Story Behind Image

Focus by Todd Henson

Focus: A Green Heron walking along a downed tree looking for its next meal.

Green Herons are very sleek birds, and along with other herons have an amazing ability to focus on finding their next meal. Perhaps I’m anthopomorphizing too much, but just looking at them you can see the concentration, the determination, the focus, as they slowly and quietly move forward.

We found this particular Green Heron while walking along a boardwalk at a local wetlands park. It had landed on a fallen tree and was slowly walking down its length, watching the edge of the water. They can move through water seemingly without causing any noticeable disturbance. But when walking outside the water their prey below has little chance of escape.

I don’t recall now whether this heron caught anything. I certainly didn’t capture a photograph if it did. But I was pleased with this photograph, showing that amazing focus. And a bonus feature for observant viewers is a white feather out of place along its back. It had attempted to fix this, but being unsuccessful left it alone and went back to looking for food.

Under the Mum by Todd Henson

Sometimes if you spend enough time working a scene you’ll end up with a very different outcome than you’d first envisioned. When I first saw the grasshopper atop a chrysanthemum I pictured creating a really nice photograph showing off the grasshopper’s olive green against the bright warm pinks of the mums. And that is exactly what I did, initially.

Amongst the Mums, a green grasshopper standing atop a pink chrysanthemum.

But I kept shooting, changing my angle, looking for different perspectives. I wonder if, perhaps, the grasshopper was getting tired of my moving around just above it, because it slowly started moving from the top of a mum to the side of the flower. I thought that was also a great photograph, so I kept shooting.

The Grasshopper and the Mums, it’s now shifted to the side of the flower.

And the grasshopper kept shifting, moving away from me, this time hanging upside down underneath the flower. That’s when I began to realize there was another interesting shot I could create.

When the grasshopper went under the flower it shifted into shadow. When I exposed for the grasshopper it ended up raising the exposure of all the flowers, creating this nice high-key image, something I really liked. It gave the flowers a softer feel, while still keeping the grasshopper sharply in focus and the center of attention. This situation is very similar to the Cabbage White butterfly on lace I shared a couple weeks back, where exposing the butterfly properly helped create a soft high-key look to the white lace.

Under the Mum, the grasshopper hangs upside down under the chrysanthemum.

The lesson of the day is one I’ve mentioned a number of times. Don’t stop shooting too soon, even if you think you’ve created a nice image. You never know what else you might create if you keep working the subject, keep exploring, keep experimenting.

So go out there and work your subject, and let me know if you end up with something beautifully unexpected.

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Cabbage White on Lace by Todd Henson

A female Cabbage White butterfly backlit on white lace curtains.

Sometimes you don’t even have to leave the house to photograph wild creatures. They just have a way of getting inside, so why not take advantage of this?

I was visiting my folks house and saw the cat moving around the front bay window. I didn’t think much of it until later when I noticed a little Cabbage White butterfly resting on the lace curtains well above the reach of the cat. The butterfly had seen better days. Perhaps the cat had done some damage, or perhaps it was just nearing the end of its life.

I happened to have my 105 mm macro lens with me so that’s what I used. I cranked the ISO up to 1000 since it was a little dark inside. It was afternoon and the sun was behind the house. The light shining through the window was not direct sun, but it was still fairly bright compared to inside the house.

Macro lenses can naturally give a very shallow depth of field when focusing up close. So I wanted to stop down the aperture to let me capture the entire butterfly in focus. However, I was hand-holding the camera so I couldn’t let the shutter speed drop too much or I’d get a blurry photograph. In the end I settled on an aperture of f/8 and a shutter speed of 1/160 second. This let me expose for the butterfly, letting the background go bright without blowing out any details.

My goal was to create a nice high-key image with the light-colored butterfly standing against a glowing bright white background. I wanted it to feel soft but still have the butterfly in focus. I’m happy with how it turned out. Even if I never do anything more with the photograph than post it here, it was great practice. I pictured how I’d like the image to look then worked on finding the settings that would get me there. I encourage you to practice in the same way.

When I finished photographing the butterfly I gently captured it and let it go outside. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done this, as I later learned Cabbage Whites are not native to this area and are considered a garden pest for the damage done by their caterpillars, and this did appear to be a female based on the number of spots on its wings. Oh well, native or not, it’s still fun observing and photographing these beautiful little creatures.