Posts Tagged ‘macro’

Celebrating My Love of Sunflowers!

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

I’ve always loved sunflowers. There’s something about them that just makes me smile. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. Sunflowers have magical powers. Well, maybe it just feels that way.

After the never-ending winter we had here in New England, I decided to celebrate spring this year by planting 9 packets of sunflower seeds. It was a good move as they eventually yielded a wonderful variety of 96 buds this summer. That’s pretty magical! Needless to say, I’ve had an abundance of photo ops right here in my own backyard.

A lemon yellow sunflower from the Autumn Beauty collection by the Livingston Seed Company.

Autumn Beauty – Lemon Yellow

The sunflowers’ beauty has delighted me since early summer straight through to these first few days of autumn. I even have a plant that is just starting to show its buds now. With the warm spell that is due here this week, I just may get another bloom! My camera and I are ready and waiting!

Spring Seed Planting

All of my seed packets this year came from the Livingston Seed Company in Columbus, Ohio. I happened to find the seeds at both my local Ace Hardware store and also at a nearby Dollar Store in early spring. I’m so glad I picked them up when I did, as these delightful annuals have proven to be nature’s gift that just keeps giving.

A rear view of a rust and gold sunflower from the Summertime Mix F1hybrid collection.

Summertime Mix F1 – Rear View

So Many Seeds — So Many Different Varieties

I never realized just how many different varieties there are of sunflowers. Some of the seed packets I picked up were new to me — like the Mexican Sunflower. Not only was its color unique to me, but I soon discovered so were the shape of its leaves. As the plant began to grow, I could tell something special was on the way.

All of the images featured in this article were taken over the course of the summer as each of the different sunflowers made its appearance. Here’s a bit of info on each of the varieties that I planted. Perhaps one or two varieties will speak to you as well.

Mammoth Russian (Helianthus annuus)

This Mammoth Russian was the very first to appear in my garden this year. True to its name, it is indeed one big plant! The shooting perspective I chose for this image was primarily due to the fact that the sunflower stood taller than I. I’m not the only one who appreciated its height. The birds seemed to like its overall size, as my goldfinches happily fed on it for a long stretch of time.

A Mammoth Russian sunflower

Mammoth Russian

Livingston Seed Packet Text:  The Mammoth Russian is a giant in beauty and stature. The huge, yellow flowers are often 12″ in diameter, full of plump, tasty seeds. Harvest when heads bend from weight. This sunny giant is perfect in your yard or garden to create a natural fence or just make a statement. Everyone will love your Mammoth Russian Sunflower, including our feathered friends!

Height:  10′  Blooms: Midsummer through Fall

Summertime Mix (Helianthus annuus)

The Summertime Mix was one of my favorite seed packs primarily due to the diversity of the flowers it produced. I loved the size and delicate nature of each flower as it appeared. The soft color palette was quite eye-catching and deserved to be showcased.

bi-color sunflower from the Summertime Mixture F1 hybrid collection

Summertime Mix F1 – Bicolor

Summertime Mix F1 sunflower

Summertime Mix F1

Livingston Seed Packet Text:  Summertime Mixture F1 is a true mixture of colors and forms. The single-stemmed and branched flowers make you smile by just looking at them. Wonderful for mass planting and cutting gardens. This is a pollen free-free, hybrid collection.

Height:  Approx. 4′-5′  Blooms: Summer through Fall

Autumn Beauty (Helianthus annuus)

The Autumn Beauty seed packet led to one of my favorite shots from this summer. I loved the color of this sunflower and well as its flawless, unblemished petals. As you can see for yourself, the rust and gold of this particular flower’s petals against the backdrop of its deep, green leaves definitely says, “Autumn Beauty.”

A fall-colored sunflower from the Autumn Beauty collection

Autumn Beauty – Fall Colors

However, that’s not the only variety of sunflower the Autumn Beauty seed packet brought to my garden. It was one of many.

