Show & Tell: Texas Star Bluebonnet

In Learning Center, Show and Tell by jfischerLeave a Comment

One of my resolutions for 2016 is to visit at least one State Park (of any State) each month, and thus, it’s been a great resolution to plan and peruse. As luck and timing would have it, I was able to get my April visit checked off on the very first day of the month with a last minute impromptu run to Eisenhower State Park on Lake Texoma. The sunset forecast on said the colors were supposed to be spectacular close to the border vs closer to home in Dallas, so I aimed my truck northward on 75 in hopes of good color. Since this post is about wild flowers, you can guess how that turned out.

Date April 1, 2016, 05:05 PM
Location Eisenhower State Park, Texas
Camera Canon EOS 6D
Lens Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
ISO 200
Exposure 1/160 sec
Aperture 11.0
Focal Length 100mm
Flash Did Fire (430 EX II)
Exposure Program Aperture priority
File Id _MG_9180

The Shot

As it was my first visit to Eisenhower State Park I accepted a park map at the front gate booth and quickly familiarized myself with the area, looking for options on where I might setup for sunset.  Driving along the main road, I noticed a nice hill side of Texas Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) near the boat ramp.  Knowing I had a little time before sunset, and I pulled in and snapped the 100mm Macro lens on the front of the Canon 6D as well as the Speedlite 430EX II on top.

After taking a number of shots at various distanced from the most pristine flowers on the hill side, I noticed that while staring straight down on the flower, they took on a nearly symmetrical appearance.  Looking for the most symmetrical and straight examples in the area I set about trying to get the composition perfectly straight on while hand holding the camera and waiting for the faint breeze to let the flower sit perfectly still.  The Bluebonnet is a tall and narrow stalk of buds, making depth of field on this sort of composition a difficult proposition.  After a few shots at wider apertures, I was forced to stop down a bit more to f/11, bumping up the ISO and flash power a touch to compensate.  This gave me the depth of field for the flower I wanted, but was giving too much detail in the green background leaves.  With the flower moving on me in the wind, I tried getting multiple shots at different apertures, but getting things to line up perfectly was much easier said than done.  Ultimately, when I got home, no two shots lined up well enough for a composite to blur the background to my satisfaction.  A different technique would be needed.

Lightroom Edit (Lens correction, minor exposure adjustment)

The Processing

My first task was to deal with the background, I wanted a much softer blurred surrounding so the blue bonnet would be the absolute focus of the photo. Thankfully, since the blue of the flower was a very distinct color difference from everything else, I was able to use the ‘select color range’ feature in Photoshop to create a mask for all the blues, then just a little minor brush work to paint in the center of the white / yellow center to create a near pefect background mask (see image).

Using this mask, I created a duplicate layer from the background, and blurred the layer using a Gaussian blur filter.  The first pass wasn’t quite enough, so I duplicated the layer, repeated the blur for a stronger effect, then brought the opacity down to 60%.  This dual blur gave me the soft background I wanted with just enough detail remaining.

Background Blur Applied

Once I was happy with the background’s look, I focused my attention to bringing up the exposure of the flower, I achived this by creating a curves layer with a moderate center-point pull, using Apply Image to mask to the darkest areas (so the white center wasn’t blown out) and then a little brush work to smooth out the transition to the background.


My next a stamp-visible layer set to soft light with a blur effect, opacity reduced to 50%, this has become a favorite Photoshop effect of mine for adding contrast and depth to a photo, varying degrees of blur added to add either a slightly dreamy effect, or sometimes none for a deep contrast boost.  This was paired with another curves layer, this time using the same mask as my background blur, to pull the background a little more into shadow.  My final effect layer is out of Nik Color Efex Pro 4, where I added a touch of ‘Skylight Filter‘ to warm up the hues in the flower a touch, countering the slightly cool tone of the flash’s light.

Exposure Balance achieved

The final 3 layers in the stack add a slight matte finish to the photo (Exposure offset set to a very minor positive number), ‘Layer 4’ seen next is a High-Pass layer masked to just the flower for sharpening, and DeFine2 is a noise reduction layer from Nik’s noise reduction tool – applied strongest to the background and slightly less so to the flower to ensure details gained in the High-pass layer were not lost.

Final Edit


More Texas Wildflowers

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