Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Perfect Plant

Image by
Rod Deutschmann
IFLC instructor

I remember them all ... as if it were yesterday. Every plant, every stick, every flower, every boat, every person — the images I take are so a part of me, the memories that surround every action, every thought, every reason.
These are my life, they are what make me ... me.

This little plant on a small plantation in Maui is important to me — not so much for it's brooding, very intense feel but because of what it taught me.

This was a while ago and I had just started contemplating the idea of pure expressionism — of capturing what something meant to me, instead of just the way something looked.

We had heard of this plantation hidden along the drive to Hana but had never seen it. This is how it is in Hana —if you don't know where something is specifically, you'll never find it.

After an hour or so of searching we stumbled on it - quite by accident really. It was raining and I had pulled over to check out the view of the ocean. As I returned to the car I saw a large clearing a few miles away. We headed in that direction and found the entrance.

It was big - stretching out far over the distant ridges. It was quiet - we must have been the only people there. As we walked from path to path and took in the scenery I tried to get a 'feel' for the location. This was tough. I had been a photographer my whole life and was very used to simply looking for something pretty and then taking a picture that made it look even prettier. I thought to myself how in the world will I ever be able to 'feel' what a place means, let alone capture it in my camera. But I wanted it — more than anything really. I wanted to be able to share my feelings about a place or a thing. I was tired of simply shooting pictures, I wanted more and I was going to figure out how to make it happen.
After an hour or so of walking around in the rain shooting average picture after average picture, I stopped. I knew it couldn't be this hard to look inside oneself. I was doing something wrong and I needed to figure out what it was.

I looked to my left and there was the plant you see pictured here. But instead of taking its shot, like I had just done one hundred times before. I simply looked at it. I thought maybe the answer I'm looking for doesn't have anything to do with the plant itself but with how it makes me feel. If I simply start shooting I don't have a clue about that. So I slowed down. I took a look at the plant, watched it's curves, it's shapes. I saw how it sat in between the other shapes and colors.
Then it hit me ... the thing I had been missing.

I touched the plant. Probably not the best thing to do in a botanical garden, but I did it anyway. It was softer than I had imagined — a lot softer. I traced the curves of the plant, I ran my finger along it's stem. I got to know the plant.

I know it sounds weird and I probably looked the part as well. But I was busting through a wall. I was tearing down what it mean to be a photographer simply taking photos and I was becoming an artist who would try to share a feeling — I needed to know what it felt like to me on a very personal level.

The rest of the puzzle began to play itself out.
Since I was going for a soft feel — a lower contrast setting would help, the colors needed to remain intact, but the green couldn't 'pop' from the scene — a lower saturation setting was called for. The white balance and hue option was simple — whatever gave me the muted color scheme I was looking for.

Now to perspective. There was some rhythm behind the plant that was needed to keep the eye moving along those curves. To make it a little larger I had to move back a bit. Of course to then 'crop' into my message I needed a certain focal length. Lens choice became a no-brainer.

Then to depth-of-field. Due to the perspective demands I was faced with a very small area of focus to work with — at my larger aperture I was not getting the depth needed - so a smaller hole was chosen. A quick check with my depth-of-field preview button and I found my target F-stop.

Now for lighting. Mood rained surpreme - even through the rain. I knew I wanted to make this flower darker than it appeared - so a faster (than normal) shutter speed was chosen. This was a blessing really since the clouds and that small aperture already took away so much light.

Now to get it in focus. As many of you know I was a Marine for much of my youth. I remembered my time on the rifle range. I remembered that old acronym of BRASS. Breath, relax, aim, stop, squeeze and ... I pushed the shutter.


It was still just a nice picture of a plant. While it hinted at the soft quality I was looking for it just didn't work.

I tried again, and again and again. But nothing, it was still just a pretty picture of a plant.

What was it? What was I missing?

If I wanted it soft ... and I did everything in the camera I could then what else could I ...???

Wait there was something else. I remembered long ago as a combat correspondent playing around with multiple exposures. Of course back then it was print film ... but I knew my digital could do the same thing. (This is why I love Nikons)

So I set the machine up to do a double exposure. The first image was sharply focused and the second was completely blurry. Sure I had to make adjustments to the shutter speed to compensate, but that didn't prove too difficult.

There ... that was it. It was exactly what I had imagined it would look like. It showed how I felt about that plant. I was ecstatic. I felt a kiss on my cheek. Robin was there with me. I don't know for how long ... but she was smiling.

She later told me that she watched me for the 45 minutes it took to get that one shot. She said I was so lost to everything that for a moment it really was just me and the plant.

I learned something that day ... Number one, always have someone with you who loves you a lot. Number two, push yourself no matter what to get the image right. Don't let something like this float by.

My advise, if you want to truly express yourself with your camera ... don't try to fix your images later — your missing out on so much.

Besides ... it doesn't take me 45 minutes any longer to create a message of how I feel. And if it wasn't for this plant and the time I took to get in touch with it. I would not be able to shoot the way I do today.

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