Onto Lillies

I enjoy photographing Tulips because they have flat-ish sides which makes it easier to get more of the flower in focus. My first shots of the season didn’t quite go as planned, but I’ve continued buying flowers to photograph. As the revolving door of dying tulips came and went, Sally brought home a bouquet of roses, carnations, and lilies for me to shoot. The roses and carnations weren’t very interesting, but there was something about the lilies that was. I don’t have many photos of them because they have deep cups and broad petals that limit depth of field. I usually grab a few shots from the top with the pistil and stamens in focus and the rest blurred away. I tried some new angles and editing techniques this time and I’m pretty excited about the results.

For these images, I used my softbox to create a white background, put my camera on a tripod, and shot at 1/30 or slower, ISO 800, f/11 and f/8. The exposures weren’t quite perfect, so I brightened the backgrounds with masks in Lightroom.

The first image was actually overexposed so the tops of the petals are a little rough due to blown highlights. I really like the angle and the way that the petals show through each other, so I can get over the exposure issue. The second image is more like my standard lily photos with sharp stamens and blur on the petals but the angle is different than what I normally use.

The last image is a composite of two I combined in Photoshop. One has sharper petals and the other has sharper stamens. I didn’t plan to combine them, so I didn’t get a shot with the petals as sharp as I’d like, but they’re still usable. I don’t combine images that often, so my blending isn’t perfect, but it’s a start.

Things started getting really exciting when I converted some of the images to black and white. I took a bunch of photos with a snoot to direct hard light into the center of the lily and used faster shutter speeds (and a black poster board) to black out the background. I just love the way these look. The yellow petals create a great contrast on the background and the backlighting brings out their detail. The water droplets in the last photo look great too! I’m always a fan of high-contrast black and white, especially where the subject gradually appears like the bottom of the lily does. The second image just barely shows its stem while the third shows a hint of a leaf.

This is similar to the final black and white image above, but it’s a composite of 6 images blended together. This technique is called focus stacking and is used to create images with sharpness from foreground to background. It’s frequently used for macro and landscape work. I’ve experimented with it a bit in the past, but I usually just drop them into Photoshop and take what it creates. This one didn’t come out as I expected, so I spent some time hand-editing it. I really like the way it came out. The stamen and pistil look similar to the black and white image, but the water droplets on the front and back of the petals are much sharper because they came from images where they were in focus.

High-end cameras often have focus stacking capabilities built-in, and can automatically take hundreds of shots, adjusting the focus ever so slightly with each frame. This creates small shifts in focus that stack well during editing. I don’t have that on any of my cameras so I have to do it manually which is less precise and much more time consuming. Even so, it’s a worthy technique. I recently took more flower photographs and made sure to get more shots for a better composites. We’ll see if the extra precision pays off.

Just a couple more to finish off my lilies. A couple more angles and details. The first is my favorite because there is backlighting bringing out the veins of the petals with some softer light on the front. The blur around the petals is almost surreal and I like the angle. The second is a close up, inspired by those images of lemons in soda water. The angle isn’t quire right, but I like the detail.

Ok, a couple more of those tulips from my last post that I just finished processing. The black and white image was taken with my macro lens and it came out just great. It lends itself well to a square crop. If you look closely you can see little hairs on the tips of the petals! The color image is actually from the 28 – 300mm lens that took such rough pictures before, but in this rare case the lighting works enough to make it pleasing. I love how crimson the petals look and how the stem and leaves creep out of the black.

I’m happy with all of these images. Much of my process is trial and error placing the flash and adjusting the exposure; I throw away the majority of my images. It’s worth it for a few of these though. They are wall-quality and I’ll definitely use them as desktop backgrounds.

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