February week 1: I will take mustard on vine, please.

Feb 1 - Mustard webWith selective focus it is all about softness in the background. This effect can be achieved by using a very wide aperture (f/2.8).  This way your subject or specific in-focus portion of it is highlighted. A day that is slightly overcast and wind-free provides  perfect conditions for this kind of capture.

These mustard blossoms were caught in the tentacle of a still dormant vine waiting to be pruned. The yellow in the background is the blurred rows of mustard that carpeted the entire vineyard at Frogs Leap Winery, Napa.  If the background mustard stalks were all in focus they would be in competition with the main subject and cause a very chaotic and busy scene.

Selective focus is a “seeing technique” that can be translated to every thing you do.  It helps you narrow your target and filter out tangents and disruptions that distract you from your goals. Here the thousands of mustard plants become one dreamy creamy floating yellow backdrop.

I look for one strong plant standing above or out from the rest.  The background color reminds you that it belongs to a sea of similar undergrowth surrounding and nourishing the soon-to-be ripening vines.  Yet it showcases its individuality.  Am I still talking about mustard blossoms in the winter vineyards?

Feb 1 - OldGrapes webMy second image was also taken in the winter vineyard.  There is a particular small vineyard I love to visit on Fulton Street in St. Helena that is never pruned or harvested.  Year after year the grapes tend themselves and end up as hardened parched beads upon the skeletal lichen-covered old knurled vines.

These scenes are about textures that need to pop from the messiness of their terrain.  So, again, you need a non-competing background.  Since I like to go “all natural” for the backgrounds (no cloths or cardboard) the next best thing to a blurred sea of mustard is a beautiful blue sky.

Once beautiful and lush, these dead grapes have a different kind of exquisiteness.  They are blue and black with a slight hint of magenta.  They make for an interesting if not stunning subject.  The low winter sunlight helped illuminate the textures: the lines of the vine and shriveled skins of the grapes.

I laid on the ground to photograph from below the cluster to place a blue sky uninterrupted by the branches of nearby trees.  Since there was nothing but sky in the background I could use a smaller aperture (f/16) to guarantee details in the entire subject.

Creating a particular background makes a world of difference in how your subject becomes the heroine in your image.

While the East Coast is blanketed in snow and ice, bringing with it some death and tragedy, we see in the changing of the earth signs that call out to us to pay attention to what we do.  The returning of new life from that which was dormant and dead is a sign that Mother Earth wishes not to give up on herself or on us.  As we listen again to the rhythms of her body we exclaim: ah, thus begins Lent (spring).

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