In Focus — a bimonthly newsletter

Digital Photo Tip: Use Aperture to Control Depth of Field

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One of the most powerful creative tools photographers have at their disposal is choosing which parts of a photo should be sharp and which parts should be soft. This sharp/soft contrast is a very good way to set a subject apart from the background. We call this depth of field because we’re controlling apparent sharpness from close to the lens to the far distance.

In the pair of landscape photos above, one was made at the relatively wide aperture of f/5 (left side of the slider)and the other stopped down to f/16 (right side). Notice the difference in sharpness in the foreground flowers. My focus point was on distant Mount Baker in both versions. These images were made with my lens at 70mm, a short telephoto. Continue reading

Plant of the Month: Pinesap

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Pinesap on moss carpet

Pinesap on moss carpet

I ran across a near-perfect specimen of another one of our mycoheterotrophic plants on a hike up to Excelsior Ridge in mid-June. This one is pinesap, Monotropa hypopitys. It’s fairly common in our dry forests, growing under Douglas-firs or hemlocks. If you’re following along each month, you’ll recall that I introduced you to a rather uncommon mycoheterotroph last month, California broomrape.

Pinesap is in the same family as heather, rhododendron, and huckleberries. But unlike those big and showy plants, pinesap doesn’t have any chlorophyll and can’t make its own food. It depends on a complex relationship with fungi in the soil to connect its roots to those of a host plant from which it derives its nutrients. Continue reading

Why Get Senior Portraits Before Your Senior Year?

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Tia Gonzales senior portrait. Ferndale, WA. © 2014 Mark Turner

Every year about this time I get puzzled looks from kids who have just finished their junior year in high school, and their parents, when I remind them that now is the time to get their senior portraits made. Portraits just aren’t on their mind as the carefree (or busy with a job) days of summer approach.

Why get senior portraits made now, rather than toward the end of senior year? For most high school seniors in Whatcom County, it boils down to the yearbook deadline. All local schools require senior portraits to be submitted around early October. Most schools accept and encourage creative senior portraits from independent photographers (Ferndale is an exception). Continue reading

Digital Photo Tip: Polarizing Filter

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Southern Oregon Forest

Southern Oregon forest, photographed with a polarizing filter to reduce the glare off the foliage.

Last week I was photographing Southern Oregon forests under a brilliant clear blue sky. The fresh green foliage sparkled, reflecting the bright sunshine. These are the conditions that call for a polarizing filter. It’s one of the few filters I use with my digital camera, and there’s no good way to simulate its effect in post-processing software like Photoshop or Lightroom. Continue reading

Plant of the Month: California Broomrape

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California broomrape

California broomrape

During the blooming season people often send me photos of plants they’ve found and can’t identify. A few days ago I received a photo of a plant I’d never seen before. It’s not in my book, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest, nor in the Washington Wildflowers smartphone app. But I instantly recognized the genus, Orobanche. There aren’t many species in the Pacific Northwest and they’re rather distinctive. Continue reading

Digital Photo Tip: Organizing Chaos

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Dad's Garden

Something must have caught my eye here, but it isn’t evident.

Have you ever come back from a photo excursion, looked at one of your pictures and wondered, “What was I seeing when I snapped that photo?” My mother even saved some of my early “what’s that?” pictures, like the one above. I must have seen something interesting in that early spring messy corner of my dad’s garden but it sure didn’t come across in the picture. I don’t know why she didn’t toss those clunkers, because that’s what she should have done and what I do today. (I was 7 when I took that picture in 1961.)

Sometimes it’s downright hard to find the photograph in a chaotic scene. I’ll feel there’s something interesting in there somewhere, but it’s not always obvious how to convey what I’m seeing or feeling in the frame. Slowing down and really looking for the story is a good first step.

A few days ago I took a walk through our woods with my camera. Spring growth was fresh and green, the early morning light was soft, and I felt engaged with the forest. I wanted to capture how the woods looked and felt to me. Continue reading

Plant of the Month: Redwood Sorrel

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1003907 Redwood Sorrel foliage [Oxalis oregana]. VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, BC. © Mark Turner

Redwood Sorrel foliage

Redwood sorrel, Oxalis oregana, gets that common name because it grows prolifically under the giant redwoods in northern California. But you don’t have to have redwoods to grow this attractive groundcover. Other common names for this plant are wood sorrel and Oregon oxalis. In the wild its also common in the understory of low-elevation Douglas-fir forests. It is native from British Columbia to California. Continue reading

Award-Winning Photographs

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Sunset Meditation

Sunset Meditation

This year all four of my entries scored high enough against the rigorous standard in the Professional Photographers of Washington print competition to be displayed as part of the exhibit at the just-concluded PPW spring conference. Two of my prints also received a “seal” that means they’ll automatically receive a Professional Photographers of America Merit when I send them on to international competition later this spring. When I’ve earned enough Merits I’ll receive the Master of Photography designation.

Why do I enter competition? It’s somewhat costly — entry fees, the expense of making prints, and shipping them to the conference for judging. The process of selecting or creating new images for competition, perfecting them in my computer darkroom (aka Adobe Photoshop), getting feedback from other photographers, and finally getting feedback from the judges all contribute to my learning to be a better photographer. That translates into better work I do every day for my clients.

One of my entries this year, “Sunset Meditation,” was from an extended on-location business portrait session I did for Chikeola Karimou of The Stellar CEO. It was photographed at sunset at Larrabee State Park. Continue reading

Plant of the Month: Skunk Cabbage

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Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

One of my favorite harbingers of spring is the brilliant yellow skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), which also goes by swamp lantern. Both names are quite descriptive and appropriate for this common wetland plant.

Skunk cabbage got that name because the blossoms have a slight skunky odor and the leaves resemble cabbage leaves when young. I’ve never found the odor of our northwest skunk cabbage to be particularly strong. There’s an entirely different skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) that’s native to eastern North America that has a much stronger odor and dark purplish-red flowers. The foliage of the two plants is similar, but ours has much brighter blossoms. Continue reading

Digital Photo Tip: Shoot for Variety

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Hawaiian Tree Fern

Hawaiian Tree Ferns, photographed from above and a distance.

One of the exercises I give to all of my photo class students is to find a subject and photograph it from different viewpoints. The idea is to expand creativity and explore new ways of seeing a subject. You can apply this concept to almost anything you’re photographing.

Last month Natalie and I spent a week vacationing on the wet side of the Big Island of Hawaii. The weather was mostly overcast, with periods of heavy rain, not the brilliant sun most people think of for Hawaii. We spent a lot of our time exploring for plants and birds, including a couple of days at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Almost all the plants we saw were new to us. A lot of them blended together — mid-sized broadleaf evergreen shrubs and small trees that didn’t have showy flowers. But a few stood out and I made several photos of them with my pocket camera. Continue reading