Podcast 248 : May 2010 MBP/WebSpy Photography Assignment Winners

Chaotica (© Dennis Brennan)

22 Jun Podcast 248 : May 2010 MBP/WebSpy Photography Assignment Winners

Before we start, note that the May assignment marked the end of the six month batch of assignments which our sponsors WebSpy kindly provided prizes for. All of the prizes are now sent out, and the new prizes for the next six months batch of assignments have been announced. Topping the list is a new Sony Alpha NEX-5 Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with an 18-55mm Lens. I am seriously considering picking up one of these babies myself. Great camera!

For second place, we have an X-Rite ColorMunki Photo, to ensure that your entire digital workflow is calibrated, from capture to print. Also helping with part of that is the third prize, which is an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. In fourth place, I have thrown in a Fine Art Folio of the winner’s choice, from my collection of folios that you can see at mbpfolios.com. And in fifth place, I’ve also chipped in a Fine Art Print of the winner’s choice, to be selected from any image in my online gallery at martinbaileyphotography.com. I’ll put a link to the blog post with the prizes listed into the show-notes. Thanks again to WebSpy for continuing to sponsor the assignments and enabling us to provide such great prizes!

May Assignment – “Flowerscapes” Winners

So, let’s take a look at the May Flowerscape Assignment winners now. In third place, was Allen Oneal, with his wonderful flowerscape image, “Artistic Handcuffs”. Now, Allen didn’t provide a back-story, so all we have today is my thoughts on the shot, and the first thought is that I have no clue as to where the title of this image came from. I’d be saddened if it is some sort of a reference to being forced to create art that Allen didn’t want to create, just to stay in the running for the six month prize, as Allen was one of the prize winners, due to the success of this and some of his other great images. I hope I’m just reading too much into this, but I can’t find anything else in the image that I can relate to handcuffs.

Anyway, it is a beautiful image, and most certainly a flowerscape in my definition of the term. The orange flowers, probably poppies, stand out really well against the green background, and the smaller white flowers add a nice contrast as well. I also really like the grass seeds that we can see in the bottom right corner. I found myself working with seeds like this during my May Flowerscape shoots, so I can really relate to this additional element. They add a certain graphic texture that flowers and flower stems alone don’t necessarily have.

Flowerama (© Allen Oneal)

Flowerama (© Allen Oneal)

From a Flowerscapes perfectionist point of view, the only thing I would have done differently here is to try to frame the image so that the long flower stem in the background didn’t run diagonally across pretty much the entire length of the image. It’s not a huge problem, but I personally find that distracting. Otherwise, this is a great effort on Allen’s part here, so congratulations on a very worthy third place.

Next up, in second place we have Dan Newcomb’s take on the theme, with “Under The Moonlight”. We do have a great back-story from Dan, so here goes with that before I jump in with my comments.

Under the Moonlight (© Dan Newcomb)

Under the Moonlight (© Dan Newcomb)

Under The Moonlight Back-Story

I’m thrilled to have placed in the top 3 for this assignment. I know it was an unconventional take on the theme and I really didn’t know how well it was going to be received. Dennis definitely deserved the win with his awesome photo. Now that’s a flowerscape! There were so many absolutely silky smooth images, it sure motivates me to try them again in the near future. Thanks to each and every one of you for the votes! Thank you Martin, and of course WebSpy, for sponsoring the really cool prizes.

When I read the theme was flowerscapes and looked at the sample photos, I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. Martin is the undisputed master of this kind of photography and with his skilled technique he almost makes it look easy. I’ve only shot flowers a few times and those were macro photos. I’m way out of my comfort zone on this one. I really don’t know flowers all that well. I could probably name only 6 or 7 flowers and identify maybe half of those by site.

Over the next day or so a vision popped into my head. It was a shot of two flowers with the moon in the background. The two flowers would be in an embrace with a third being dejected off to the side. It stuck with me for the next week or so until I decided to open paint on my computer and attempt to draw it. Here is the image I drew.

Flowerscape Diagram (© Dan Newcomb)

Flowerscape Diagram (© Dan Newcomb)

It’s not the best drawing; I guess that’s why I’m a photographer. I believe the idea popped into my head because of a podcast I had heard a few months back. I can’t remember who the famous photographer was but he basically said every subject in a photo can have gestures even if they are inanimate objects (I’m sure I butchered what he actually said). I had been thinking of that lately and I suppose two and two makes a fake scene with fake flowers.

