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

Late Day, Late November

November is almost gone and it’s been a kind one. Warmish with more sunshine than usual and the snow that came a few days ago is all melted away. Today was mostly grey but the late afternoon brought some interesting light, and with it orange fields and purple-blue skies.That orange field has been beckoning me for a while now.
All images © Karen McRae

Words Only

Picture this. You are driving along a country road. It’s early in the morning and the sun is low in the sky filtering beautifully through the trees as you move along. You’re not in a hurry. You glance to the side and something catches your eye.  Something hanging low on a tree almost glowing in the warm morning light. At first you’re not sure what you see but then you say quietly,  “It’s a chicken”. And it is a chicken. It’s hanging by its feet from a low branch and it’s almost naked. Like the tree. There is a figure bending towards it removing the last few feathers. The light is perfect.  So perfect it seems only natural that this is unfolding before you. And you realize that if you had your camera with you, you might have stopped and interrupted this scene, but you didn’t and now you have only words.

You Are Carried With Us

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

For Ilse 1917-2011
All images © Karen McRae


A serene late afternoon by the water, and even some sun! It’s been scarce lately. The water was so calm the reflections really stood out. Some of the trees are almost bare and others are still hanging on making for lots of different shapes and form.
All images © Karen McRae