Readers Photo Challenge: The power of flowers

Winter and spring rains brought April flowers in abundance and helped to make the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment of Flowers a success.

Everyone sent in pictures of great flowers, but this is a photography column, not a flower column, after all. The best photos transcended the beauty of their subjects. They showed that it’s better to take a pretty picture of a flower than a just picture of a pretty flower. The latter relies on the beauty of the subject for its success, the former depends on the skill of the photographer to make a great picture.

Thirty readers sent in a whopping 193 pictures. Here are some of the top picks.

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Mickey Maguire of Tracy used a Sony a6300 mirrorless digital camera to photograph a red lion amaryllis at his home. He used a 35mm lens equipped with an extension tube to help him get in close for a macro shot. He captured the subtle color and tone of the blossom. Maguire moved in close eliminating the petals from view, which most people probably would have wanted to include. His focus is perfectly aimed on the flower’s yellow pollen-covered anthers and the gentle curves of the filaments that hold them up.

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Tom LaBounty of Stockton photographed an iris that he harvested from his front yard. He brought the blossom inside and essentially set up a miniature studio to photograph it. Against a black plexiglass background to eliminate distractions, he set up a pair of LED lights, one on each side of the flower and photographed it with his Fuji X-T2 DSLR camera. The even lighting captured the graceful detail, tones and colors of the flower’s petals, yet boldly sets it apart from the black infinity of the background.

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After a recent storm Teresa Mahnken of Morada saw some of her daisies reflected in the raindrops clinging to a decorative chain on a birdhouse in her backyard. She added some corn syrup to the drops to help them keep their shape (glycerin would have done the same trick). She used a Nikon D3200 DLSR camera with just a kit lens to photograph those drops, which look like a picture of several of flowers but it’s just one blossom reflected in several water drops.

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Mike Ratekin of French Camp used a technique called “painting with light” to make his flower photograph. Ratekin set up his Canon EOS Rebel T5i DELR camera on a tripod and placed a vase of roses with a set of rabbit figurines on a table in a darkened room. Using a long exposure (30 seconds), he then shined a small LED light onto the flowers with a constant random motion, hence the “painting” with light analogy. The movement of the light source avoids any hotspots that may occur if the light was stationary and gives a great amount of control to the photographer in where he/she wants the light to be. It’s not an exact science and takes a bit of practice to get it right. Ratekin’s photo has perfectly exposed blossoms with the vase and figurines being less well-lit, which brings more emphasis to the flowers.

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Mitch Bazzarre of Stockton used a Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera to photograph wildflowers at the Marin headlands near Sausalito across the bay from San Francisco. Three delicate checkerbloom blossoms growing among wild grasses are sharp and prominent in the foreground with Highway 101 and the Golden Gate Bridge fading off out of focus in the background. It shows that nature can be found not too far from any urban area.

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Dave Skinner of Stockton checked out Electra Road near Jackson looking for wildflowers for his entry to the challenge. Unfortunately the display of flowers was disappointing compared to years past but Skinner was undaunted. He actually found a great photo growing in his backyard. With his Nikon D7100 DSLR camera equipped with a 55mm micro lens, Skinner photographed a bearded iris covered with a smattering of raindrops. His close up approach emphasizes he rich purple and orange of the alien looking flower.

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Holly Stone of Lodi used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph gulf fritillary butterfly on a bouquet of flowers in the butterfly garden of San Francisco Flower and Garden Show at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. The butterfly’s bright orange wings contrasts with the green and purple of the amethyst phlox it’s perched on.

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Frank Whitney of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera to photograph wildflowers at Soda Lake, Carrizo Plains National Monument near Taft. The blossoms cover the nearby hills in a carpet of gold as a small herd of cattle graze unknowingly in the foreground.

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Steve Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon 70D DSLR camera to photograph a field of tidy tips, goldfields and lupine at Keegan Ranch near Williams, California. It’s a bucolic scene with the field in the foreground and a vast sea of clouds above.

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Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph a flower vendor’s wares at the ferry building in Stockton.  There’s a certain playfulness in the way she captures the random arrangement of the bouquets and their colors.

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As always all of the photos will be posted in a gallery at Recordnet.com. A new challenge assignment will be issued next Thursday.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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