Dan Mottaz  

Down with The Bugs by Dan Mottaz

July 2021 - Down with The Bugs

About the Image(s)

I always tell myself when out photographing, "Get Down With The Bugs". There's a fascinating perspective from down there. As 'Scape' photographers, we are often, and appropriately so, looking at the scene as a whole - larger, expansive views or mid shots. But there's a lot of interesting imagery that can be found in the lower areas. We just have to stop and spend a few minutes looking down or crouching low.
During a recent trip to the Redwoods, after the good morning light faded away, I spend some time crawling on my hands and knees searching for fun and interesting compositions. When setting up this shot, I can't say I had a particular feeling that I was trying to convey. I was more drawn to the Yellow/green color palette. I framed the ferns using the 'Rule of Odds' while purposely cutting of the two right side fern ends so the viewer's eyes wouldn't go off the page. After a number of shots, the image felt bland. So, I flipped a number of clovers upside-down to reveal the purple underside. I was thrilled with how the image came alive. So, I strategically placed the upside-down clovers in a subtle directional flow from the lower left going upward.
The yellow seemed too saturated for my taste. This is a byproduct of exposing to the right which I normally do. So, in post processing I used the Multiply blending mode to bring down the brightness. This technique introduces higher contrast and more color saturation. As a remedy, I made Curves and H&S layers and adjusted them to my liking. (Sounds like a lot of fuss, but it really makes an image pop). To bring back the detail in the ferns, I used an Aurora HDR layer, made a mask, inverted it and brushed in the effect on the ferns. Then a slight vignette was applied to assist in holding the viewer's eyes in the frame.
Do the ferns still feel too bright and does the composition work with my purposefully cutting off the two right fern ends?
Shot on a Canon EOS R5, at 76 mm, ISO 100, Shutter speed 4/5 sec. on a tripod.

This round’s discussion is now closed!
8 comments posted

Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Hi Dan. I enjoyed the your description of setting up the shot as it really conveyed the work involved in arranging the composition. My experience is that these sorts of small scenes require even more work than larger scenes. Small, seemingly inconsequential changes can actually have large effects, so it can be a struggle to get things to come together. I've worked scenes for an hour only to give up. So I appreciate the work you put in to make this image happen.

You asked about the ferns and whether they are still too bright. I'd say maybe yes but because their brightness and coloring for me has tremendous visual weight. To my eye, the purple clovers can't compete, and so the balance in the image is driven by the ferns - and it doesn't feel quite balanced. I am often wrong about these things though which is why I probably struggle for hours and give up. In continuing to work this in post, the other consideration for me would be that the outer half of the bottom right fern doesn't look sharp to me. Did you focus stack this or is it a single exposure?

I played with the image for at least an hour. Cropping, rotating, even some puppet warp in PS. I played with the tonality and color of the ferns, and played with the lighting. I tried editing out a few of the purple clovers. I didn't come up with anything I liked better, and finally gave up. I concluded the problem for me is that I feel the ferns and purple clovers both need visual balance independently. I couldn't get one to balance the other. After all of that I came back to your original and found it had grown on me. It is a beautiful shot. And it is a very interesting one to play with. I need to find another hour.
  Posted: 07/10/2021 12:02:30

Dan Mottaz   Dan Mottaz
Hey Robert, loads of thanks for your thoughtful analysis. You have a good eye for catching things we miss and a deeper thinking when getting to the heart of what makes an image work.
Perhaps the balance between the ferns and purple clover, which you spoke about, is the problem that I could not see. And, I didn't even notice the out-of-focus fern end. How blind of me to miss something that can be corrected.   Posted: 07/12/2021 12:22:04

Cheryl LaLonde   Cheryl LaLonde
Hi Dan
Like Robert I played around with this image. I really like how the ferns draw your eye into the frame. Great idea to flip the clovers over to see the purple underside. I found that three of the purple clovers that were close to the edges drew my eye out of the frame. I struggled with whether the ferns were to bright or not. I think they are, but just a bit. I don't think I would have cut off the tips of the ferns but I can't really say without being able to compare the image with them. The color palette is very pleasing with the yellow/pink or purple/green complementary colors. It is an enjoyable image to view. I will have to take the lead from you the next time I'm out. I do tend to look for the vast wide open landscape images.   Posted: 07/15/2021 17:50:01
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Bob Wills   Bob Wills
Hi Dan,

I don't think the ferns are too bright, but since they lead my eye to their center, I am a little disappointed to find a mundane patch of clover. If you look at the image in B&W you can see there is more tonal range in the lower left than in the center where our eyes were drawn. I like your idea of the magenta, but a cluster among the ferns might have more WOW! I don't have any issue with cutting off the ferns, but a lot of club members get antsy. Create for your on pleasure is your idea and a good one.   Posted: 07/18/2021 13:37:17
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Dan Mottaz   Dan Mottaz
Hey there, Bob. Thanks for the fun review. I love your choice of word: "Antsy". That is funny! Seriously, though, putting an image in B&W to better understand the tones is something I've never done. I've always put composition of forms and their relationships with each other as the priority in setting up a shot. But tones contribute and often dictate composition just as much. Thanks for the great tip. From now on I'll set a CF for B&W on my camera to better see the tones and values that a color image might be hiding.   Posted: 07/18/2021 13:51:08
Bob Wills   Bob Wills
I know that color relationships change when viewed via the zone system. Ansel had Einsteinian insight into photography.
I should have thought to put antsy into quotes! Glad you enjoyed it. Zooming to a thumbnail also helps see where light leads the eye.
  Posted: 07/19/2021 09:28:54

Emily Kawasaki   Emily Kawasaki
Great shot and edit Dan. I have never seen non-green clovers, so it's a delight to learn that they exist. Since Bob suggested perhaps playing b&w a bit, I edited the image just to see what it might look. B&W seems to bring more focus on the geometric shapes - but there are so many options b&w, it could go in a lot of other directions too.
I don't think the ferns are too bright perse. I think that your edit, Cheryl's edit, and Bob's edits (as well as the b&w version) all gives the image a different feeling/mood. So, I think it all depends on what your aiming for.   Posted: 07/22/2021 15:49:25
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Bob Wills   Bob Wills
Hi Emily,
I was actually just suggesting that a B&W image can quickly ID whether the image has tonal values that lead the eye where the artist wants. However, your processed B&W is very well done, although I would still burn the bright clover in the lower left. Excellent B&W.   Posted: 07/23/2021 09:22:13