An pale lemon yellow example from the Autumn Beauty sunflower collection

Autumn Beauty – Pale Yellow

A subtle bronze sunflower from the Autumn Beauty collection

Autumn Beauty – Subtle Bronze

An image of the head of an Autumn Beauty sunflower

Autumn Beauty – Rust

Livingston Seed Packet Text:  Sunflowers make you smile. Blooms in shades of lemon yellow, subtle bronze, rich wine, and bicolors on multiple flowerheads make Autumn Beauty a true beauty. Cut for a bouquet, plant for a natural fence, or plant in a garden for color. Harvest for your feathered friends!

Height:  5′-7′  Blooms: Late Summer to Fall

Orange Mahogany Bicolor F1 (Helianthus annuus)

Bicolor sunflowers always add interest to a garden, and this Orange Mahogany Bicolor was no exception. Round and symmetrical, it instantly grabbed my attention. It’s vibrant colors and curved, wide petals made it an instant standout.

An orange mahogany bicolor F1 sunflower

Orange Mahogany Bicolor F1

Livingston Seed Packet Text:  The brilliant colors of Orange Mahogany Bicolor F1 make it a standout in your garden. Striking colors of orange and yellow with brown center rings definitely add beauty to any spot. This is an F1 hybrid variety.

Height:  5′-6′  Blooms: Summer through Fall

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)

The Mexican Sunflower seed packet was my big surprise of the summer. Long before buds appeared, it was the plant’s dark green leaves and their unusual shape that made me take notice. Truth be told, at first I thought it might be a weed, as I didn’t recognize it. Thankfully I kept my weeding hand in check and let nature continue on its way. Was I ever glad that I did. This vibrant orange sunflower proved to be a show stopper.

A closeup of a Mexican Sunflower

Mexican Sunflower

Livingston Seed Packet Text:  Lead the uninhibited life, and let Torch light your way. Its fiery orange petals are irresistible, and it’s so easy to grow. In no time your garden will ignite with its glow.

Height:  4′-6′  Blooms: Summer/Fall

Velvet Queen (Helianthus annuus)

The deep burgundy color of the Velvet Queen added rich beauty to my garden. Contrasting with the color of the surrounding flowers, it quickly became a visual magnet for this photographer and her macro lens.

A Velvet Queen sunflower

Velvet Queen

Livingston Seed Packet Text:  Velvet Queen Sunflower’s stately chestnut-red blossoms usher in fall’s regal glory. The seeds are edible and can be harvested for a tasty treat. Use the cut flowers in fall floral arrangements or leave the seed head in place as a gift to the birds. Velvet Queen prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil. Do no overfertilize. A Victorian symbol of hope, these sunflowers are a reminder of early autumn’s grace and beauty.

Height:  5′-7′  Blooms: Summer/Late Fall

Looking Ahead

Who knows what this upcoming winter will bring? All I know is come next spring I will be one of the first on the lookout for the appearance of sunflower seed packets in the stores. Perhaps there will even be a new variety or two for me to discover.

The side view of pale lemon yellow example from the Autumn Beauty sunflower

Autumn Beauty Profile

Needless to say, the wheels in my head are already turning. I even have the next planting schematic all mapped out in my mind. Can’t wait!

~ Liz Mackney


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Charlotte Calls My Garden Home

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

All In The Family

For the last couple of years I’ve had a garter snake living under the stone steps in my garden. I affectionately named him Charlie. Each spring I look forward to seeing him basking in the sun, as that signals to me that winter is gone and warmer weather is here to stay.

This year, I discovered someone new calling my garden home. I first spotted “Charlotte” on the far side of my yard on the edge of one of my borders. Having been out shooting flowers, I had both my camera and macro lens in hand.

At first I thought it might be Charlie, as I had seen him in this area the previous year. Once I got closer though, I could see this garter snake’s head to be smaller. I then assumed this one to be female and promptly named her Charlotte. Were she and Charlie a couple? Maybe. I knew I needed to say, “Hello.”

A garter snake curls to take a look

Charlotte curls around to take a good look at me

Introducing Myself

Charlotte was definitely wary of me as I approached her. Unlike Charlie who had gotten quite used to me, Charlotte didn’t know what to make of me. I gently spoke to her and kept a safe distance for a bit. I gradually moved closer, all the while speaking softly to her, and slowly coming down to her level. As trust was slowly building, she kindly gave me some great eye contact.

A close-up image of a garter snake's face.

Meeting eye-to-eye at Charlotte's level

I continued to speak gently to her  — always referring to her by name — but was mindful not to stress her out. After all, I was used to having a garter snake as a resident, but she was not used to me.

Knows Her Name

Every morning when I come down the stone steps, I always softly say, “Charlie… Charlotte… Good Morning.” From time to time a little head pops up to greet the sound of my voice. The first time this spring I thought it was Charlie. Since then, however, I’m sure it’s been Charlotte. Never have I seen the two of them together.

The other day when I was walking across the back lawn, I noticed something up against the porch lattice making its way through the grass towards the stone steps. Naturally I said, “Charlotte?”

A garter snake raises its head in the grass

Reacting to my voice

As you can see by her reaction to my voice, I think she clearly knows her name. Looks like my “animal whisperer” skills are still working.

~ Liz Mackney


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The Beauty of Adding Texture to Flowers

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Texture Photography First Catches My Eye

I first noticed texture photography about 6 years ago when I joined I was new to photography back then, had very little Photoshop experience, and had no idea that what I was looking at was actually “texture photography.” All I knew was that I was seeing some wonderful images that caught my eye because they looked very much like fine art paintings. I had no idea how these images were created, but I knew that one day I would learn the process. That day has finally come.

Being “An Artist”

My grandfather was a wonderful artist. He could paint and draw magnificently. Somehow that particular gene skipped the next two generations. Neither my mother nor any of her five children were blessed with that same innate skill. We were all pretty bummed about that.

But I later learned there are other ways to be an artist.

Mine is through the lens — along with using Photoshop as my “brushes and canvas” to apply textures to my images.

Embracing My Inner Student

At this stage I am a texture student, learning as I go. Each day something new. Each mistake a lesson learned. Each attempt, a new possibility. Every moment, a chance for discovery.

Today is no exception. You never know what’s just around the next corner.

From Fading Flower to Fine Art

I spotted this Easter Lily this morning on my way into town to run an errand. I turned the corner onto another street and there it was in a neighbor’s front flower border. A quick U-turn had me driving back up the hill to get my camera and macro lens.

Upon closer inspection, I could see this Easter Lily was past its prime and fading fast. The white petals were just starting to wilt and featured a hint of brown. In my mind I had a vision of what this Easter Lily could become with the right texture, brushes, and opacity applied.

A profile of an Easter Lily with texture applied.

Fading Easter Lily

Backlit Crocus

I love to shoot small flowers at ground level. This crocus was a natural standout, as the angle of the sun produced wonderful backlighting to showcase the petal detail and tiny water droplets. I deliberately chose a texture color that would contrast with that of the flower. I also chose one with a pale center, as I wanted nothing to interfere with the sunlight through the petals.

A solitary crocus with a texture layer applied.

Backlit Crocus

Solitary Siberian Squill

This is perhaps my favorite image of the week. This tiny Siberian Squill in the midday sun was a challenge to shoot due to its location. I knew the angle that I wanted — but it required a bit of yoga from me to capture it.

As you can see, the flower’s color and lines are beautiful, as is the delicate, curved shape of the petals. While I had used a shallow depth of field to produce the creamy background, I knew that I could change “pretty” into “beautiful” with the right colored texture and pattern. Again, a careful selection and application of the right Photoshop brushes and opacity helped me to bring my inner vision to life.

A Siberian Squill flower with texture applied

Solitary Siberian Squill

Texture Resources

There are many places where you can obtain textures, including creating your own (which I wrote about previously in another texture article of mine). Two resources I like to use are Joel Olives Textures and French Kiss Collections.

So there you have it. A bit of the story behind the images. If interested, they are all available as Fine Art Prints from Fine Art America.

~ Liz Mackney


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12 Tips To Improve Your Flower Photography!

