Black & White Flower Silhouettes

Macro flower photography is one of my favorite disciplines to practice during the winter; cold temperatures, dreary weather, and naked trees make the landscapes less palatable for my normal ventures. With macro photography, I can often work indoors and with bright and vibrant flowers that make the frigid days feel a little brighter.

Longwood Gardens is one of the best places on the East Coast for enjoying flowers and plants, and their annual orchid festival is probably my favorite event of the year. It has been several years since I spent a day focused solely on macro flower photography, so I was excited to spend some time there recently.

Using my Nikon D850, a 200mm macro lens, external flash and diffuser, I created the following images. I purposefully used the flash to remove the background because I knew the final image would be printed in black and white. I wanted the prints to be borderline harsh, with strong contrast; I thought there would be some romance to having delicate and soft flowers reproduced with such strong effect.

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Little Bits of Nature with the Noctilux

I feel like the Leica f/0.95 Noctilux is the most undervalued landscape photography lens...... Maybe because everyone thinks of it as a portrait and street photography lens with that insane f/0.95 bokeh. That same portraiture loving bokeh has some wonderful effects when used in nature and outdoors; I can isolate my subject from the background the same way a portrait photographer can isolate the eyes of the subject from the rest of the image.

Put the Noctilux on the Leica SL, and you have an insanely awesome duo. Seriously, go to a Leica dealer (or a Leica store) and ask to try the Leica SL with the Noctilux and tell me you don't love it. I've said it in previous blog posts, and I'll say it again.... If you have a Noctilux, you need an SL and the electronic viewfinder of the SL to really get the most from that lens.  

I have shot some "grand vista" landscape photographs with the Noctilux, but today I'm going to share some of the results you can get using it on smaller subjects. I don't dare call this "macro photography" - it's more like "small-ish landscapes."  Each of these images was shot on the Leica SL and edited in Lightroom. 

I don't like seeing people defile nature by carving their initials into a tree; however, this tree has aged significantly since it was carved with the heart, and the aging bark around it really contrasted nicely. I broke down and took the photograph..... 

I don't like seeing people defile nature by carving their initials into a tree; however, this tree has aged significantly since it was carved with the heart, and the aging bark around it really contrasted nicely. I broke down and took the photograph..... 

I usually shoot the Noctilux wide open, but in this case I stopped down to f/4 so that all of he flat leave scene was in focus. 

I usually shoot the Noctilux wide open, but in this case I stopped down to f/4 so that all of he flat leave scene was in focus. 

Here I'm back to my f/0.95 ways! I love how the ferns disappear into the background, while one fern reaches out to touch the viewer in the foreground. At an aperture like f/8, this image would have seemed very harsh..... But the Noctilux gives the dreamy quality to make this feel like it was photographed in a dream. 

Here I'm back to my f/0.95 ways! I love how the ferns disappear into the background, while one fern reaches out to touch the viewer in the foreground. At an aperture like f/8, this image would have seemed very harsh..... But the Noctilux gives the dreamy quality to make this feel like it was photographed in a dream. 

8 Tulips & The Importance of Playing

If you are a photographer, or even someone who fancies the occasional creative expression, then you know the challenge associated with the lack of creative juices. Authors call it "writers block," but all creative people are subject to this period when they can't seem to generate some new work. Which is why I advocate playing!

Every so often, I go to the Cambridge market and select some flowers for sale from one of the merchants. I often pick Tulips - they are cheap and do lots of interesting things as they open. I'll bring those flowers home and then take some different photographs of the flowers, playing with different things to get the creative juices flowing. There is rarely a goal - just to play.

This weekend I got dozen tulips and decided to play with the macro setup on the Hasselblad 503CX. I loaded up a roll of black and white film and shot 12 images of tulips in various poses. After developing and scanning, I saved 8; a few of my experiments didn't work so well! But I played around with the camera and lighting, I played with exposures, I played with focus, and I played with contrast. And the result is that I got 8 fun photographs. 

If you stumble into a "writers block" - or even if you just want to prevent it through pre-emptive therapy, then I recommend taking the camera out to play. No goals, no expectations, see what comes across the lens. You might end up with 8 fun tulip photographs!

Side Note:

Curious about the fancy setup I used to get these photographs? I caution you..... it's not fancy. The canvas background you see behind the flowers is actually the back of a pillow case. It's laying on the floor in front of a big glass door and the lighting is all natural sunlight. The camera is mounted on a tripod and triggered manually. No flashes. No wiz bang light setup. Sunshine + pillow case + film. Playing, remember?

