I love flowers. I love to look at them. I love to smell theme. And I love to photograph them. I find them beautiful; I find them sensual… words that may seem strange coming from a big hulking guy like me.
What has always attracted me the most aren’t the fields of flowers stretching as far as the eye could see but rather the intricacies of the single bloom. For this reason, I have almost always turned to my macro lenses when photographing flowers.
For years, I have gotten up close and personal with flowers of all kinds. During the winter months, I worked with cut flowers in my dining room. In the spring and summer, I worked with wildflowers filling the fields, woods and meadows. And year around, I would head to gardens such as Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA to photograph their exotic blooms.
I worked hard at capturing every detail of the flower – the petals, the pistil, the stamens, and the stems. And I think I did it well. But I never felt that I had anything unique, anything that everyone else shooting flowers didn’t have. So I started to search for a different way of looking at flowers. And that search has lead to my “Soft Petals” project.
As I stated above, I find flowers to be very sensual and I wanted to capture that sensuality as best I could. I had seen the work of others using the Lensbaby with the Soft Focus optic. I loved their results and decided to start working with that. I liked the look. It was moving me in the right direction. But it wasn’t quite there yet. I needed to get in even closer to what I considered to be the sensual essence of the flower. So I turned to the Lensbaby Macro/Close-up lenses and attached those to the Soft Focus optic. The +4 macro lens alone still didn’t get me close enough. But the +10 and the combination of the +10 and +4 definitely did.
And the result was almost exactly what I was looking for. The macro filters pulled me inside the flower and the soft focus optic, while not providing me with every detail, did envelope me in the soft, sensual, creaminess of the petals. Thus was born the Ed Vatza Photography “Soft Petals” project.
The following are examples of “Soft Petals” images made using the Lensbaby Composer with the Soft Focus optic and stacked macro lenses.
Note that I said the results were “almost” exactly what I was looking for. But they came up a little short. I definitely got inside the flower and I definitely got the softness I was looking for but I wanted the ability to isolate a single part of the flower and still get that part (a stamen, for example) razor sharp. I felt there was still more work to do. So while working with the Lensbaby combination, I kept looking for other alternatives. And I found what I was looking for as a result of a conversation with a sales representative at one of the big New York photography superstores. I went there planning to buy a Canon Soft Focus lens. But conversation with the representative led me first in the direction of soft focus and diffusion filters and then, upon further discussion of exactly what I was trying to accomplish, in the direction of center spot filters.
I have to admit that I had never heard of center spot filters. And I’ve never been a big fan of Cokin but I thought I would give them a try. Instead of a new lens, I left the store with two Cokin center spot filters – the 060 C. Spot Incolor 1 and the 071 C. Spot WA Incolor 2.
After a bit of experimenting with different lens/filter combinations, I settled in on a combination that I really liked and more importantly that gave me the exact look I was seeking – sharp where I wanted it and creamy soft everywhere else. That combination is the Cokin 071 “wide angle” center spot filter on a long, in my case a Sigma 150mm, macro lens stopped down to around f/16. I could move the filter around placing the center spot wherever I want it. It would be sharp in the center spot while the surrounding areas, even in the same plane of focus, would go sensuously soft.
The following are examples of “Soft Petals” images made using the Cokin Wide Angle Center Spot filter with a long (Sigma 150mm) macro lens stopped down. It is the look that now defines the Ed Vatza Photography “Soft Focus” project. I like it… a lot… and hope you do to!
Himalayan Blue Poppy
Ed Vatza is an Eastern Pennsylvania-based photographer, speaker and workshop leader. In addition to his “Soft Petals” project, Ed is also working on four other photographic projects including “Morning Becomes Electric” (sunrise photography); “Contrasts” (B&W photography); “Simplicity” (photominimalism) and the “Manhattan Project: Alone Among Millions” (street photography). Ed has spoken to clubs around the region on topics such as “Making the Ordinary Extraordinary: Great Images from Your Own Backyard” and “Morning Becomes Electric” and is currently working on a presentation entitled “From Landscape to Street” which covers the application of landscape photography skills and techniques to street photography. He also leads photo workshops in places such as Acadia National Park, the Hudson River Valley and the aforementioned Longwood Gardens.