Feature Photograph

 Lone Sunflower

This weeks feature photograph not only fits our current theme of exploring depth of field (DOF) as a compositional element, but is also significant for making something out of nothing.  For making an interesting and appealing photograph out of a very common subject, but in such a way where the technical’s become responsible for creating the art and the interest.

Really, you need to be looking at the 24x30” version of this image from about a meter away.  It’s very difficult to really grasp the impact of many images when presented on a computer monitor, much less on a computer monitor reduced in size to fit easily in a column.  Properly sizing and cropping an image to have the most effect on  given media display whether it be a book cover, computer monitor, billboard or 4x6” print is a topic by itself and will be covered in a future column.  However, for now look carefully at this image on your computer monitor and try to follow along with what I’m describing while looking at the big print version.

Immediately you should see a common yellow sunflower set among an uncluttered background.  Looking closer the petals closest two you should appear in sharp focus as will several leaves of the plant, while others will appear soft and out of focus.  Light is striking these leaves from several angles and appears to backlight all the petals.

Sunflower-Close up

What you can’t see on the smaller version that you might be able to see on the still restricted size crop above, is the forming of the seeds.  The part closest to you remains in sharp focus showing every detail, even the small ‘hairs’ and inside the openings, and then the part furthest from you fades into the background more gradually appearing out of focus the further away you get.  The opening in the center of the flower was chosen as the ideal place to cut this flower in half using DOF, half is super sharp, half fades to a pleasant blur.  As your eyes move around the big print version you can clearly see all these things happening on the flower, and to varying degrees on the stalk and leaves.  The background bokeh is smooth and pleasant and serves as an attractive backdrop to the main subject.

Would you have selected a different amount of DOF?  Would you have defocused the background more or less?  Would you have cut the DOF down the exact middle of the flower?  All good questions that might vary from artist to artist, and this is after you’ve selected the proper angle from the lens, where the light hitting the flower brings out the most detail, where the sunlight backlights the petals before filtering through into sight.  A very basic composition, with many variables and subsequently decisions we must make to create the vision we’re seeing in our heads as we look through the viewfinder. 

Perhaps a better angle to this, is to ask yourself if you’re asking yourself these questions before photographing a simple sunflower.  If you are you’ve done this before and you realize the impact even small variables will have.  If you’re not, then what are you asking yourself?  It’s probable most people are asking at least some of the questions, and it’s possible to need to ask more than what I listed above.  If you keep an active interest in photography and constantly learn and improve, then  you’ll probably find yourself asking more and more as time goes on.

In a future column we’ll use this same sunflower and examine what the image would look like had different choices been made.  There really is no right or wrong when making your compositional decisions, but you can learn to more please one viewership over another.  We’ll explore this at a later date.