Spring Fling

The joys and frustrations of a new toy. Somehow when Spring rolls around, my thoughts turn to flower photography. Things start blossoming, colour appears, and sometimes the sun even comes out. (This is the UK after all … anything can happen in Spring) I take myself off to somewhere with lots of flowers, and attempt to improve my technique.

This year, I thought I was prepared. I took an online course on Creative Live, by Kathleen Clemons, who produces some amazing floral photography. One of the things that appealed to me was her use of Lensbaby lenses. Now OK, I presume she’s sponsored to praise these things in seminars, but she does get some gorgeous results with them, and inspired me to get a Composer Pro II with Sweet 35 optic to try out for myself.

So new toy in hand, off I trotted to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 130 hectares of gardens supplying floral paradise to the nation since 1759. You can’t hope to cover all of it properly in one day, so I headed for the cherry blossom trees in all their finery, to try getting to grips with the Lensbaby.

Now I promised myself this wouldn’t become a “camera kit blog”, because let’s face it, there are plenty of gear-heads out there already, and I don’t propose to become one of them; but I can’t talk about my latest attempts at flowers, without at least setting the scene around a Lensbaby Sweet 35. This is a fully manual, fixed focal length lens, so all you get to adjust is the aperture, and where it points. It’s basically a lens on a swivel-ball, and you can swivel it to place the ‘sweet spot’ i.e. the sharp bit, where you want in the frame, while the rest of frame has a pleasant blur effect. The tricks are: knowing where you want the sweet spot; getting the sweet spot over that bit; and crucially – getting it in focus. Easier said than done, in practice.

First issue – being fully manual, my camera stabilisation did not work with this lens. This is the point at which you come to realise how much you’ve come to depend on image stabilisation, and how unstable your ever-getting-older hands have become for very fine-focus work, even with good technique.

Second issue –my focus peaking did not work on manual focus with this lens either, since there’s no electronic connection to the camera. Doesn’t help you see if it’s the focus, or your eyes, which are not quite on the money.

Third issue – where is the flaming sweet spot?! Sometimes I could see it, sometimes I couldn’t. It seems you can move it right out of frame if you’re not careful.

They say there’s quite a learning curve with this lens, and I won’t argue with that!! I wasn’t expecting perfect results first time out the gate, but it was hard to both put the sweet spot where I wanted and get it in focus. It’s also difficult to assess on the camera LCD, so it wasn’t until I got home and viewed images on the desktop that I was able to judge how the day had gone. It was a mixed bag.

Some were just plain out of focus. Bleh. Some were almost in focus, but not quite. Grrr. Some were in focus, but in the wrong place!   *%&*^&!   This one was meant to have the blossom at top left as the focal point, but it’s not quite sharp, and the focus is actually on the leaf below it; not something I was able to see at the time.

Not quite there

All the variables only came together correctly on two or three occasions. Frustrating, but when it did happen, the effect was pleasing. The centre bloom is the focal point here, and the surrounds blur off nicely.

As intended

When it does come together, you can get something really nice, as with this Hellebore:


And if you tweak further in Photoshop, you can go artistically mad!  😀


So my conclusions from the day?

  • Yes, there is a learning curve, and real success will not happen without much practice.
  • Hand-holding, close up work without image stabilisation is not easy with this lens, therefore using a tripod is probably a good idea for serious work.
  • I need to practice more before going into the field again, maybe indoors/tabletop with a tripod.

That said, I see some real potential here for some very nice shots, once the complexities of it are mastered.

Maybe by this time next Spring, I’ll be ready to get them right!

Becoming Serious : or “How I spent so much time establishing my online presence as a digital artist, I forgot to actually create anything”.

Well, OK, so I’m fibbing a little. I didn’t actually forget to create anything. I just haven’t had the time.

To begin at the beginning, with the necessary background: I’ve been a ‘serious amateur’ or ‘enthusiast’ photographer since at least the 1980s. Never wanted to be a professional (prefer to shoot what I want to shoot, not what other people tell me to shoot), but have become a pretty competent enthusiast; and besides, I already had a career I enjoyed which was undoubtedly better-paid. Then, getting older, I began to realize that there were an increasing number of things I’d rather be doing than the daily grind, none of which I had time for, while working five days a week. So I took early retirement in the middle of 2016, and started on the list of ‘Things I Plan To Do Someday, When I Retire And Have Time’.

