Photography practice: Take what you can get

Photography practice: Take what you can get

Sometimes, the best laid plans of mice and men do not pan out. Wanted to capture some new dragonfly photos. That didn’t quite work out. But I did put together a water lily image that I ended up liking. This is a theme I seem to revisit quite often in my photography practice.

The story

Heading to the next town over for my allergy shot, I had passed a water lily pond that I knew was starting to bloom. Aha! That will be a great opportunity to add to my dragonfly image collection.

I grabbed some gear before heading out: my Olympus OM-D E-M-1 Mark III. 40-150mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko lens. (80-150mm equivalent full frame view), my FotoPro Eagle E-6L gimbal head tripod and a 2X Teleconverter. Oh, and my wide-brim hat to keep the sun at bay while I wait and study the dragonflies.


Road construction ate up about 30 minutes of my time. Bummer. When photographing dragonflies, you need to slow down to watch and study where they land. Then, I set up the camera and focused on that spot. I waited as many species will tend to land back in the exact same spot. I realized I couldn’t spend as much time as I would like and will have to forego critter photography. Time to re-calibrate my brain. “Boy, do these lilies look lovely. New game plan.”

Black dots on blooms, leaf imperfections and more are on the image that comes out from Aurora. Other than the HDR processing this is the straight out of camera image.

Photography and composition

As these water lilies are freshly in bloom, the flowers look beautiful. I look for different compositions. Single bloom. Single bloom off-center. Looking for multiple blooms with a group of three or five as odd numbers tend to give more movement to the eye in a photo. No luck there. Wait, there are two beautiful blooms side by side. Changing angles gives a lovely diagonal composition, and lots of shadow and highlight interest.

Okay, it looks good. But wait, there’s a bee working its way around the pond. Maybe it will stop here and give me just that little bit more interest. It lands on the far lily. Nope, no good. Here it comes to the front flower. I make multiple images, trying to make sure the bee ‘reads’ against its background. Time to get out and get my allergy shot.

Post production

All images need some extra work to finish them off. Or, to paraphrase Ansel Adams, the digital negative is the score, and the final image is the performance of that score. Turns out there are lots of distractions in this scene not immediately visible during capture. Lots of black dots. Imperfections in the leaves. Blown-out hot spots scattered as this was photographed in full sun. This will be a labor of love to complete.

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Photoshop layers palette with retouching, sharpening, dodge burn layers and more while working toward the final image.

First stop was Aurora HDR 1998. I processed the file as a single HDR image. When you photograph under full sun, white subjects and contrasty conditions, this is a great way to get started. It is not perfect but it gave me a big head start on processing. Adobe Camera RAW is the second stop. Overall color and tone adjustments were made. Before leaving ACR, there was a visit to the Mask area. I applied various masks with additional adjustments to specific highlights and deep shadows.

Next, I opened the file in Photoshop and added a copy of the original layer. First, I used the Spot Healing Brush to take out some of the distractions. Man! This is going to take forever. New plan. I made a new copy of the layer and set Filter>Noise>Dust and Scratches. Balancing between the Radius which sets the amount of blur and the threshold sliders, I found the combination that took out most of the problems without the image becoming too soft. I added a mask bring back detail in certain areas.

Final tweaks

I used NIK Collection to give the image some softness using the Glamour Glow in Color EFX 5. I often use the Tonal Contrast filter in conjunction with the glow to keep the image from becoming too soft.

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Water lily image is completed. I’m happy with it!

I added a sharpening layer with a mask. Sharpening is a way to help move a viewer’s eye around an image. It is more subtle than color, contrast and composition, but no less important.

A Soft Light Photoshop layer was the final step bringing tonal values into line with each other. Dodging and burning one final time can almost always help. I usually let an image rest for a day or two before applying final touches so as not to overdo it.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob