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Macro at the Fullerton Arboretum

Daffodils at the Fullerton Arboretum

We have a great arboretum out here in Orange County on the campus of Cal State Fullerton called, you guessed it, the Fullerton Arboretum. A student of mine and I went there yesterday for a lesson in lieu of our usual beach landscape sessions and had a great time doing some close-up work with the variety of plants. The weather was working in our favor for once with lots of clouds to block out the sun and send us some nice, diffused light.

We started off shooting the daffodils towards the center of the park. There were a lot of blooms out and it's only February. Can't wait to see what this place looks like this Spring.

Daffodils at the Fullerton Arboretum

Daffodils at the Fullerton Arboretum

Daffodils at the Fullerton Arboretum

The arboretum has a fantastic desert section, too, where we concentrated on the patterns and colors found in the unique flora. This first plant is called Parry's Agave (agave parryi).

Parry's Agave (agave parryi) at the Fullerton Arboretum

Parry's Agave (agave parryi) at the Fullerton Arboretum

I couldn't find the name of these yellow flowers, but I really loved the look of them. For the horizontal shot, I placed myself so that a blue plant in the background would line up just behind the flowers. This blue gave some great color contrast with the yellow for a more interesting shot.

Yellow Flowers at the Fullerton Arboretum

Yellow Flowers at the Fullerton Arboretum

Last of all, I photographed this desert succulent known as Blue Finger (senecio mandraliscae). Very aptly named, Blue Finger has a gorgeous blue coloring that really stands out amongst the other desert plant life. I think it's my favorite shot from the day...

Blue Finger (senecio mandraliscae) at the Fullerton Arboretum

Photography Tips: Shoot Through Something

Skill Level: Beginner

My forte is landscape photography. It's what I live for. But I do enjoy myself some close-up/macro photography on occasion.

One thing I like to do in some of my macro shots, especially with flowers, is to position myself so something is between my lens and my subject (like some flowers, leaves, grass, etc). Then I shoot "through" this foreground element to my main subject. With the inherently small depth of field you get with macro work and a wide aperture, that foreground element will blur out nicely. If the aperture is wide enough and if the foreground element is close enough to you, this foreground element will blur beyond recognition - it will just become a blurry mass of color and shape.

The result is an image that's a little more artistic than your straight-forward macro shot. With that foreground element completely blurry, the image softens up while still maintaining sharpness in your main subject. Everything around your subject will become silky smooth abstract shapes and colors, but your main subject will be sharp. It's great for pulling more attention to your subject.

I shot through the blurry flowers in the foreground but focused my lens on the three flowers in the background. This made a more creative and artistic picture than your typical close-up.

If you leave your camera's AF focusing points on auto-selection, the camera will try to focus on the foreground element that's closest to you. In order for this technique to work so that the subject you really want in focus is in focus, you'll either need to select the focusing point yourself or use manual focus (I'd recommend manual focus).

Give it a try. Just put something between you and your subject, then focus on your subject. The small DOF will do the rest.

Homemade Plamp

One of the most frustrating things in macro photography is trying to keep flowers still while photographing them. At the high magnifications of close-up photography, even the slightest trembling in the wind will ruin a shot. That's why someone smarter than me invented the Plamp (plant clamp) - an articulating arm with clips on either end that attaches to your tripod and can hold a flower steady for you.

It's a really great product, but I just couldn't justify the price, size and weight for something I'll use so rarely. So, instead, I made a trip to my hardware store, picked up a yard or so of their heaviest-gauge wire, bought a pack of charging clips and decided to throw an imitation plamp together myself.

Total cost of materials: About $3.00.
Total assembly time: About 10 minutes

Basically you just attach a clip to either end of the wire and you're done. You can wrap it around your tripod and position the arm to hold the flower just right. Of course, this isn't as good as the Plamp itself (it isn't as sturdy and is a little "springy"), but it definitely is cheap. Here's a shot I took with and without my homemade plamp (both pictures: 1/25 at f/14):

Without:

With:

See? Much better. Now go out and get your supplies!