Peony Still Life & adding background

•August 2, 2017 • 15 Comments

Generally when I try and add background texture to images I tend err on the side of not being too heavy handed or heavily dramatic. So I hope the look has a nice effect rather than being close but too underdone. It may be too dark depending on  the viewing monitor. Assuming the treatment looks attractive to others at all. I promised more peonies from the experimentation last weekend so here is another.  As you can see this arrangement features only the natural leaves which belong to the peonies and not with the addition of the podocarpus with its gray blue berries to fill in some spaces as in the previous post.

For this arrangement a flower has been dropped onto the table but no seashells in the arrangement. The lower image is the capture shot with minor lighting/darkening adjustments. The top image maintains the low key quality of the image but has a couple of texture layers giving the flat black background some depth and dimension. I added a texture  pattern that looked like a cracked wall with all kids of crazed lines in it. The crazed layer I had at 100% opacity but with color dodge for the blending mode. For a given texture normal mode will be a flat looking color but color dodge will lighten the colors in pretty ways. The other layer was a greenish layer with shades of green dark on the outside and graduation to very light in the center with edges that looked like old cracked paper. This layer I chose to use a blending mode called ‘divide’ which brightened the earthy faded greens to lively bluish tones. You have to play with blending modes. Once you see what one does, you can create looks just by painting colors on a layer and choosing blending modes and opacities to get the look you want.

You can of course change backgrounds to what ever you want if you are willing to do the work of cutting out your flower arrangement (or subject) for example and sliding in a background and then working to blend them. In a case like this I chose textures which could disappear into the black without doing any cutting out of anything. Just blending and masking out a few cracks that didn’t need to be on the flowers or leaves. I wanted the texture to look like it was behind the flowers rather than texture on the flowers….although you do that if you want a painterly look all blended as one.

Now after all that, I hope that the look shows up enough and looks interesting. I did not want to upstage the flowers only give them some depth.





Peonies with Thatcheria and Spider Scorpion Conch – Low Key

•July 23, 2017 • 9 Comments



Today just sharing a single image of some low key still life experimentation,,,,mainly because I am too wiped out to really look at the various images I had to choose from. Terrible admission I know. This just to say you might see more Peonies! For today’s effort I went to Whole Foods and bought the peonies and some long stemmed roses, but having spent the time with the peonies the roses’ only job was just to sit and look pretty. Additionally, I thought the arrangement needed some greens and figured the outside Podocarpus hedge might be good to try and was pleased with the bonus of some blue berries on the branches. I placed the flowers in the same spot as I did the shells and sunflowers last time….in the corner next to the sliding glass doors. I did not use the light room in front of a dark room or the window shade material as before with the vertical pattern; today I tried taping black felt cloth to the wall in hopes of getting light absorbing material with no noise contamination in the background.

I think the felt helped with the intended low key look and so I concentrated on the positioning of the flowers and other elements. Other elements include the Lambdis Scorpius (Linneaus 1758) shell (otherwise called the Spider Conch or Scorpion Conch) which I collected many moons ago in the Philippines and also that elegant Thatcheria from last time. I chose the Scorpius because the spidery edges seemed to contrast with the super soft peonies. It was always one of my favourites.  All that happened in Photoshop with this one was just to bring down the light a little bit with the Neutral Gradient Filter and enhance contrast a bit. No oil paint effects just natural flowers.

I’d like to take a moment about the glass vase I put the flowers in. The interesting green glassware was found for a song (1.99) at Tuesday Morning. What it looked like to me was a Roemer Wine Glass which I had seen pictures of . Here is a little bit of history on Roemer Wine Glass. Of course my little wine glass/flower vase is not from the 16th Century but has a look I liked. Those little blobs of glass stuck to the cylindrical base are called prunts. This is actually my new word for the day and here is Wikipedia to the rescue….”A prunt is a small blob of glass fused to another piece of glass. Prunts are applied primarily as decoration, but also help provide a firm grip in the absence of a handle. Prunts may be impressed into decorative shapes, such as raspberries, blackberries, or lion’s heads. Prunts are a common stylistic element in German glassware, such as the rummer and Berkemeyer styles of drinking glass.


PS: I hope to get better at this and have found still life work a lot harder than it looks, between the ambient light, controlling the background, getting  good depth of field on the camera to get all the flowers decently in focus…they are not lined up on one plane really. Oh, and not to mention arranging and rearranging the flowers and green things. Oh, and that felt and the masking tape do not get along, ever so often it would come undone….better method needed. 🙂  Tape got along with the wall ok though.

PSII: Learned another lesson this evening about peonies…..wait a day after you buy them…you should see the peonies are getting more beautiful by the second…all are opening up and the buds too. And, they smell great. Guess you can tell it is the first time I have purchased this kind of flower. Perhaps I photographed them too soon!! Wow!!

