Shifting Light and Form 2

These are the same kind of seed heads that were used in the previous post but they are photographed in a warmer light. It’s quite interesting how slight changes can have dramatic effects. The strength of the light and shadows can change the transparency, tones, and visual ‘weight’ of the subject significantly. Also, something that is making a difference here is the colour of light bouncing onto the subject. In most of these images the light is being bounced off a bush with purple leaves, casting a warm light into the shadows and onto the seed heads. More transitions…

All images © Karen McRae, 2012

Shifting Light and Form

I‘ve had several inquiries about how I go about photographing macro flora images to achieve the look that I want, so I thought I would share a few techniques here. This particular set of images are all from one type of flower in my garden that is currently going to seed and I am not sure what it is, actually.

I’ve mentioned before how I find the shifting forms of seed heads so visually interesting, but also I am interested the whole idea of transitioning and transformation in nature.

When are we not in transition?

The seed head series that I’ve been working on generally have light backgrounds and subtle lighting on the subject. How this is done is quite simple. All of these particular flora images are taken outside but I am using indirect back-lighting and shade to bring out a little bit of mystery. I also am using the smallest depth of field I can and keep the lens in the manual adjust mode for control over where I want to focus.

The subject is usually photographed in indirect light. So if I need shade I will create it by blocking the sun with my body, however I am always looking for a lighter background than my subject so I frame the (shaded) subject in front of a background area that is brighter, such as sunlit grass or rocks, or whatever is nearby. I experiment with various strengths of light and shade as I’m working to find the look I want.

In the images you see here the light backgrounds are actually the sunlit rocks from around my flowerbed. If I was using lit grass as my background, the colour behind the seed head would be a green or yellow, and the colour of the subject might shift also. I love the blues that come out in the greyish seed heads when they are shaded in this way and have a more neutral background colour.

I also find it fascinating how the forms sometimes come out looking like insects, or other creatures. Well to my eye, anyway…

I often shoot early in the morning or late evening for warm and interesting light, but one of the things I like about applying these techniques is that even in the harshest noontime light you can still find a way to make a little magic.

To see the rest of the series, click here: In Transition: Seed Head Series

All images © Karen McRae, 2012


Things are not always what they seem. Sometimes when I am making pictures I notice that the plot is thickening. Other times, I don’t notice until later.

The camera though, it is a keen observer. It has spent a lot of time looking. It has developed a sense of humour. It understands how I love double meanings, a good pun, or an interesting metaphor. And it sees what I am looking for. Sometimes it is the one to point things out.

The lens. It knows how to make the tiniest of adjustments. It knows how shallow or how deeply I want to go into a subject. It makes sense of the light, filters it carefully. The lens is meticulous.

The subjects. They are generous with their time. They are frequently in transition and often surprising. They too have a sense of humour. And they are always teaching me. Showing me how to look at things. Showing me how things are and how they are not. But also, how they could be.

Do you see the things I see here in these images? These shapeshifters?

All images © Karen McRae, 2012


There is something about the transitions of the flora this time of year that I find just so lovely. I think it’s the subtle tones and changing forms that I keep coming back to. The possibilities seem endless here in this tiny world.

All images © Karen McRae, 2012

Mapping the Shoreline 2: Stromatolites

The river holds a lot of history.

Some of it has flowed downstream with the currents and moved on to the sea but some of its oldest history is still here. And when the water is low you can find one of the most striking features visible along the Ottawa River shoreline: The stromatolites on the Quebec side of the river. They have been scraped down by glaciers and eroded by time but the ancient stromatolite bed remnants are still remarkably beautiful and visible.

The seaweed growth on the rock above shows that the stromatolite formations are often covered by water.

These stromatolites are over 450 million years old and were formed during the Paleozoic period when this area was located near the equator and was covered in a warm shallow sea. The stromatolites are built up in layers by cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, and are accretionary structures rather than body fossils.

This cross-section above, of a dislodged and abraded stromatolite shows the many thin biofilm layers that are built up by cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

Nearby fossil-rich rocks – which are slowly being eroded by the current – exposing various fossil snails.

The Champlain Bridge linking Ontario and Quebec; a striking contrast between the modern and the ancient world.

Related links and references:

Mapping the Shoreline 1
Ottawa River Keeper

All images © Karen McRae, 2012

Umbra & Umber

Perhaps an image that you wouldn’t normally expect here but I was struck by the light on the wall and how the values of the overlapping shadows create a sense of dimension in the arm. This is pure shadow and fleeting light (not a reflection of the figure) coming together for just a few moments. There are possibilities here in the shadows…
*Umbra is Latin for shadow.

Image © Karen McRae, 2012