed up and gave a 7-image stack a try.
It's still not sharp in places, and I worked a bit in post to clean up what I could without spending all day playing at it. I think when aligning and blending soft-focus images, Photoshop is likely never to get the mix quite right. Or, maybe I simply need more practice at sharply focusing on a single image with an art lens.
But this capture is more the thing. It's more me.
And I know the choice I made to create it with Lensbaby Velvet images is the right one, for this series at least. Because that yummy, super soft yet vibrant background beautifully matches the rest of my work that day.
Was there one final choice I could make that morning, just for fun?
You bet. This time with my Nikon 24-120 lens (my go-to, every day warhorse).
I've been play with panning and other abstract techniques and wanted to practice a new skill.
This one (starting close, zoomed in on the above Iris and working with a low ISO, a small aperture, and a slower shutter speed) I zoomed out as I captured the image.
Now I had an abstract to go with my other captures.
I made a ton other images that day. Experimental choices, all.
Practicing different approaches and techniques is how we learn, how we find our voice, how we discover what drives or creativity.
And never once that morning did I attempt a tack-sharp variation of those beautiful flowers.
I don't regret it a bit. There have been other days and subjects for that. Several other students did just that, that morning. Yet these images, my take on the magic of a dew-blanketed dawn, satisfied immensely.
As we compared our work later that day during critique, there wasn't a chance other images could be mistaken for mine.
Coincidentally, the same holds true now as I present my body of work to art consultants and gallery owners.
Soft might just be my perspective, where others would work for something crisper and more defined.
And as I said yesterday on Facebook, there are many roads to Oz.
Which golden path will your creative choices to the next level?