Sunflower & Shell Still Life & Pattern Lesson

•July 4, 2017 • 13 Comments

Sunflower & Shell Still Life

I felt compelled to share one more effort from yesterday’s still life experimentation. While there are many things I like about this, it demonstrates  a big lesson which comes up from time to time for me. And, that is using not a textured background but rather a patterned one. It is always easier to add pattern later than deal with pattern inherent in a shot such as roof shingles for example. While thinking of things to do for a dark or black background for a low key image….which I lean toward low key with most things…instead of the dark room with lighted object in front, I put a window shade fabric on the wall with masking tape thinking I’d have more control. And it is an ok idea and might work well with  a solid matt light absorbing material to mimic shadow. But once you introduce pattern you end up with wavy lines when scaling which I don’t like dealing with. At 100% no problem but it doesn’t look well at other settings. So if, and you will, you see some pattern lines, it is from the vertical pattern of the sunshade material I tried.

So naturally I played with this image anyway…go figure. Since I keep wanting to make things look like a painting, I did use Photoshop Oil filter here but combined it with poster edges and played with the vignette lighting. I also had a problem getting the sunflowers to behave and face the way I wanted.Who says flowers are cooperative. The are a bit like cats, beautiful but with a mind of their own. I should also add that I was putting things away when I placed the flowers and shell elements on the sewing table and just liked it.

Call out to Brian Bixby….see in the right corner…. I have a walking stick….not with a dragon head but a bird….and mine has a sword inside!! I will be a dangerous old lady one day real soon?!! And, since Jacintha has magic…ahh even more so!

Happy Independence Day Everyone!!



Precious Wentletrap – Epitonium scalare (Linne’)

•July 4, 2017 • 12 Comments

Precious Wentletrap Shell Operculum View


I probably have not opened my 1965 edition of Shells of the Western Pacific in Color vol. I by Tetsuaki Kira (chairman of the Malacological Society of Japan back then)  since college. After all I re-located to the Atlantic Ocean Shell habitat after that. But, here is Tetsuaki’s description the family Epitoniidae: “Many species of this family are found in Japan. The shells are generally thin and white, and characterized by the turreted spire, ornamented by many varices either plate or thread-like. In a few species, the whorls are only loosely coiled, and are isolated from each other. These staircase shells are one of the favorites of shell collectors because of their neat style and rarity.”

And, more specifically on this shell: Epitonium scalare (LINNE’): “The shape and structure of this  shell is most exquisite. It is moderately large, and white in color, with a faint fleshy tone. The whorls are loosely coiled, leaving open spaces between them, and sparsely bear thin and high varix-plates which are connected with those of the next whorls at the inter-whorl spaces. The umbilicus is widely open, and the spiral can be looked into through its inside. A round aperture has a reflexed margin, and is closed by a dark purple operculum, which is horny, round and paucispiral. Distribution: Honshu and southwards, at 20-30 fathoms. This splendid species was originally recorded from China Sea.”

This is the shell that was once considered very precious, rare and highly desired by collectors who would spend great sums to have one. Naturally when an object, especially a collector object such as shells or coins, is uncommon and demands a good price there will be counterfeiters. The story goes that the exquisite artistry of counterfeiters in China was discovered when a collector dropped his shell and found the pieces were not of calcium carbonate but rather of rice paste. Now the shells are not rare at all but the rice paste counterfeits are. I can only imagine how lovely those rice paste sculptures probably were with the lovely artistry that China is well known for.

But, for us no matter how common, the form of this shell is wonderful to examine and the light and shadow on those coiled tubes is of such an organic geometry as to make one wonder at the beauty present in the world at large.



Precious Wentletrap Posterior View with spiral flutes



Precious Wentletrap Side View



PS: I love scientific description, whether Audubon describing his birds or Kira here describing shell architecture, the words are always unique and lovely and ring through time as we examine our modern examples.

Still Life Images with Flowers and Shells

•July 3, 2017 • 13 Comments


Thatcheria with Red Rose

Once upon a time circa 1969 I lived in the Philippines and learned to love shell collecting. In the vast Pacific Ocean, Philippine and South China Seas live multitudes of species of sea shells and to one interested in the exotic mollusks every single dive brought personal experience of something new and beautiful. I can still remember the excitement when I noticed my first large tiger cowrie covered up in its mantle and the glorious color and detail revealed when the mantle retracted at my touch. It was amazing.  I fanned the sand all night long in my dreams the day I found a Murex haustellum siphon canal buried in the sand and fanned away to reveal the shell. Or the time I forgot I had a tented cone in my collection bag after a dive and was lucky enough that it didn’t send one of its poisonous barbs my way when I reached in.

