14 June 2010

A Mountain Meadow In June, Part 2: A Perfectly Peachy Prickly Pear

Plains Prickly Pear (Opuntia polycantha) in bloom, June 2010

More pictures from my recent mountain retreats, these of a wildly blooming prickly pear cactus that, at 8,000 feet, seems just as happy as one down in the Sonoran Desert. An impromptu after-dinner walk up the hill from my friend's mountain home led to an open meadow blooming with everything from prickly pears and cholla to gorgeous sky-blue Rocky Mountain Penstemon. My dog Lucy happily charged right into the stream cutting across the field; the other two dogs stepped gingerly through it and continued tracking their elusive quarry. With sunset about a half hour away I did some backlighting work with my 18-70 mm lens, wanting to capture the translucency of the prickly pear's petals. I'm also still playing with depth of field, trying to broaden it a bit but feeling reluctant to relinquish the intense focus that a very shallow depth of field offers. I love how it makes background elements just fall away from the main subject, hinting at what else is there but not detracting from the main view.
The flip side is that not much is in focus in most of my close-up shots, but I'm currently obsessed with small details and will just keep shooting like this till I get tired of it. One thought I've had recently is to go down to this lens' wider-angle range (18mm) to enhance the diminishing that the background blurring suggests (in the shot at left, of the descending buds). I've never been comfortable with wide-angle shooting because it really distorts perspective, but that might work well here... hmm, I'm sensing a need for a do-over... not that I need a "professional" excuse to go back up the mountain....

The shot below is another study in selective focusing, and I'm fairly pleased with how the flower's center came out (lighting could be better, perhaps with a spot flash or reflector, but that's beyond my current technical expertise). I'd like to try this one with a fuller depth of field, although I think I've been doing what I'm doing because I want to stretch my vision. Anyone can take a decent picture of a flower, but what else is there to see, right there in front of us, that some technical manipulation can bring into sharper focus? It's all about experimentation; I don't get a great shot very often, but I sure do get some interesting ones, from which I learn something new to take back up the mountain next time.... 

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