Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday given our current situation. It was a strange holiday for sure. It's very weird to not see family or friends at any time of the year but around the holidays, it's just wrong. Tony, Kona and I kept to ourselves and social distanced. We had a very quiet holiday, but not in a bad way. We got to spend time together. Kona had surgery so he spent the time recovering and I'm happy to say he is back to normal and then some.

Let's kick off the New Year discussing backgrounds as our first topic. I remember when I was first getting started how challenging it was to remember all the different things you needed to take into consideration while photographing. This may not be much of a challenge if you set your camera on auto, auto focus, auto aperture, auto anything. However, if you really want to get creative you need to learn how to use your tool, the camera. I shoot manually, I don't auto focus...I never auto focus and the reason is because I don't like what the camera chooses to focus on. I want total control over my image. I don't allow it to choose my F-stop, or my speed. This is why it can be a challenge, there are so many different things to pay attention to. I can't tell you how many images I've discarded because I missed something in the background. Oh and news flash, I still do. I will be so intently focused on getting my focus that miss a stick, weed, leaf or bug so you see I'm not perfect.

It's no secret that I love shallow depth of field and that's generally how I shoot. But it's not how I shoot all the time, just 99.9999% of the time. I love the softness and blending of color. I really do like a smooth background, but I do have a couple of images I'm going to show you that don't have the smooth bokeh, they've got a little more detail in them. The decision on your bokeh is really how you perceive your image. What are you trying to say and how do you want to say it? You be the judge and jury when it comes to your images.

Just a note about the equipment I used to capture these images...I shoot with the Nikon D750

Nikkor 105mm F2.8 Macro Lens

Image one - Magic of Ferns

This image obviously has the soft, smooth bokeh. I remember when I took this image, I was actually teaching a One on One session and my student wanted to work on ferns. For me the fern is something to be experimented with. There are so many different compositions you can create with them. I chose to focus on the tiny pointed ends. All I wanted to see was the detail, but simplistic detail. So with my focus being on the very tips everything else softly fades out.

My settings for this image were;

Exposure 1/320 second @ F4.2

Focal 105mm

ISO 500

Image two - Frosty Dream

Ew lala! When this image came into view, I was stunned. We had a really nice frost, not to heavy, just enough to really make this plant show off and that it did.

I knew I wanted to show a little more of the detail in the background. I believe it tells a little bit more of the story. The light was already highlighting this image very nicely and the darkness you see around it is all natural shading. My subject was sticking out farther then the rest of the stems and since the light was touching it ever so softly everything else ended up in shadow. All I did while processing is bring up the light a bit to really show off the frost. Remember you want to separate your subject from the background. Using a shallow depth of field does this very nicely but since the light on this image was so beautiful and all the other leaves and flowers were in shadow it really sets this subject apart from the background.

My settings were;

Exposure 1/160 second @ F3.2

Focal 105mm

ISO 1,000

I was shooting in the early morning and used a higher ISO on this image because there was a very slight breeze.

Image three - Blue Bells

I had the hardest time capturing these flowers. The background as you can see is busy. Ultimately, I would have preferred a little softer background but I could not get any closer to this plant because I was shooting in a public garden. I had to work with what you see here. What works for me on this image is obviously my subject, what doesn't work for me is the flower closer to the foreground on the left, it has a bit of a halo effect. I think the image would be stronger if that flower was at the same depth as the other flowers in the background making it fade off as the others do.

My settings for this image;

Exposure 1/160 second @ F3.0

Focus 105mm

ISO 320

Image 4 - Walk on by

I almost passed by this image without taking a second look! When I turned to look closer this is what I saw, crisp burgundy leaves framed with white! What a beautiful sight. You may think the lines in the background from the other stems a bit distracting but to me they are simply going the same direction the plant is. Everything is in harmony and I loved the flow. If there is one thing to pick out on this image it's the branch that veers off to the left.

My settings for this image;

Exposure 1/250 second @ F3.0

Focal 105mm

ISO 400

This is an image I took years ago. I loved it at the time, but now I see everything that's wrong with it. For instance, the darkness at the top is distracting it's the first thing I see when I look at this image. Second, on the bottom right there is a piece of grass that's a bit distracting and third in the dark band at the top there is a lighter band running through it, there are also smaller pieces of grass on the left side at the bottom that are a distraction as well. These are all things you have to pay attention to when shooting macro. The beauty is once you start to recognize them you will also notice more distractions in all your photography.

My settings for this image;

Exposure 1/320 second @ F7.1

Focal 70mm

ISO 200

You see, I don't always use a macro lens and I don't always shoot shall

I hope I've given you things to look for in your backgrounds that will ultimately help you achieve what you are looking for. Remember to get that dreamy bokeh you have to shoot shallow, which means a higher F-stop (F2.8 or F2.0). Keep in mind though if you do shoot shallow you will loose some sharpness. If you are drawn to more detail in your images then use a lower F-stop (F4.2, F7.0 and so on) this will give you a lot more detail in the background and your subject.

Couple of changes with the blog, going forward I will be posting twice a month till it gets closer to Spring and then it will be once a month. I am hopeful I will be able to start my One on One sessions again this year but I'll hold off saying for sure until we see how things progress with the vaccines.

My next blog post will be on January 20th.

Till then please stay healthy,


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