Evolution of an Image
As stated previously, I prefer to take images of wildlife and flowers in their natural setting such as flowers in a garden or growing naturally in the woods, or animals, insects and butterflies outside in their element. This, to me, feels more honest when it comes to creating a final image. I feel better about my work when it isn't staged, which is why I prefer not to take pictures of posed family members, but don't mind snapping candid photos at my kid's birthday party.
In light of this, in the back of my mind I keep a list of locations that I have visited which host a number of wildlife subjects and which are prone to offer something new and exciting to photograph. One caveat to the list being that the location is within a relatively close driving distance of my home for those days when I only have a few hours to spare to spend on my photography hobby. Having visited numerous locations nearby, only a handful warrant repeat visits, and it is these locales that keep me coming back time and time again. Many of the shots on this website were taken at the same location despite the drastic differences in subject matter and style, and the photograph inspiring this post is no exception.
There is a wonderful walking trail approximately 25 minutes from my home. This trail encircles a system of abandoned clay pits which have filled with water in the decades since the quarry's abandonment. These pits have become home to dozens of aquatic and land-based animals, insects and plants. It is a somewhat magical place for me, and I never know what new subject I'll stumble across when I hike there. The pits also happen to be home to a pair of alligators, which I still haven't managed to photograph to my liking despite some fairly close encounters.
I revisited this trail about a month ago when I had a late afternoon free. There were enough clouds that day that I thought lighting might be good for photography so I headed there hoping for a shot. When I arrived at the first pond on the trail I was delighted to see that yellow pond lilies were blooming, and many of them were located close enough to shore that I thought I could get a good shot with a lot of detail. One, in particular, was oriented in such a manner that the flower itself was illuminated by the sun in-between clouds passing by while the area behind the flower remained relatively unlit due to other plants blocking the light. A perfect set-up to capture an illuminated flower while having a dark background to help emphasize the beauty of the flower by isolating it from the rest of the image. (Also thanks to some post-processing touches.)
Unfortunately, the trail ended at the water's edge exactly where I needed to setup up my camera to capture the flower. As seen in the image above, my camera is positioned low to the ground, with the two legs of the tripod closest to the bottom of the image literally in the water. The shot of the camera setup was taken using my phone, hand-held, leaning over the water. All the while I'm acutely aware of my surroundings making sure no alligator is near or approaching. This exact spot happens to be one of the alligator's favorite sunning locations at this particular pit.
Not apparent in the above image is just how low my camera is to the ground. From the dirt to the base of the tripod is approximately 8 inches. The piece attached to the camera is an angled viewfinder which I am able to attach and angle up for times like this when the camera is too low to look through the built-in viewfinder or even the rear LCD. With the angled viewfinder I am able to look down and compose the shot without having to lie on the ground. In this situation it proved invaluable as there was no room behind the camera to look through a viewfinder without actually getting in the water. THis was something I simply wasn't prepared to do on this particular day.
The subject, equipment and lighting were all lining up to potentially capture an image worth keeping. The final image was taken using a 380mm setting (70-200mm VR I with a 2X teleconverter attached.) at f/9, ISO400 and 1/800s. In post-processing I darkened the black areas of the shot and also darkened some close lily pads to make the flower stand out even more from the shadows/black areas.
My short trip to the trail paid off for me that day. Mother Nature did her thing by providing clouds and blooming lilies. It was part chance and part preparation that everything lined up to allow the capture of this yellow pond lily, which seems to be the case for many of my best shots.
Knowing how to use the equipment is only a small, albeit important, part of the image equation. Being at the right place at the right time, either by careful planning, sheer chance or a combination of the two is another part of that equation, and many times the most important component to creating that once in a lifetime image worthy of a large print. Plan your photography trip around the right weather conditions and locations, know your gear, and be prepared to take advantage of impromptu opportunities at a moment's notice and your time behind the lens will undoubtedly be more rewarding.