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Flower Photography Cheat Sheet

Now that Spring is officially here, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about ways to improve your flower photography. My gardens are already beginning to sprout here in New England, and it won’t be long before flowers are blooming and vibrant colors are swaying in the gentle summer breeze.

Summer color loves diffused light

I’m often asked how it is that I get the flower shots that I do. What is it that I look for and what does my creative eye see? I’m happy to share that information with you and offer some helpful tips on how to improve your flower photography. First, however, let’s look at where you might be going wrong.

Common Mistakes

There are several mistakes that new photographers often make when shooting flowers:

  • Shooting down on a flower from a standard viewing distance produces a typical “snapshot” image.
  • Shooting at high noon in bright sun produces harsh lighting and washes out color.
  • Not removing distractions, such as dead leaves or stray twigs.
  • Always shooting from the same angle or perspective.
  • Not thinking through the overall composition.
  • Cropping too tightly in camera.
  • Shooting too close with the lens you are using and thus being unable to focus.

Answer This Question…

Do I think of my camera as taking great pictures, or do I think of myself as creating great photographs? There is definitely a difference. Your answer determines where you go from here.

12 Helpful Tips

If you want to be in control of the images you capture in the garden, but aren’t quite sure on how to do that, perhaps the following tips will be of some help.

Tip #1 — The 360 Rule

Really evaluate your shooting perspective. Basically check out the flower from every angle, including above and below, as well as by circling its circumference. Light, shadow and background all change as you move around the flower, as do the intricate details of the flower itself.

The back of a flower often has interesting detail all its own

Tip # 2 — Composition

When you see a group of flowers, study them collectively as well as individually. How flowers are positioned and grow in relation to each other can often be the foundation of a nice composition.

A flower's position in the garden can influence composition

Tip #3 — Selective Focus

Decide what element you want as the primary point focus. With a tight group of flowers, you might want to draw the viewer’s eye to a specific flower. I chose to do just that with this image, by creating a shallow depth of field for the background, and soft focus for the surrounding outside flowers.

Keeping one flower in sharp focus draws the viewer's eye

Tip #4 — Depth of Field

Controlling the depth of field (that which remains in sharp focus) makes all the difference in the world to flower photography. Therefore it’s important to remember these four factors that affect depth of field:

  1. Your f-stop number (The smaller the number, the less that is in focus; the larger the number, the more that is in focus.)
  2. The focal length of your lens. (When you’re zoomed in, you’ll have less depth of field. When you’re zoomed out, you’ll have more depth of field.)
  3. Your distance to the subject. (The closer you are to the subject, the less that is in focus; the farther away you are from the subject, the more that is in focus.)
  4. The subject’s distance to the background. (The further away the subject is from the background, the less that is in focus; the closer the subject is to the background, the more that is in focus.)
Note: All four of these factors interact with each other to affect depth of field. Consider them when composing your shots.

A shallow depth of field showcases the flower and blurs the background

Tip #5  — Close-Up & Macro

Flowers feature very intricate details. What better way to showcase these details than with a close-up or macro shot. It’s important to note that while a macro lens can really up your shooting game, you don’t need a dedicated macro lens to get a close-up or macro image. You can always crop an image afterwards to create a close-up or macro perspective.

The details of small flowers are not always seen by the naked eye

Tip #6 — Welcome The Rain

Don’t be too disappointed when the rain comes to spoil a sunny day. On the contrary it may be exactly what you need for a special shot. Sometimes you don’t need a steady rain. I’ve found that a quick passing shower can really enhance things.

Sometimes a spring shower can be your creative friend

Tip #7 — Spot Focus

What to focus on when shooting flowers is only limited by your imagination. You can shoot an overall garden scene, a group of flowers, a single flower with a shallow depth of field, or you can really call attention to the finer details by spot focusing on a single point to draw the viewer’s eye. That was my thought for this image, as the colors of the flower were the perfect frame to showcase the texture of the stigma.

