Exploring light and shadow

Slipping Away (click photos to view larger)

I often find myself shooting for reference, hopefully for a potential painting but more often to simply document what I've seen like the vegetable garden I've been working on or a small pawpaw plant tucked away in the woods beside the studio. These shots are seldom shared and far from artistic. They tend to be busy with distracting elements. My mindset is different when I look through the viewfinder at those moments. I tend to work more hurried and have less sensitivity to light and composition. If I suddenly see something special that warrants more care I slow down and think about what I want the shot to express (when time allows). I trust my eyes more. I explore shooting options, and I try to set an objective for the shot. "What was it that sparked my excitement?" is the first question I try to answer. It's not always something the camera can see like my eyes. This was the case with Slipping Away.

Stripping away the color wasn't something that passed through my mind when I took the shot. It turned out to be key to expressing what I wanted to share with the image. When I shot this fleeing caterpillar I was amazed by the cast shadow, the way its body crossed over the leaf and how the light sparkled. I'm easily amused... At that moment my eye's didn't focus much on the leaf itself. It's actually a staged shot to an extent. Several camera club photographers were meeting to shoot caterpillars and moths and the goal was for the cat to sit still in the calm, cool morning air and strike a pose. This little fellow was sensing the warmth of the day and the brighter light and became uncooperative as he wondered off. Normally this means the end of shooting. This time it was an opportunity. I had to shoot fast.

My first look at the image in the RAW converter was a big let down. The exposure and focus were good so I didn't give up hope. The light was indeed remarkable though the shot simply looked flat, the leaf opaque and the body more silhouetted than I remembered. I worked it up in color and noticed the veining of the leaf was really working for this backlit shot. I took it to an optimal sharpness, then moved onto other photos.

This month "shadow" was the theme for the camera club competition and this caterpillar shot came to mind. I toyed with some other ideas and actually shot a series using a basketball in motion with the shadow of the hoop and net. It felt too staged and uninspiring in the end. I decided to see how Slipping Away translated to black and white for a monochrome entry. I was working in the Dcam4 color space so I used a negative chroma Variant to desaturate the image followed by a slight adjustment Curve. Wow! Without the color the leaf took on a new life. The caterpillar's body revealed more roundness and depth. The shot had that special feeling I was longing for. What had once been a detailed leaf was now a delicate, paper thin glowing surface that looked like a fine lace veil hiding part of the caterpillar, the shadow revealing just enough to leave one wondering. My eyes were no longer seeing just a caterpillar on a leaf. I had found the spark! -pw