Sparkling Vine

The dog walk

Oh how I wish I could say that this photograph was planned. I am very proud of it, and it would be such a boost for my ego to say “I had envisioned it exactly as it turned out” and show off how much of a creative genius I am. But that is not the case. Let me tell you the real story.

It’s Friday morning, my designated photography and music day, and I went to one of the few lakes we have around Göttingen for my morning dog walk. It is what is called a Kiessee in Germany, a stone quarry that is filled up with water. This one is active and provides gravel for … to be honest, I don’t really know what. But it is not just an industrial area. Thanks to it hosting plenty of fish, and being close to the river Leine, it is an oasis for water birds, amphibians, animals, and flowers. Herons and gulls. Hares and roe deer. Insects, plants, and drunken students. All of them thrive here.

The plant

It was an ok morning. Not great weather, sun, and a bit of fog. Not really beautiful light, but bright enough to be able to make some photos without having to crank up the ISO too much. I photographed some plants and some insects, and I did have the luck of finding a raccoon den with some kits in it, and I got a few photos of them. But the light wasn’t bright enough, and even though they are perfect for Instagram, it didn’t pass my quality test for a print. With my dog by my side, getting closer or waiting around wasn’t an option. Stressing out wild animals is a no-go for me.

On the way back, I found a plant. A wild teasel with three flower pods. It somehow stood out to me due to its crispness. It was fresh, and green, and I had the feeling it could make a good photo. I decided I wanted to use this plant for some background exercises.

Most of the background around it was bright green, and when I looked through the viewfinder, I couldn’t really find anything that made it pop out. Then I turned around. Behind me was a dark bush, almost black compared to the rest of the environment. Or at least I could make it almost black with the magic of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Said and done, I took a couple of shots from different angles — some with all three teasel pods, some with just one. I didn’t really think much of it, and after 10 photos or so, I decided it was time to move on. We went back to the car and drove home.

A teasel in the wild. Image licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The happy little accident

One week later, it was time for post-processing. I always try to keep some time between making the photos and reviewing them. Sometimes, there is a hint of nostalgia and excitement just when you return from a photo tour that tricks your brain into seeing your photos as better than they actually are.

Most of the teasel photos were meh. They were ok. The dark background made the plant stand out, but nothing special. And then, the last one in the series … it had bokeh balls in just the right places, and to me, it directly looked like a glass of champagne with bubbles floating upwards. It gave me a warm feeling, an air of celebration, and it was what Bob Ross would have called a “happy little accident”.

After some post-processing, cropping (I went for 16:9 to really mimic the tallness of a champagne flute), and color adjustments, my work was done. And voila, a photograph to remember was born.

The lesson

So, what did this teach me? The most important lesson learned is to pay attention to bokeh balls. This was one of the first photographs where I effectively used them as part of the composition. By accident, yes, but I guess that is how you learn. Now I try to incorporate it in photos now and then, using them for subframing, or making them act like small spotlights like in the picture below.

Another use of bokeh balls, this time used to put a spider in the spotlight

And, of course – pay attention to the happy accidents! Who knows, you might actually discover new techniques.

I hope you enjoyed my rambling and that you can take something with you from it. Experiment with bokeh balls in your photography, and if you want to, please share them with me on Instagram. You can find me at @photographingfiddler.