Foremost on that list were “Take my photography more seriously”, and “Learn to do something more creative with my images”. I’d promised myself for years that I would get to grips with Photoshop during my long Christmas break, and it had never happened. Life has a way of doing that. However, ‘Someday’ had finally arrived, and it was time to take action! I signed up for some online courses, and began to practise taking my images that one step beyond, from photography into digital artistry. (I’m never going to stop being ‘a photographer’, but learning new skills never hurts.)

I did a course for beginners, then joined the follow-on group of student digital artists, and am now part of an amazing global online community called “AWAKE”, under the tutelage and mentorship of Sebastian Michaels. (Google his “Photoshop Artistry” course. Then sign up. You won’t regret it.) One of the things we’re encouraged to do as budding artists, is get our work known. Market ourselves, share our work, hopefully start selling things. These days the market for art is global, and so the marketing has to be largely online, and you have to “establish your online presence as a digital artist”. But I tell you what … this online presence lark can easily become a full time job!  Time just disappears …   where has it gone?  Well …


I had a sporadic presence on Flickr, but for a long time that was really ‘the holiday snaps’ stuff. I’ve also had a website for three or four years, but not done anything serious with it.   I’ve never been a great one for social media – I don’t WANT to share my whole life with the internet, thank you – but was dragged onto Facebook by friends at work, saying “But how will we keep in touch after you retire?!” Well, fair enough. I then discovered you can create Pages on FB, so last year I set up a Photography Page, and … didn’t do much with it.

Then along came Sebastian, and his advice on Becoming Serious as a digital artist, and getting yourself out there to the world. I realized I needed to revamp my whole website and all its content, so there went four weeks of work. I realized I needed to use my FB Page as a marketing tool, and employ its “Shop” feature to tie into my website. I realized .. shock! horror! … I didn’t have a Blog!   😱   How can I be a self-respecting online presence without a Blog?!  (So here it is.)

I joined Instagram, with a pledge to myself to post “one a day” for the next year.

As part of the AWAKE community, we are given the opportunity to sell work on a site called ArtBoja, so I set up my page there.

I signed up for FineArtAmerica, and am starting to put my work there too.

I started participating in a couple of digital art competitions, at ShiftArt and Light Space & Time, to sharpen my game, and I submitted pieces for the magazine ‘Living The Photo Artistic Life’.

So in the course of a month or so, I’ve gone from “online hermit”, to splashing myself over a serious portion of the Digital Art internet. It’s not all complete yet, but I’m certainly getting out there. However it all takes time; a lot of time. And that’s why I haven’t really created anything significant in the last four or five weeks, other than some random doodles on the iPad. In fact, I’ve probably put more solid hours of work into all this online presence stuff, than I did some months when I was actually working! (previous employers, please don’t read this)

But hopefully, once established, an Online Presence will take less time and effort to maintain, so I look on it as a stage to go through, and a necessary evil to get past, before I can get back to more serious …   Hang on. What’s this in popping up my FB feed? A post from Artsy Shark …. “250 places artists can sell online”.


Pass the iPad.   I may be doodling for some time yet…..


Hello World

So, this is blogging.  A whole new world to me!  “They” say that to have a serious presence online, you need to have a blog on your website these days, so one WordPress subscription later, here I am.  And not quite sure what to do with it yet!

As a long-time photography enthusiast, I began to want to do something “more creative” with my images, so I began some online courses in Photoshop and digital artistry.  Now I’m revamping my online presence to reflect both these areas of interest, the photography and the digital art;  Facebook, Flickr, Instagram .. I’m now on all of them.  But I do draw the line at Twitter!  One has to retain a shred of dignity, after all!

This blog is linked to my website, the content of which has all been recently updated and upgraded to enable purchase of images, so I now live in hope that perhaps one day, someone will actually buy something!  Meantime, I shall get the hang of WordPress and see what can be done with it, then see if I actually  have anything worthwhile to say to the world!  I think the jury’s still out on that part…

And for no other reason than to test the functionality, here’s a nice picture of New Zealand.