Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


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In the Field

Connections. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 16, 2014.

Each spring there's a race in the rolling hills behind my cabin between two species of wildflowers as to which will bloom first - the Prairie Crocuses or the Early Buttercups. This year the crocuses won. And, each spring the first harbingers of spring - be they chipmunks, bluebirds, wildflowers, or whatever - reinvigorate my urge to be out in the field shooting images (not that the urge ever wanes much!). I saw this little "micro-scene" while walking my dogs on an overcast day in April of 2014 and it instantly reminded me of how the different parts of an ecosystem - in this case flower and pollinator - are so intimately connected.

When I encountered this scene I was carrying a Nikon D4s and two lenses - the Nikkor 105mm f2.8 VR Micro and the Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR. Given the proximity of the background to the flower I knew it was completely impossible to have the entire flower (and insect) in sharp focus and the background out-of-focus and softly blurred (with the lenses I was carrying or, for that matter, any lens). So I decided to take a different approach - go thin in my Depth of Field (DoF) and try to position myself so that the plane of focus would be mainly on two things - the pollen bits on the insect's back and the stamens of the flower (to me these two "elements" are all that was really needed to tell the story). I wasn't carrying a tripod at the time, so the REAL challenge in getting the shot was tweaking my position (I was laying on my stomach and resting on both elbows) ever-so-slightly to get the camera and plane of focus aligned just right. And, of course, the challenge in doing that lies in scanning between the two subjects and ensuring both are in focus while hand-holding the set-up - it can be really hard to NOT shift the camera slightly when you actively move your eye around the viewfinder.

While teaching workshops/seminars and leading instructional photo tours over the years I've noticed that few nature - and even fewer wildlife photographers - really spend time thinking about the distribution of focus and out-of-focus zones in their shots. Commonly the thinking doesn't go much beyond " the eye in focus?". And when I ask them what other objects in the frame did they intentionally try to keep in focus and what objects did they attempt to throw out of focus I commonly get a "deer-in-headlights" type of look (or sometimes a "Huh?"). I concede that things can happen very quickly and unexpectedly when photographing wildlife or the natural world, but when you do have the time to really "work with" a subject, the unique distribution of in-focus and out-of-focus zones within the frame should definitely be one of the things you should be thinking about!

Alert - Digitally Manipulated Image: This image clearly crosses the line from simple digital correction to digital manipulation. The soft, dream-like image you are viewing is partially the product of digital manipulation. For details on how this image was produced, see Bio: Techniques (I refer to this technique as the "Wildflower Effect").

It is my policy to clearly identify ANY images on this website that overstep the bounds of digital correction and enter the territory of digital manipulation (see Voice: Commentary: Digital Correction vs. Digital Manipulation).

Behind the Camera

Connections. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 16, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 320.

Nikon D4s paired with Nikkor AF-S 105mm f2.8 VR lens - hand-held. VR on.

1/125s @ f6.3; +0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Connections. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 16, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Phase One's Capture One Pro. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 1 stop in exposure.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, further slight exposure adjustments, selective desaturation of colors, and selective sharpening for web output. Note that additional modifications made to the image were made - mostly similar to those described in my techniques section as "The Wildflower Effect".


Connections. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 16, 2014.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Wildsight.

Species Status in Canada*: This species is not designated as at risk.

Prairie Crocus (Pulsatilla patens), which is also known as Pasqueflower, is a seasonally early blooming species with a very wide geographic distribution in North America - it stretches from Alaska in the north to New Mexico in the south. While it is widespread and reasonably common in the mountains, it is most abundant on the plains. In fact, dense stands of Prairie Crocus can be indicative of overgrazing. The Prairie Crocus is the floral emblem of both Manitoba and South Dakota.

This Prairie Crocus was photographed in the Columbia Valley of the East Kootenays. While this species is currently not considered at any risk itself, many ecosystems within the Columbia Valley face development pressure, including pressure from logging operations. Wildsight is an effective conservation organization that protects biodiversity and promotes sustainable communities in Canada's Columbia and Rocky Mountains. Support for Wildsight, through donation or becoming a member, will help ensure that they remain effective in their efforts to conserve threatened or endangered species and ecosystems.

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada