August – week 1

We have fog every day in my part of San Francisco.  This can be nice light for various subjects, especially wildflowers and people portraits.  Obviously you know my first choice will always be the wildflowers.  They don’t talk back!  But they do blow in the wind.

The Coastal Paintbrush is pretty prolific on the beach sand dunes in San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties right now.  They are often  tricky flowers to photograph because their petals are “furry/fuzzy” and that gives the appearance in your image that the flower might be on the soft side (slightly out of focus). There are some accessible ones from the parking lot at Land’s End above the Cliff House restaurant here in SF.

I chose a shallow depth of field that adds to the “soft feel.”  This way the surrounding paintbrushes go out of focus quickly rendering them merely splashes of color.  Depth-of-field is the amount of focus you have in your image.  You achieve this by choosing your aperture.  The smaller the aperture (opening) in your lens the greater the depth of field you can achieve.

So if you are looking for a lot of depth-of-field (DOF) you might choose f/16, f/22 or even f/40 (if you have it).  When using a macro or close up lens, in essence, you have a much shallower DOF.  The distance from one petal to another may only be a fraction of an inch but you will need a small (seems like a larger number, but that is because it is a fraction) aperture to achieve the depth-of-field needed to keep the petals in focus.

Then watch your background, because as you start to pull that into focus it could be competing with your subject.  So with these paintbrushes I choose to get only a small portion of the flower in focus.  If you are using a macros lens try focusing on a particular part of a petal and shoot at f/2.8 or f/4 and notice (depth-of-field preview button) how every thing else will go out of focus that it is almost just fluffy shapes of color.  Avoid white splashes.  They are simply too bright and that is all your eye will look at!

My lens of choice was a 100-400 mm at 400 mm with an extension tube.  This helps narrow the background and add to the shallow depth-of-field. My lens has a collar on it that attaches to my tripod head so I can move from horizontal to vertical very easily.  Photograph these flowers from a low position – if they were squirrels on the ground you would get down at eye level.  So petal level as you will!

I found a wonderful Indian Paintbrush poem by Ruth Obee  (so go to her website and check it out).

     Long ago in the West, the Great Spirit
      took the weft of the evening sunset 
      and mixed it with the hematite red
      of a rusted old butte, flint-lapped
      by erosion and time, to color an Indian paintbrush
      like a sun-fired plume,
      blooming from May to September,
      an eternal flame, a memorial,
      to the blue-sky loving Ute, who were death-marched
      like Old Testament tribes from their shining
      Rocky Mountain home – exiled
      to the deserts of Utah.
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