Spot focus can draw the eye to a specific detail

Tip #8 — Fill The Frame

Certain images deserve to fill the frame during composition. Such was the case when I saw this large sunflower. I loved everything about it — the color, the texture, the background, the curve of the petals. I chose a square crop to showcase this pristine, symmetrical flower. It proved to be a good call, as I later had this image made into a large ceramic tile. The dimensions were perfect.

Fill the frame with the most important elements

Tip #9 — Flower Stages

Flowers grow in stages. That makes for multiple photo opportunities. I like to continually check my gardens to see what stage a particular flower is at. Do you have any idea what this emerging bud later turned out to be? If you guessed sunflower, you’d be right!

Different stages offer multiple shooting opportunities

Tip #10 — Top Down Perspective

As previously mentioned, shooting down on a flower from a typical viewing distance can produce bland, boring images. However, getting close to the flower (either physically or by zooming in) can totally change the composition and make for an interesting photo. The striped, curved petals on this variegated crocus guide the viewer’s eye to the central point of focus.

Shoot top down to showcase pattern and detail

Tip #11 — Soft Focus

In the garden certain flowers by their very design are a perfect match for soft focus. The shallow depth of field in this image again helped to showcase the flower, but it was soft focus that complemented the natural softness of the delicate petals. Everything working together is what makes this image interesting.

Certain details are meant for soft focus

Tip #12 — Incorporate Garden Visitors

We are not the only ones who wait for the gardens to bloom. Some winged friends become the perfect accent to a colorful flower. Dragonflies are some of my favorite visitors to capture. I actually think they enjoy my company, for they follow me around the garden all summer long.

Garden visitors love the flowers too

Practice Time

It’s early in the season, so you have plenty of time to practice these tips. You can even get a jump on things by picking up a potted plant such as tulips, positioning it in the garden, and experimenting. Best of all, you can then transplant the tulips as a colorful addition to your garden.

Bonus Tip! Keep practicing and don’t get discouraged. Every photo teaches you something. What better classroom to practice in than the garden on a nice, warm day. Sounds good to me!

Happy shooting!

~ Liz Mackney


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Shooting For The Gold — Without Even Realizing It!

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

This week’s media blitz for the upcoming Summer Olympics got me thinking about the athletes’ quest for the gold medal. As my train of thought continued, I wondered how many different “gold” subjects I had photographed recently. Apparently, more than I realized!


I’m very lucky to have many goldfinches in close proximity. I hear them “squeaking” to each other all day long as they dart back and forth from tree to tree in my yard. After years of providing thistle for them in my feeders, I switched to black sunflower seeds and moved a feeder onto my back deck. In no time at all I had a very happy customer.


Goldenrod Spider

This goldenrod spider was a first for me. I had never seen one before, so naturally the little guy caught my eye as he crawled along the leaf of my peony plant. How perfect for me that I had my macro lens in hand.

Goldenrod Spider

Golden Sunrise

Motif #1 in Rockport, Massachusetts, is a world-famous landmark. Living is this beautiful seaside town is a gift in and of itself. Waking up to sunrises like this are divinely inspired and hold a very special place in my heart.

Motif #1 Sunrise

Golden Reflection

You never know what you might discover around the next bend. Such was the case last autumn when an unexpected right turn off the beaten path led to this glorious reflection. There’s a lot to be said about the road less traveled!

Autumn Reflection

Golden Rays

This past winter, while on my quest to find the snowy owl at Hampton Beach, heaven seemed to be rejoicing. There I was — freezing my butt off — when I saw the sun’s rays celebrate the new day. As I turned around, there suddenly appeared the snowy owl! Hallelujah!

Hampton Beach

Gold On Gold

Nature has a way of color coordinating itself. This hoverfly was the perfect companion to this Black-eyed Susan. The gold-on-gold palette seemed to speak of mutual respect and appreciation.

Hoverfly and Black-eyed Susan

Golden Retriever

This is Sunny, my neighbor’s dog. How could this article not include a golden retriever? Good dog Sunny!


So there you have it. You can “discover gold” in many different places. How about you? Do you have any gold shots of your own? If so, I’d love to see them. Post a comment with a link to your photo and show me!

~ Liz Mackney


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