So that is one reason in my effort to do some flower still life pictures, I ended up abandoning my plan for a voluptuous display of loads of flowers for some images like you see here with a simple flower contrasting or complementing with some sea shells. I have intended for a long time to take pictures of some of my shells, and now maybe will get to it. I am open to any kind of critique with these as I spent an inordinate amount of time waffling over how to stage my still life set ups. These are only a few.  I find it is harder than it looks and available light and where to find dark is something to figure out. For these I mainly used the light coming from my sliding glass doors and put a wooden table in front of door of the den which is nice and dark inside to serve as background. To do still life scenes I think it is best to set up spot properly with a dark or light backgrounds and a tripod and maybe even some reflectors or lighting in order to have more control. But, this is just using a camera, hand held, and with in situ availability of light and dark with a 100mm macro lens. I am going to learn now to do this effectively as I enjoy working with flowers and natural things.

Spondylus-Thatcheria-with Red Rose-Still Life


This scene features some scratchy looking greens that I don't know
 the name of with a red rose, a Thatcheria mirabilis shell, and a Spondylus 
(probably S. americanus)  which had cemented itself to a coralliferous rock to
 which it is still attached.  Spondylus is sometimes called a spiny or thorny
 oyster but  it is related to the scallop and not an oyster at all. I never did 
clean this  specimen as I liked the natural  mess and was also reluctant to risk 
damaging what spines there are. It has been  on my book shelf since college.
Thatcheria mirabilis is not one I collected but  rather was a gift. It is well
 known for its unique and elegant lines and might  come from Japan.


Wentletrap-Thatcheria-Red Rose-Spires and Spirals Still Life


This set up includes a rose, the Thatcheria, and a Precious Wentletrap shell. 
All to contrast and compare with the curves and spirals of the flower.
The way I heard it was that the Wentletrap was once considered very rare
as it was difficult to get at in deep waters. Rare enough that in China they made 
copy Wentletraps out of rice paste. Over time diving capabilities
made the shell more accessible and so now the rice paste fakes are the rare
commodity. That is the story given me so there you have it.
This one is real.

Spondylus-Thatcheria-with Mum


I started this scene with the idea of putting spiky things together.
The Spondylus, the Mum and the spiky greens. Added the
Thatcheria for grace though one could say it is kind of 
spiky too.

Glenmore Whiskey Bottle with Mums and Wentletrap & Thatcheria Shells Still Life


Lastly is a more subdued still life with mums and the shells using a bottle 
that belonged to my grandmother. I don't know if she drank the Bourbon 
or not but I always kept it for a still life of some kind. Never used it 
til now.


A nice way to spend the day before Independence Day when I thought I’d be at the office!!! Yea, a day to play!!



Great Blue Heron Pair-for the dramatic pose

•June 11, 2017 • 21 Comments


It is not often, rather never before, that I post an image I feel is lacking in sharpness. However, I think we all have those images taken over the years that every time we run into them again you have that pang of regret that you missed because of such a wonderful pose or composition. This picture from 2012 is one of those images for me. Looking at it I still remember the sound of the powerful wing beat as this Great Blue Heron flew in with a twig for its mate to work into the nest they were building. I thought the image of the Great Blue Heron male dropping in with wings positioned as they are quite magnificent. I love the way the feathers are curled and ruffled by the wind in landing , the way the wind separates them,  the way the alula portion tips upwards from the flight feathers, and the spread of the tail feathers..  Add to the birds a backdrop deepening blue of a potential threatening sky, it was a shame to miss in the fast action of the pair.

To try and clarify some in order to share the image I did used an old Photoshop artistic filter called poster edges, not to posterize, but to drop a little ink on the edges. I also made some color and contrast adjustments for clarity. However, close scrutiny will reveal the lack of sharp focus on the birds.  In hopes you enjoy the idea of this image. And, sure there are many other opportunities to take more images of nesting Great Blue Herons, but I also find that looking for exactly something to happen in the exact same way again no matter the subject is not very likely. Every run at it will bring something entirely new and fresh and life isn’t meant for things to happen just the same or even to dwell unduly on your misses.

Live, Learn, and Look Forward to the Next!!



Louisiana Heron at nest within Giant Leather Fern

•May 29, 2017 • 14 Comments

Most of us enthusiastic photographer types have far too many images buried in our digital folders and files, many of which for better or worse, languish unattended to until they are rediscovered looking something else. Always when I go shooting I am inherently attracted to certain images I work on right away. Sometimes a new species I’ve never shown before or just something of a wonderful pose that cried out from the get go and which occupied my thinking at that moment with all else ultimately forgotten.  I find I will leave an image unattended when I have shown many of the same bird already, especially the Egretta tricolor which has admittedly filled my viewfinder many times. So scrolling through, this Louisiana Heron standing at its nesting area buried within a Giant Leather Fern caught my attention. Guess I am a true “bird nerd” as I like the textures and colors with this setting as the bird makes its way through such tight quarters. The ruby eye caught by the westerly light and the same backlighting on the green fronds at its neck makes for a pretty portrait of this diminutive heron in its mating colors.


A closer up view for convenience of detail of the
Louisiana Heron and backlit Giant Leather Fern fronds.

A Very Special Memorial Day to everyone as we remember our warriors who gave so much.