Last week I discussed just a few of opportunities for photographing the dead and decaying leaves that are the
What a great use for my new 100mm macro lens, but first I had
around the yard looking for likely subjects. I started very simply. First I
needed something sturdy to hold the leaves in place, but many of my first images
were captured with the leaves secured by a large paper clip to a rudely bent
metal coat hanger. This worked reasonable well, but eventually I upgraded to a
more substantial clamp which, by some miracle, fit perfectly into my old Manfroto
tripod. Initially I planned to use a Speedlite to
back illuminate the leaves,
but I found that a Tensor light from my studio worked well. I would have loved
to have been able to direct the light more precisely. Barn doors or a snoot
would have been nice, but I found the the extraneous light mild, and easily
managed in post. My background was easy to obtain, using a sheet of my black
mat board. I may experiment with different backgrounds, but for now I love the
black. My macro performed beautifully, with great edge to edge sharpness and
clarity. The lens goes to 1:1, but I also experiment with extension tubes to
increase the magnification. I 'm just beginning to get to know this equipment
and this was a wonderful chance to play in a comparatively uncomplicated
In the wind-free, controlled environment of my studio, I was able to maximize depth of field, stopping down to f 20 to f25. I tried to arrange the leaves as close as possible to the same plane. I tried gently pressing some of the leaves, but only the most supple withstood the process without crumbling. Still, I needed to use focus bracketing (or stacking) to get reasonable sharpness throughout most images. Photoshop's Auto-Merge function generally work well in this situation, requiring only spotty touch-ups. I have found that Auto-Merge works best when there is a continuous and uninterrupted range of depth, rather than when there are overlapping areas of widely different depth.
Focus was extremely critical. Using Live View I was able to precisely walk the focus across the leaves to get a good range of focus images. Given the small aperture, I could depend on the final images to show much better DOF than was apparent on the Live View. I could have used the DOF preview, but the LCD was far too dark to be of much help.
Once merge to a single layer the images were easily finished in Photoshop. The sharp contrast between leaves and background
made selecting and masking
trivially easy. I first cloned out any major areas of flare and then adjusted
the background to an even deep black tone. The back lighting brought out
brilliantly electric tones in the foliage requiring little adjust in post.
Often My only adjustment was to step back on the native saturation and apply a
touch of sharpening. The leaves were beautiful but I couldn't resist foraging around the house for other subjects. Our Christmas Cactus has been exploding of late with luscious fountains of red.
This was great fun. It was great to find a new source of photographic inspiration for this usually barren time of year. I was only slowed by the fact that I had to use my last sheet of black mat board to finish some holiday prints for Pocket Full of Rye in Keene. My order is in and in the meantime, I'm still looking down for that perfect leaf.