Lichen on Manzanita

My photo of the month for July 2015 is a reminder that there are no shortcuts. I made this photo today, on July 31st. Forgive me if this post is going to get a bit technical, but it’s part of the story of this photo, which is a focus-stack of eleven single images – each one photographed with my 105mm macro lens at f/4.

When I first saw this little detail in a shady ravine on the northern slopes of nearby Black Mountain Open Space Preserve, I was intrigued by the combination of colors and shapes. The Mission Manzanita, normally of a pale purple-red, is of an almost intense orange in this particular spot. Maybe because it gets so little direct sun that would bleach it, or because there’s more moisture in the ravine: it shares this spot with large ferns that are nice and green – a rarity at the end of July for sure.

Lichen on Manzanita -- Black Mountain Open Space Preser, San Diego, California, United States
Lichen on Manzanita — Black Mountain Open Space Preserve, San Diego, CA. July 2015.

I made a photo of it in early July for the first time. A single exposure with a 35mm lens, getting really close (it’s going to get technical here;-). It didn’t really work – depth of field wasn’t sufficient, and had I stopped down more, the background would’ve been too defined, creating a nervous, distracting pattern of pale white twigs, brighter than the foreground subject (one of the few “real” rules of photography: brightness attracts our eyes first – if there’s something bright that is out of focus in the frame, it is highly confusing).

So I went back on another overcast morning – this time, I made four exposures at 120mm: three at f/16 to maximize depth of field, focusing on the manzanita and lichen in various spots, with the intent to focus stack. A forth one at f/4 for a shallow depth of field, hoping to render the background nicely out of focus when blending it with the focus stack of the other three images. The only problem: it didn’t work. The transition between the in-focus foreground and the out-of-focus background looked simply terrible using this method. I had to go back again and do it right.

This morning it was overcast again (yesterday, it wasn’t). After a hurried breakfast I was out on the trail. I captured 11 images at f/4 (to always render the background nicely out of focus), each focused slightly differently, and blended them at home. This is how I wanted the photo to look, and this is how I should have done it in the first place. Lesson learned!

The image is not in my shop for sale yet. It needs some fine-tuning because an automated focus stack is never perfect and needs manual adjustments. But since I promised (myself more than anyone else) that I’d publish my photo of the month, made during that month, at the end of each month, I’m running a little bit out of time now. :)

There’s “good” and “good enough” in photography. To present it “on time” here on my website, in reduced resolution for the web, this photo is “good enough” – to print it, it requires a couple more hours of attention, which I’ll give it later.

I’d like to add that it is not my intention to say “hoho, look at how much geeky tech crap went into the making of this image!” – no one cares about how hard you worked to to get a photo. I do hope though that the images is pleasing, and that it casts a glimpse of light on the passion and dedication that I and many fellow passionate photographers feel for the craft and art of photography. :)

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All images and content © by Alexander S. Kunz, unless otherwise noted. No re-use without express written permission. Most images are available as prints and for commercial licensing. Please contact me if you’re interested. Prints and licensed images are NOT watermarked, of course.

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6 Responses

  1. I would like to try focus stacking sometime, but alas, I still use Photoshop Elements 6 (I know, dinosaur). I guess I could try group merge and see if that would do anything worthwhile…

  2. Thanks, Alexander. Right after I wrote that last comment, I looked up programs that would work with a mac and I checked out the Helicon site. I decided I’d probably try the trial period. That’s what I did with Lightroomm 5 before i purchased it. It’s always nice to see if you like a program or not. You’re suggestion validates the way I was leaning. :)

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