Just Because It’s Winter Doesn’t Mean The Camera Has To Be Packed Away

It’s 25th November, and in my part of the world, that should be getting well into winter. This morning’s outside temperature of 3C seemed fairly consistent with that. The sun was shining warmly through my living room window and I was curious if there had been any overnight frost. My curiosity aroused I wandered out to check the car. This is where frost likes to hang on because the road is in shadow at this time of year.

No frost on the car, so I wandered into the back garden to see if any of the dahlias (frost tender) looked like they’d been frozen overnight.

Another no, but the quality of light from that low winter sun was quite breathtaking. It had a softness to it that made me want to run upstairs and grab camera and tripod.

My first subject was a gladiolus. The only one of a group that had bothered to flower, but I was so pleased it had. I have to say that the lateness of this (gladioli normally flower mid to late summer) was down to the fact that this was from a bargain pack of bulbs being sold off well into summer, so they were planted very late.

Background was difficult because my garden is a most untidy place: plants, furniture, garden canes, and even my neighbours bright white plastic windows all contrived to make the best angles, from a photographic point of view, totally useless. I eventually managed to manoeuvre the tripod so my brick shed filled the background space. Because the flower was light in tone, and spot lit by the sun, I was able to underexpose and turn that ropey brickwork into a dark background that set off the flower to perfection. It looks like a studio shot with a big softbox, but it was shot in direct sunlight in the garden. I chose a wide aperture to narrow the depth of field and add a touch of softness to the edges of the flower. A few minor tweaks in Lightroom and I had this beautiful flower portrait.

EOS 6D 24-105mm f4 L      1/250 f5   ISO 100


While I was out with the camera I had a quick look around to see if any other subjects were worthy of my attention. I spotted a dahlia which I would have preferred to be facing the other way, but often with photography, the challenge is to work with what you are presented with and come away with the best image you can.

This portrait isn’t in the same class as the gladiolus above, but is, nevertheless worthy of attention.

What I sought to capture here was the backlit outer petals. The very fussy background needed to be thrown completely out of focus – hence the choice of an aperture of f4 –my intention being to create a mottled background with out of focus highlights. Had I chosen a small aperture to maximise sharpness in the bloom itself, there would have been so much fussy background  detail for the eye to explore that the dahlia bloom would have been lost against this noise. As it is, it stands out quite nicely and the background has been turned into an interesting mosaic rather than a glaring eyesore.

EOS 6D 24-105mm f4 L      1/640 f4   ISO 100


The third image, of a mahonia, is my least favourite of the three. Mahonia, by the way, is a magnificent winter flowering shrub that adds a beautiful splash of gold in the gloom of winter.

The yellow of the flowers was reflecting the sun a little too well and looked a bit too bright when I checked on my monitor. The background, a tangle of honeysuckle and crinodendron stems, was particularly messy, and although the mahonia was covered in flowers, I couldn’t find one clump that was just right.

Lightroom took the edge off the flower brightness and darkened the background a little more than it was on the original RAW file. With a little cropping I believe I’ve ended up with an acceptable image.

EOS 6D 24-105mm f4 L      1/500 f4   ISO 100

Because there are almost no angles from which I can photograph my garden without including unsightly barriers, walls, neighbours gardens and other photographic unpleasantness I rarely do anything other than going in close when I’m taking pictures in my own back yard. The closer you go the easier it is to remove unsightliness. I deliberately left my macro lens upstairs in the studio in order to demonstrate how, with a mid range zoom, you can still create amazing images if you apply a little thought, explore several angles, and really think about the finished product.

My finished product was really just something to say – hey! It’s winter, but there is still beauty outside in the garden, and subjects galore. All I needed was some good light, a camera and a tripod.

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