Story Behind the Image - Sundew at Dawn

28 August 2015

Region: London

The latest in our Story Behind the Image Series.  Today, Penny Dixie ARPS shares the story behind her Sundew at Dawn pic.

Much as I love my urban environment and the amazing opportunities that London affords me, every now and then I escape and head off to the countryside to spend quality time with friends with the aim of having fun and taking photographs.  

Macro photography is a particular favourite of mine and I look forward to the wild flower, insect and fungi seasons each year. So, Salisbury Levels to look for dragonflies was the plan. We headed out of our B & B at about 3am aiming to have found some suitable subjects and be in place for the first light of dawn.  We certainly didn’t plan on choosing the stillest, hottest night for weeks.  As we pottered about the boggy ground looking for dragonflies, I had a sinking feeling that we were going to be unlucky.  It was too hot.  They were too warm.  They were already on the wing. I think I saw 2 dragonflies that morning, both flying past at a million miles an hour.   

Looking down at the tiny Sundew plants that were proliferating at my feet, I did my best to feel enthusiastic.  It wasn’t happening. Lying full length on my tummy on the boggy ground, stressing about squishing teeny Sundews, I could feel the water seeping through my clothes.  Sundew are tiny.  About 2cm to the top of the plant. The flower spikes stick up a further couple of centimetres or so.  Most of my macro work is done using a tripod but, I can’t find a way of photographing Sundew in their natural habitat using a tripod because they’re just too close to the ground. The technique that I evolved was to push the camera body into the boggy moss. I had to attempt to support and angle the 180mm macro lens downwards so that it was resting on the moss whilst not allowing the water to seep into the lens element.  But then there’s the problem of actually looking through the viewfinder!  A right angle viewer didn’t seem to help and so I ended up with my ear pushed into the moss attempting to frame a composition that worked while I focussed manually.  

Sundew tend to grow very close together and I spent ages trying to find simple subjects that were growing in a bit of space.  I can’t say that I was happy in my work.  I was hot, frustrated, getting wetter, getting bitten and not making nice pictures… and then the first rays of dawn light began to back-light the plant.  The little tiny sticky blobs of liquid that the tentacles exude to trap insects suddenly lit up like Christmas tree decorations.  I’d hardly seen them before and now they looked like millions of sparkling jewels, glinting in the sun.  The background went pinky orange as the light shone through the neighbouring Sundews. I kept the aperture wide open in order to maintain concentration on my subject and I just played with the light.  I love moments like this.  They are very special and all too few and far between. It’s just being in the moment and seeing what the light and the technology allow you to capture.

In order to keep the background Sundews as a distant bokeh, I had to keep the aperture wide open and then of course, with the resulting narrow depth of field, I had to choose between focusing on the radiant, glittery jewellery or, the flower spike.  No contest.  Was I right?  Don’t know!

Image: Sundew at Dawn © Penny Dixie ARPS

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