Reader Question: How Do I Setup Flash for Macro Photography?

Hey folks! I got a question earlier today from Chuck, who asked me about the flash bracket system I have been using in some of my YouTube videos and to take my macro photographs. So let's talk about flash!

I use flash for all macro photography. It's the only way I can avoid using a tripod for every shot, which is good, because I really hate using tripods with macro photography. Tripods are a pain anywhere and are even worse when I'm trying to photograph something that might be moving (like a bug). Because I use the flash, I can get a fast enough shutter speed to hand hold the camera while still getting an aperture that works (I often shoot macro subjects at f/22-f/45).

The problem with using a flash is that it does almost no good mounted in the hot shoe on top of the camera. I can't point it at the subject and it can cast a shadow over the top of the lens onto my subject. The only way to solve the problem is to take the flash off the camera, but that introduces new problems. 

If I don't use a TTL cable, I would have to use a wireless trigger (expensive) or manually set the flash between every shot (I'm too lazy and forgetful for that!). So if I want the flash off the camera, but still attached via a cable...... that means I've gotta mount it to the camera somehow.

The solution I use is not an aftermarket accessory you can purchase and be done with.... I built it by going to my camera shop and fiddling with parts until I found something I liked. However, because it's all built from random parts, it's fairly inexpensive.

The base: The starting point is at the camera. I always have a Really Right Stuff L bracket mounted onto my camera body; it's compatible with my tripod, monopod, flash accessories, etc. It also is a nice solid piece of metal to help protect the camera when I accidentally ding it into something...... The L brackets are specific to your camera model and you may need a different version if you use an external battery pack, so shop carefully.

The arm: The arm assembly is three different parts. The first is a clamp that attaches to the L bracket and has a screw-tight knob to hold the rest of the arm on ("Mini Screw Knob Clamp" on the shopping list). I can position it anywhere I'd like on the L bracket. The second part is a modular arm kit with a knob ("Rotolight Magic Arm"). I can orient the arm in a bazillion ways and once satisfied with the orientation, I clamp down the knob until it's rock solid. It can hold the weight of the flash without problem, but it's not strong enough that I could carry the camera by that arm without it sagging. Finally, I have a plastic piece that mounted to the top of the arm that accepts the flash cable or the flash hot shoe ("Frio Universal Cold Shoe"). Because none of this was designed to go together, I had to use Loctite on the clamp and hot shoe clip to make sure it all stayed together nice and solid. 

Flash: I use a Nikon SB-700 flash and have a 3rd party TTL cable for the flash. Buy a short TTL cable so that you don't have to drag a few extra feet of cabling around with you! I usually put a white diffuser on the front of the flash to soften the light slightly when doing macro photography.

Shopping List:

PS- sorry for the quality of the photos. When I take pictures of the camera I usually end up using the iPhone, which certainly doesn't compare to the D800!

Have a question you'd like me to answer in the blog? Feel free to contact me and I'll see what I can do!

The arm assembly with TTL flash cable attached. From right to left are the mini clamp, flexible magic arm, hot shoe connector and TTL cable.

The arm assembly with TTL flash cable attached. From right to left are the mini clamp, flexible magic arm, hot shoe connector and TTL cable.

Another view of the clamp and flexible arm

Another view of the clamp and flexible arm

The hot shoe connector thingy. I have no idea what this is actually called, but the thing cost only a few bucks.

The hot shoe connector thingy. I have no idea what this is actually called, but the thing cost only a few bucks.

The Really Right Stuff L bracket on the side of the camera. Because I use the extra battery pack, I had to order the correct bracket.

The Really Right Stuff L bracket on the side of the camera. Because I use the extra battery pack, I had to order the correct bracket.

The TTL cable attached in the camera's hot shoe

The TTL cable attached in the camera's hot shoe

The flash is attached to the TTL cable, which then slides into the blue hot shoe connector. This only works if your TTL cable has an attachment to be mounted into a hot shoe on the bottom of it....... Most do.

The flash is attached to the TTL cable, which then slides into the blue hot shoe connector. This only works if your TTL cable has an attachment to be mounted into a hot shoe on the bottom of it....... Most do.

The entire contraption assembled and ready to shoot. This setup also has the LCD on the flash facing me, which makes it easy to make adjustments on the flash between photos.

The entire contraption assembled and ready to shoot. This setup also has the LCD on the flash facing me, which makes it easy to make adjustments on the flash between photos.