May happened to be a rather busy month and time just flew. I was hoping to get it done on the weekend before the deadline but I ended up going out of town and wasn’t able to shoot. Late Sunday night I realized I only had one more day to shoot. On Monday after work I grabbed a 50 pound bag of sand to make the hill. I stopped at my favorite dollar store and picked out two styles of fake flowers. One was a rose style but I couldn’t tell you what the other one was. Because of the no cutting & pasting rule I knew I would use a photo for the background. When I got home I printed a 24×37″ picture of the moon. The only problem was I hadn’t used the printer in a few months and my gray cartridge had ran out and the photo came out looking mostly black and white. I carried on and taped it on a piece of Styrofoam. It had been raining all day but suddenly the sun started shining. I had second thoughts about the whole setup so I grabbed my camera and headed for a park. I searched a few different locations and only managed to find a couple of semi decent flower scenes. I used my 300mm f2.8 and my 50mm f1.4 to get the shallow DOF. It started raining again but I managed to get a few possible keepers. When I got back home I checked the photos and only ended up with one possible keeper.

Flowerscape (© Dan Newcomb)

Flowerscape (© Dan Newcomb)

I decided to continue with the setup shot. I put a 3’x3′ chunk of wood on a short table. I didn’t want to pile the sand too high so I took a garbage bag and stuffed it with rags, shaped it like the hill and placed it on the wood. I poured about 1/3 of the bag of sand over top of it. I then propped up the photo behind it. After that I placed the flowers where I wanted them and set up my D700 with the 70-200 f2.8 lens. Up to that point I didn’t have a plan on how I was going to light the scene. I didn’t have too much room behind the set so I decided to try light painting. I took my multi LED flashlight and tried a few test exposures. I always like to shoot at the lowest ISO possible and with that camera it meant 200. I quickly learned I needed to stop down a bunch as I was blowing away the scene. F10 seemed to work so that is what I went with. By this time it was about 2 hours until the deadline.

The flashlight had a rather wide beam so I taped an empty toilet paper roll over the end. This helped a lot when trying to control where the light was pointing. Over the next 40 minutes I tried different painting angles and varied the amount of time I exposed each part. For the light coming from the moon I had the flashlight just above the moon and pointed at the subjects. I stopped to upload the photos twice to see the exposure and focus was OK. The photo that I ended up using was taken 1 hour before the deadline (the time on my camera is an hour off, I’ll have to fix that). In total I probably attempted the light painting 30 times until I finally had it right. In post I did a little burning a dodging and played a bit with the saturation. The cool thing about using the LED flashlight is it gave my moon a blue hue. That was a bonus!

I uploaded the photo right at the deadline. I forget who wrote this but someone said a few months ago that the last photo usually posted for an assignment is Mr Nikon. Well as I replied at the time, it’s not planned as some sort of strategy; I just always seem to run out of time. I definitely felt rushed on this one. If I had more time I would have set up the scene a little better. I wanted the track marks left behind by the flowers on either end to be more pronounced. The right one looks more like a shadow. I also would like to have the left flower in more of a question mark shape. It is what it is I guess.

I must say that I was very nervous about posting this photo. I really didn’t know how the voters would receive it. Different isn’t always good. It was about as far away from the examples as possible. Fake scene and fake flowers. I am amazed it placed so well with all the wonderful flowerscapes that were posted. Thank you all again for the votes! It was just enough to keep me in the top spot for the 6 month totals. I feel very honored and it means a great deal to me. In the end I’m happy I stuck with my original vision. It was a great 6 months with lots of challenging themes. Now onto the next 6 months!

Thanks so much Dan for the detailed back-story! Dan also provided a link to a short video on YouTube, in which he shows his set up and an example of how he did the light-painting. I’ll put a link in the show-notes and on the blog for those that are interested. I do suggest you check it out.

Now, I have to be totally honest with you here, I actually didn’t vote for Dan’s image this time, for the reasons that Dan points out – this isn’t a Flowerscape and they aren’t real flowers. I didn’t say that they had to be, so I’m certainly not worried about Dan’s approach, and as usual, I really like the way Dan takes the themes and takes them to the extreme. I should also say too that I love the photograph, but I decided to select and vote for images that were real Flowerscapes.

I am as ever though totally impressed with the amount of work that Dan puts into the assignments, and his vision is simply incredible. The most important thing to note here though is that you, the community, voted enough to put Dan’s image in second place, so really Dan, congratulations on your placing for this shot, and for winning the overall six month assignment. From the first few months it seemed obvious that you were going to be placed, although many people did give you a run for your money, and it was a close call in the end, but you really deserve your win.

