May 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
Behind the scenes
Some afternoons are fairly standard, and some tend to throw up a few surprises. The afternoon on which this image was shot definitely falls into the latter category.
I had been working various spots on the southern side of the headland at Hastings Point, watching as the small storm cell in the image tracked slowly north west along the beach. What I wasn’t aware of was the larger, more intense cell moving in from the north west, my view blocked by the headland behind me. It wasn’t until the light levels dropped drastically as the late afternoon sun was blotted out that I realised what was happening.
Within minutes lightning flashes were being followed almost instantly by massive thunder claps and I was scrambling up the headland to the shelter of my car, tripod in hand with camera still attached.
Those 5 minutes are a blur and really drove home the lesson that you need eyes in the back of your head whenever you are shooting by the ocean’s edge!
I had come across this spot a little earlier in the afternoon when my attention had been grabbed by the boulder depicted in the foreground. I have shot around this headland a number of times, but this was the first time I had noticed the roundness of this boulder, primarily as it only appears so round from this one particular angle.
I had taken note of the spot, but as this scene looks due south I wasn’t sure whether late afternoon light would be the best option. When this storm head began to blow into position however I knew it would make the perfect backdrop for the shot.
I returned and worked on finding the final composition shown above. Using the round boulder as an anchor in the foreground, I worked with the diagonals formed by the rocks on either side and adjusted my position slightly in two planes. Firstly, I moved upwards until the background rocks were no longer breaking the line of the beach and land beyond, and secondly, I moved slightly to my left to position the downpour from the storm head directly above the saddle in the largest rock.
The first technical decision I made was how I wanted the water to be rendered. There was very minimal action in the water, no breaking waves as such, but more like watching water run into and being let out of a sink. This made the decision to go with a calmer approach to this area of the image easier, particularly as I wanted the main drama to come from the storm head. I decided to go with a longer exposure to “smooth” out the water and after playing with different combinations of aperture and ISO settled on a shutter speed of 4 seconds… long enough to blur the water but still leave some textures rather than completely white trails.
From these test exposures I could see that the sky was a few stops over exposed so I fitted 3 stops of soft edged graduated neutral density filters to pull the sky back into the same exposure range as the foreground.
By now I had all the compositional and technical aspects in place, so I enabled mirror lockup and using a remote cable release, tripped the shutter for the final exposure.
This is an images that I will always clearly remember shooting. It was one of those moments when all the elements align and you just happen to be in the right spot to take advantage of them.
It’s interesting to hear peoples takes on this image, from seeing “the earth” in the rounder boulder, to “a giant crab” or “octopus” in the middle ground rocks.
For me though, I remember the scene for the small storm head that acted as a perfect decoy for it’s larger counterpart that managed to sneak in behind me. Had the area been further from shelter I could have been in an interesting position, but thankfully that was another one of those things that came together right when I needed it!
May 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
Wasps are one subject that I really enjoy shooting, but don’t often get the chance. Some species can be very aggressive and unpredictable, so shooting high magnification portraits can simply be out of the question in the natural setting. As I shoot all my macro shots in the field, this really limits my opportunities.
I came across this common paper wasp (Polistes humilis) one cold morning sitting on a blade of grass. Usually, I encounter this species perched on a nest with many other individuals, so my first reaction was to check the surrounding grass to find the nest and ensure I didn’t accidentally stand on or up against it. To my surprise, there was no nest in sight. I looked again but the area was clear so I knelt down in the cold dewy grass for a closer look.
As far as wasps go, this species tends to be less aggressive and unless you physically bump their nest, they will generally leave you in peace. Given this fact and considering how cold it was, I thought I would be in with a good chance of getting a few low-risk shots of this one.
At this stage, I didn’t know how the subject would react to my presence, so I moved in slowly and shot a few lower magnification side on shots. There was no reaction to this and it all but confirmed that the wasp was feeling the effects of the cold and was very lethargic. This was my signal to move in and try for the front on pose shown in the image above that I had been thinking about from the start.
To achieve this angle, I shuffled around until I was kneeling directly in front of the wasp and took hold of the blade of grass it was sitting on, holding it between thumb and fore-finger (thumb on top) about 7-8 cm / 3 inches from the actual wasp. This gave enough separation from the subject to minimise intimidation and also ensured my fingers could easily be kept out of the shot.
Once I had a firm grip, I held the position for 10 or 15 seconds to let the wasp get use to the presence of my fingers… this is an important step as introducing too many elements such as fingers, lens and flash at once can easily spook your subject.
During this time, the wasp stood up and literally looked around and up and down my fingers, but sensing no threat settled back down again. I then placed the end of the lens on top of my thumb and slid in towards the wasp to achieve sharp focus.
Once everything was in place I slowly pulled the blade of grass until it was taught and then using my second finger on the underside of the grass as a brace, bent the tip of the grass down slightly to bring the sloped face of the wasp completely into the small window of depth of field available at these magnifications. After a quick adjustment to ensure sharp focus, I fired off 4 frames (just to be sure!) before letting go and stepping back.
From the time I took hold of the grass to the time I let go was no more than 30 seconds, but it was a short period that I really enjoyed. Coming face to face with an insect that a lot of people don’t like and would try to kill on sight can be a real treat and show that perceptions can be misleading.
* Disclaimer: Wasps can be unpredictable and pack quite a punch with their sting. Take care when shooting them and always keep an eye on their movements and if they become agitated, just walk away!