The Way I Saw It

Image Description

The Way I Saw It

In some parts of the Northern Hemisphere, Spring was in full effect. In fact, it was not too far from what the calendar says is Summer. Here in the mountains of Montana, it is a slightly different story. Just a month or so before I captured this image, this area was still covered in a Winter’s worth of snow. As the Sun slowly advances to the north, it’s power to warm the Earth increases, as does the length of time it is out each day. The snow here had finally melted, but recent storms had brought quite a bit of rain and even new snow.

I pulled up to this trailhead in Yellowstone hoping to find a few harbingers of Spring. At first glance, I saw nothing. The thing is, high country wildflowers are accustomed to the slow start of Spring. They stay low to the ground and are likely to be found in and amongst taller plants that help shield them from the frost. The particular area contains a lot of Sagebrush. As I got out and began to wander through the fields, something magical happened. What was at first a meadow of Sagebrush, became a garden of tiny living jewels sprinkling the ground just like someone with a bag of sparkling gemstones lavishly sprinkled them across the landscape.

There were the waxy yellows of Sagebrush Buttercups. Where the soil was more loose and damp, I saw the bright yellow transmitters of joy, otherwise known as Glacier Lilies. Then, on the sunny side of a gentle hill, I found the most delightful shade of pink. The longer I stopped and stared, the more I saw. This one, however, caught my eye. From a distance, the tiniest of dew drops glinted in the morning sun and compelled me to come closer. Upon closer investigation, some of its neighbors in the shade still had frost lining their edges. This ones fortunate spot in the sun allowed the frost to melt into miniature beads of glass perched precariously along the petals of this Shooting Star. The curving stem rising out of the amazing textures of the moss covered soil demanded that I kneel down on the ground and study this specimen more closely. Here is the way my camera and I saw it!

Type of Critique Requested

  • Aesthetic: Feedback on the overall visual appeal of the image, including its color, lighting, cropping, and composition.

  • Conceptual: Feedback on the message and story conveyed by the image.

  • Emotional: Feedback on the emotional impact and artistic value of the image.

  • Technical: Feedback on the technical aspects of the image, such as exposure, color, focus and reproduction of colors and details, post-processing, and print quality.

Specific Feedback and Self-Critique

When I saw this Shooting Star with the delightfully curved stem standing along among the Sagebrush, I new what I had to do! With the camera right down at ground level, I composed the shot and set up the focus shift function on my camera to take 150 images. I was careful to start the stack just in front of the closest part I wanted to get in focus. I don’t always need all 150 shots, but experience has taught me that this is about how many I need to get a few inches of a scene in focus.

A couple of thoughts on artistic images though. One is that if it is the way the artist intended it to be, then it is good! However, not everyone sees it the same way as the artist, and artists can be blind to things others might see in their work. I’d love to hear what you might find distracting in this image or how you might have processed it differently.

Technical Details

Nikon D850
Sigma 105mm macro
ISO 64, f/4.2, 1/320 second
150 images stacked in Helicon Focus
Processed in Lightroom Classic CC

I used the masking tool in Lightroom Classic to further soften the background, sharpen the flower.

1 Like

What a precious, yet powerful indication of the resurgence of nature. The dew drops give this a feeling of freshness. The detail you’ve achieved is perfect. The lighting nicely accentuates the details of the scene.

Oh wow what a find! The light and the background are great. Such color and the drops are killer. So that makes this hard to do, but I admit that I am baffled as to why there are so many gaps in the stack give the sheer number of images you took and used.

I do a lot of flower photography and a lot of stacking and so the issues jumped right out at me even on the small size photo. Some of it might be lack of retouching - certain stacking methods yield better results than others, but with retouching you can often combine the best of both worlds and “paint” details from a crisp image, either source or slab, onto your stack.

It could be movement in the field that has made aligning the images difficult. I’ve had similar issues with grass - OMG it’s enough to drive you crazy because it moves so easily. Although some of the problem areas, like down in the moss, wouldn’t be affected by wind. I assume you were on a tripod.

Possibly it is the mask you used in Lightroom that is causing some of it as well - not blended smoothly or not selected properly. Could be a lot of things that without seeing everything in either application, it’s tough to tell.

Might be salvaged though. Somewhere in that 150 shots is probably enough source images to make a good stack.

Thanks for this Kristen. What program do you use to stack? I will definitely have another go at this image. There are 3 rendering methods in Helicon. I find it difficult to fix all the problems when I have something like the over-lapping leaves and a nicely defined edge on the flower itself. It does good work on items separated from the background in method B, but needs method A for areas with closely overlapping areas like the moss and the leaves. I probably need to start using a smaller aperture, but I just love the soft background bokeh! I was probably less than 6 inches from the flower. I suspect part of the problem with the tip of the blossom is that the whole stem actually leans forward a bit and I may have missed the focus on that by not paying attention to what is really the closest part. I use a Vanguard tripod that allows the camera to be mounted, but basically right down on the ground. This little guy was just 4 inches tall!

I have been using Zerene for years and though its interface is outdated (hello 1998!) it is excellent at what it does. There are two methods in there that Helicon also uses - basically Pyramid and Depth Map - they use different algorithms and search patterns I believe, to produce different results.

I find Pyramid or PMax to have better overlapping detail, but worse color rendering. PMax images also tend to have added noise and haloing around edges which is harder to correct for than DMap’s occasional flaws. What I usually do is change the contrast threshold and some other things to produce as clean a DMap as possible, then I use a PMax image to paint in details where needed. Usually I get a beautifully clean (non goopy) background this way. I use very wide apertures for my stacking for the same reason as you - I want nice smooth backgrounds.

We have an NPN discussion about stacking here -

There are some Helicon and Zerene users there and a couple of links to webinars by Mark Seaver and a couple of articles I wrote about stacking. Feel free to chime in with your particular camera and process - everyone has something they can contribute if they’ve been stacking a while.

Paul, Shooting Stars are a special favorite wildflower and your basic composition is lovely with good colors, fine lighting and those luscious drops of dew. I especially like how they’re spaced along the stem. As Kris has pointed out there are quite a few problems with your stack. In addition to the ones Kris points out, there’s a lot of color fringing going on around the flower petals. I suspect that there was significant motion in the flower during your shoot. I have used Helicon Focus for many years. I quickly gave up on the A method, because it never get maximum sharpness. Helicon completely rewrote the B method (which is a depth map approach) a few years ago and it works very well much of the time. The C method (which is a pyramid method) is best when you have lots of overlapping detail, but it often gives both light and dark fringes. Those can be corrected in the stack. The C method also has a problem with very bright and very dark areas. Another “artifact” that I see here is one that I called the “overlap problem” in my webinar (under the Webinar Presentation submenu). That’s an optical effect that stacking cannot overcome. It can only be avoided by getting both the front part and the rear part sharp in the same slice, which is one reason that I routinely use small apertures unless there’s major structure in the background.