My garden nemesis… cute but destructive.
While walking around the yard looking for inspiration, I came upon a nice spider web covered with morning dew. However after a few shots of a boring spider on a web, I couldn’t get inspired to shoot more; the light wasn’t ideal to make the background interesting. Then a stream of sunlight broke through the cloudy sky and made the morning dew droplets sparkly and more inviting. I shot a few more frames, though I still find the images boring. But the sunlight helped stir up my creative brain and gave me the challenge of wanting to take the ordinary and make something unique with it.
After a few close up shots with different aperture settings, I decided to shoot at the largest opening available for my lens (f/6.3) to get the most shallow depth of field and bokeh background. With this in mind, I shot all the images a little underexposed so the background would be dark, with very faint details while keeping the details of the water droplets as sharp as possible. In Adobe Lightroom, I converted the images into monochrome with yellowish undertone for the highlights. After adjusting the exposure, contrast, and clarity; I added more highlights by using the brush tool to dodge and burn. I used the tool more like a paint brush: adding highlights to create a more illustrative, surreal image. It was a good experiment and helped me think outside of the box — which is always a good thing… 🙂
Lately, I’ve been bombarded with people who… let’s just say… makes me wonder about humanity and how cruel people can be. Perhaps I am just getting old or perhaps the world is changing for the worst as the advance technology created environments that desensitize our compassion and civility. And then a few days ago, a man name Peter changed my mind and showed me that there is still hope for the world yet…
Peter discovered my restaurant while driving around a couple of weeks ago. He lives in Phoenix and works for a transportation company so occasionally, he would come up to Prescott. We chatted and I found out he was born in Hawaii but raised on the mainland. He was very impressed with my food and took a stack of menu with him. I thought he was nice but didn’t think much about him again. Well, he was so impressed by my food the first time that when he came back to Prescott a few days ago, he stopped by to see me. And after chatting for a bit, somehow the conversation shifted to him volunteering to stand in front of the restaurant’s sidewalk, with him wearing a Hawaiian style straw hat, leis made of shells, holding on to a ukulele he got for Christmas, as he stood in the sweltering heat for almost two hours — waving the restaurant banner at passing cars. The temperature was over a hundred degrees and he stood out there tirelessly, waving and smiling… and surprisingly, most of the drivers wave and smile back. Some even honked their car horn. His kind gesture brought in several customers and made my other wise slow day a lot better. And it wasn’t just the new customers he brought in that made it better; I was completely astonished that a total stranger — out of the blue — would do that for me because he wanted to help me succeed. His only compensation was iced tea and my whole heart gratitude. He told me that what he did is “THE ALOHA WAY…” it’s their way of paying it forward. The word Aloha means a lot more than just a way for the Hawaiians to greet each other. It is their way of life.
Intrigued by Peter’s explanation of Aloha Way that I Google the term and found an article that explains more in-depth about the word Aloha. Click here to read the article. Besides the common meanings of hello, farewell, and showing love… the word Aloha holds within itself all one needs to know to interact rightfully in the natural world. These insights describe an attitude or way of life sometimes called “The Aloha Spirit” or “The Way of Aloha”. Very interesting article… I love it when I learn something new. And now that I see the word Aloha in a different light, I realized that Peter discovering my restaurant was no coincidence. I believe things happened for a reason — good or bad. Somethings are here to teach us lessons that we will use as we all continue to travel on our personal life journey. I realized that I’ve been trying to live my life the Aloha Way and I guess that’s why I ended up with a Hawaiian style restaurant in a small desert town, five thousand feet above sea level. And the challenges this little restaurant brings are priceless life lessons for me to discover and learn… ALOHA! 🙂
Lately, I’ve been asked what kind of camera and lens do I use — especially for my macro shots. When I bought my Nikon D90 camera as a kit, it came with a couple of lenses and a few filters. The standard Nikkor 18-55mm and Nikkor 70-300mm. One of the filters was a screw on macro. I thought about Nikon’s 105 mm micro but at $900, it was out of my budget. So, I decided to make the best of my cheap $10 screw on Macro filter. And you know what? While the macro filter might not take the sharpest photos and the focus is a constant challenge, I am very impressed by the images I can capture with this filter. Because of its limitations, it constantly challenges my skills. The focus distance for the filter is about 4 or 5 inches, so I have to shoot really close to my subject; this is when good eyes, quick timing and patience are crucial to getting a focused shot.
These photos were taken yesterday at the community garden in Marymoore Park. It’s the same garden I was at last weekend — when I conquered my nemesis. It was a great date with Macro. I shot these in RAW, using the Nikkor 18-55mm lens. I find that the macro filter works better on this lens than the 50mm prim lens. By shooting in RAW, I didn’t have to do much processing, other than adding some sharpness and contrast, adjusted lighting, and some cropping. Overall, I’m very satisfied with the results. Of course it is still my dream to have the 105mm micro but for now… I’m happy with my cheap Macro dates.
I’m not sure what this green bug was. It looked like a bee but I’ve never seen a green bee before — then I thought maybe this is a green hornet? Does anyone have any idea what it might be? Well, whatever it was, it couldn’t have landed on a better color flower. It’s bright green color was a perfect contrast against the red background.
One of the techniques I love to experiment with in photography is the creative usage of lighting and exposure — especially on the subject of flowers. Besides the obvious beauty, I discovered shooting flowers is a great way to help you learn how to use better lighting, exposure and composition.
When I look at a flower, I mentally break down all the different components and shapes: its colors, petals, stems, leaves etc. I see shapes and colors instead of the flower. By observing the flower this way, I am able to have different views of the flower rather than just seeing the one dimension view.
Oftentimes when I get ready to shoot; I usually have a visual image in my mind on how I want to post-process and what the result might look like. This gives me a better idea on the settings I would use when composing for a shot. For example, this series of dahlia flower was shot on a bright sunny afternoon. Knowing the light would be harsh and the flower colors would look too bright and flat. I decided to use the harsh lighting to my advantage and make the flowers look surreal and luminous. To achieve the look, I use f/6.3 (the largest opening available on my lens) to get a better shallow depth of field, and I use exposure setting lower than what my camera indicated as the correct exposure. By shooting it darker, I can later manipulate the light and color values better in Lightroom3.
I have tried for so long to capture a good clear shot of the bee on a flower. The only time I was able to get a sharp focus of a bee was — a half-dead bee that got caught in the rain. Something about shooting a lifeless bee with slump looking wings didn’t seem like a fair challenge. However after shooting over a hundred blurry shots and getting stung a couple of times, I thought about giving up on having a bee pollinating flower photo for my portfolio but… every time when I see the bees, my inner photographer voice would challenge me to shoot them. Perhaps it’s my tenacious personality or the fact that I didn’t want to let a little insect get the best of me — it doesn’t really matter — I knew if I shoot enough times, sooner or later I’ll get it right. I’m happy to say my persistence paid off. During my walk at a local community garden today, I finally conquered my nemesis! 🙂