On the image itself, I love the idea, of having the two flowers close together in front of the moon, and the third flower scorned flower down the hill, as sad as can be. You really told a story here. Also, although I though your flowerscape was very nice too, I think the risk you took in going with your fake flower shot paid off. I’m sure you’d have got lots of votes with your straight shot, but taking it to the extreme probably paid off, which shows that you know how our community thinks as well. Overall, you did a great job as usual. Congratulations once again.

In first place, we had Dennis Brennan, with a wonderful Flowerscape called “Chaotica“.

Dennis Brennan’s Back-Story

Wow – first place in this assignment far exceeds what I expected watching the images roll in over the month. At the end of the month, I was just hoping to get enough votes to not drop out of the top 5 in the 6 months standing. Thanks so much to everyone that participated. I am truly honored to come out on top in this one. Congratulations to Dan and Allen for their success – well deserved top spots. Dan’s image is (as usual) so well thought out, different and creative. Allen’s poppies are stunning and so well executed. Beautiful work!

Chaotica (© Dennis Brennan)

Chaotica (© Dennis Brennan)

There wasn’t really any question for me where to go to shoot a flowerscape. As I’ve mentioned in previous assignments, I live in close proximity to an expansive and well maintained botanical gardens. I tried to reserve Sunday mornings in May to get there early and find a shot for the assignment. The first outing there was fairly bright early morning sun, so I headed inside to find some diffused light. I ended up with image below that I nearly chose for the assignment.

First Flowerscape (© Dennis Brennan)

First Flowerscape (© Dennis Brennan)

The third and final outing was during a Lily Festival on the last weekend of the month. Again very bright early morning sun, so indoors was the better choice for more diffused light. Here is one keeper from that morning.

Lily Flowerscape (© Dennis Brennan)

Lily Flowerscape (© Dennis Brennan)

It was the second Sunday that produced the shot I would submit. There were some low clouds and a bit of fog that morning so the light for flowers was looking great outside. The doors opened at 9:00 a.m. and I made a b-line for the area I had in mind. Looking up as I eagerly made my way to the “Flower Garden Walk” section of the outdoor gardens; I could tell I didn’t have long before the sun would burn off what was left of the fog that morning.

They rotate the plantings often, so there are usually different blooms to shoot with almost every visit. I let my eyes wander for a few minutes and came upon a wonderful group of mixed plantings. A mix of Columbines and some experimental Butterfly Bush – exactly the type of thing I had in mind for the assignment. The colors all worked so well together – the Columbines are the reds and yellows, and the blue/violet is the Butterfly Bush. The Columbines were just beautiful, with their form and the way the blooms sat in different directions, it almost created a sense of movement. Like little flowery creatures buzzing around in the bokeh soup. Ordered chaos at its finest! I set up a couple of different shots in about 20 minutes of shooting and luckily got something I could use before the sun broke through. Literally minutes later, the good light was gone.

Thanks again for all the votes! A big thanks to WebSpy for the prizes and for the continued support. And lastly, worlds of gratitude to Martin for not participating in this one. No way any of us would have had a chance against the master flowerscapist!

Hee hee, you’re too kind Dennis. I love your winning shot too Dennis. This is another one that really does qualify as a Flowerscape. I personally prefer the first example image that you provided. This to me looks cleaner and more orderly, but as your chosen title suggests, I can see how you concentrated on creating chaos in your winning image, and that paid off of course, with the number of votes you received, including my vote I should add.

I think the colors work beautifully here, with the violet color standing out nicely against the yellow, with those few splashes of well controlled red too – very nice indeed. Again though, being a bit of a Flowerscape perfectionist, I must add that I probably would have tried to frame this in a way that avoided that dead-head to the right of the frame, either hiding it behind something or framing a different part of the flower patch. Still, as I say, it didn’t stop me or the others voting for this, so it can’t be that much of a distraction. You made beautiful use of the shallow depth-of-field and came up with a classic Flowerscape. Congratulations on a very well earned first place, and for placing for a six month accumulated vote prize too. Great work all the way through these assignments!

So, I would like to thank all of you that took part in this and the last six months of assignments, and for all of you that take the time to select your favorites and vote each month. Remember that the next six months batch has already kicked off with the June assignment which is on Cityscapes, so do make sure you get out shooting for that, and see if you can’t get yourself one of the great prizes that we’ll be giving away in December. I’d also like to thank WebSpy again for their support of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast and for providing the Assignment prizes for the community. I really, really do appreciate it.


Podcast show-notes:

Dan Newcomb’s Light-painting Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-9ltgephj0

New Assignment Prizes: http://bit.ly/mbpwsy2

Win a Kata 3N1-33 Bag! http://bit.ly/mbpga2

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


Audio

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