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Archive 2011 · Single flowers, black backgrounds
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Single flowers, black backgrounds

I've got two shots in this experimentation. This is the first time I've done this, and I'm looking to get feedback on the flowers themselves (contrast, clarity, color, brightness, etc.). I personally really like these images, but the first one *may* be a little dark. I was going for clarity overall on that one. Also keep in mind I processed these on an un-calibrated display, and these look great full screen. Both of these were shot with my 1D2 and 70-200 2.8 IS II. Thanks!
This is a 100% crop from the first image.
This is a 100% crop from the second image.

Aug 18, 2011 at 05:40 AM

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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Single flowers, black backgrounds

Stebe, i am by no means an authority, but love the colors and detail in the orange flower. Only nit would be the bud top left.

Love the lighting on the yellow flower. What did you use? Would like to see the stigma in focus and the black specks left and lower center lead away from the center.

Shooting on black, can you use a greater DOF? I'm trying some glads on black and will post when finished.


Aug 19, 2011 at 03:32 AM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Single flowers, black backgrounds

Yeah top bud left I could have taken out in PP for sure, or watched to not have it in there next time however, I didn't take a typical approach to this, and I'll show you the before and after here.

Lighting for these was natural daylight, late evening. The below two are right out of the camera (RAW). I tweaked both heavily, but the first one, I wanted more of a deep orange/red out of it instead of a pale orange. People in the flower world would kill me for sure, since it's not accurate to the original color.

And yes, shooting at a smaller aperture would have been better to get some more depth.

So these were processed to remove the background off the bat (instead of using black felt). I would have liked a black felt background though...

F/2.8, 1/250s, 168mm FL, IS0 100
f/4, 1/125s, 200mm FL, ISO 100

Aug 19, 2011 at 04:12 AM

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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Single flowers, black backgrounds

Cool, now i dont have to carry around that heavy felt.

Aug 19, 2011 at 05:21 AM
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Single flowers, black backgrounds

Here's another approach for pulling more detail out of flowers...


Starting with the original I saved two copies in .psd format: one in the original RGB and a second converted to Lab.

Opening both I selected the L channel in the Lab version then hit the ~ key which keeps the L layer selected but allows changes to it to be seen in the full color version on the screen.

Next using Image > Apply Image I applied the Green channel detail from the RGB copy to the L channel in the Lab copy, setting mode to "overlay" and adjusting the % until I liked the overall enhancement in the detail.

At the channel level all the information is in the form of B&W tone maps. In Lab files all the detail is carried in the Luminance layer so it is possible to copy detail from any other channel in any other mode file (RGB or CYMK) to L to enhance the detail without changing the hue.

I converted the Lab back to RGB, selected all and copied, then pasted into the other RGB copy putting the edited version over the original. I created a mask using the magic wand tool on the edited flower to isolate it, opt+clicked the mask icon in the layers window to create a bitmap mask from the selection. I used the mask tool to adjust the mask, feathering it a bit. That isolated just the flower on the top edit layer.

I didn't want a total black void but I wanted a darker background. With the flower isolated on the top layer with the mask I just moved to the original layer below and darkened it with about -1 stop Exposure adjustment.

I flattened the two layers then duped them again to apply sharpening. A perceptual trick which gives soft textured objects like flowers a more 3D appearance is over-sharpening. I do this by eye with amount = 500% then raising the radius amount from 0. Here I wound up using 500, .7, 0. But I didn't apply it overall or all the way. I sharpened the top layer, then added a black bitmap mask, then selectively opened the mask over the flower to blend in the over-sharpened layer by eye.

Satisfied with the overall look I flattened again then cloned out the bud in the background which I found distracting.

The final steps were cropping, selecting a color from the flower for a trap rule, selecting all, stroking a 1 px rule with the sampled color, then expanding the canvas by 4" with black as background color to create the matting.

Enhanced, but not to the point of looking unnatural

Aug 19, 2011 at 09:22 PM

Search in Used Dept. 


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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Single flowers, black backgrounds

The mention of black felt reminded me of another flower trick learned many years ago from Harry Yen, a colleague of mine in the photo labs at National Geographic where I worked in the mid-70s. Harry was color print technician by vocation who made huge wall size display prints from 8 x 10 inter-negatives. He shot nature macros as a hobby and was so good at it the magazine editors gave him an 11-page spread of his flower and insect shots (Dec 1970 if you have old copies or the CD version).


Harry would take black mat board and pastel chalk with him out into the field when shooting his flowers. If the background was distracting he'd get out the chalk and paint one on the mat board using the color scheme of the flowers. If he found an interesting branch or bug out in the field where the lighting wasn't good he'd catch the bug, saw off the branch and set up the shot with strobes in his basement with a ad hoc painted background as he did for the Inch Worm shot above.

A few years ago I tried the same thing in Photoshop to illustrate the technique for someone. It's not a great a flower shot, just a technique demo with what was blooming in the front yard at the time. Here's the set-up.
The subject flowers where in the red box with the shooting position to the left. I laid plain black mat board on the ground behind the flowers from the POV of the camera. I enhanced the lighting with one of my Vivitar 285HVs bounced into a silver umbrella to create some 3D defining specular reflections.

Here's what it looked like out of the camera. I was shooting with a Minolta D7Hi at the time which make shallow DOF impossible at capture due to the small sensor. But on the plus side it had a EVF and no flash sync limit.


Here's the finished product after Photoshop...


I blurred all but one of the flowers to isolate it, then to create the the imaginary sea of similar flowers I just sampled the colors from the flowers and using the paint brush painted them on a new blank layer on top of the image. Then I blurred the artwork and knocked it out of the flowers by hand with a mask.

Just another alternative to a black felt when encountering a distracting background.

Aug 19, 2011 at 10:05 PM
Bob Jarman
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Single flowers, black backgrounds

cgardner wrote:
Here's another approach for pulling more detail out of flowers...

Thanks Chuck,

Going to take me some time to process all this --- wonderful results


Aug 20, 2011 at 12:54 AM
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Single flowers, black backgrounds

You're the man Chuck!!!

I'll read through this in detail when I get home tonight. Thanks!

Aug 20, 2011 at 12:56 AM
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Single flowers, black backgrounds

Personally, I hate most flower shots with black backgrounds. The black background just looks so unnatural. JMO

Aug 21, 2011 at 06:28 PM

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