Chipmunks in Motion: Experiments in High-Speed Small Animal Photography

Animals, Chipmunks, Nature

“And We’re Off” – Chipmunk starting to run (1/4000 F/3.2 ISO 640)

Chipmunks are often cute but mostly boring when sitting around or eating. In motion, however, they are funny and/or cute. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t see at least one chipmunk in my backyard; currently there are three; the most I’ve ever seen in the same place at the same time was five.

Chipmunk jumping off garden wall in Sport Mode (1/800 F/2.8 ISO 320)

The Sport mode (default 1/800 sec) on my Canon camera provides a shutter speed that captured some interesting images of chipmunks on the move, but they were always at least slightly out of focus for the speedy small animal.

Chipmunk jumping over a large rock (1/1000 F/2.8 ISO 100)

Chipmunk in mid air running (1/800 F/2.8 ISO 640)

Looking for an upgrade, I turned to the Tv mode, and turned the dial to 1/1000 sec. This showed a noticeable improvement but there was still some blur. Therefore I tried an incremental increase to 1/1250 sec.

Chipmunk about to step forward into garden (1/1250 F/3.2 ISO 100)

Chipmunk running down path towards food supply (1/1250 F/2.8 ISO 100)

This speed wasn’t so good, so I considered another slight increase to the next highest speed, but decided instead to move to the end of the spectrum, my camera’s fastest shutter speed, 1/4000 sec. I also adjusted the ISO level from 100 to Auto. I prefer ISO 100 but in the evening that’s all but impossible for high-quality high-speed photography.

Chipmunk running (1/4000 F/3.2 ISO 640)

Finally a picture with the details in focus because the cam speed was fast enough. It’s not ideal because it was late in the day (after 7 pm).

Chipmunk off the ground in sharp focus (1/4000 F/3.2 ISO 200)

The extra light from the sun helped make the details razor sharp. Click to see the feet (1200 x 800).


Post-Crop Vignetting in Lightroom: Instantly Clearing Photo Background

Flowers, Lightroom, Software

Example 1

The foliage around this flower has elegant symmetry, but the best crop is insufficient, leaving background noise. The quick fix is in the Effects widget of Lightroom (Command-7).

Style: Highlight Priority
Amount: 78
Roundness: 0
Feather: 50
Highlights: 0
Grain Amount: 0

The setting here is the same as with the white vignetting except the amount is -78.

Example 2

Even if there is no background problem by distracting elements, the same technique can enhance the image, especially, in this case, if your camera angle captures an oblong shape.

Style: Highlight Priority
Amount: 40
Midpoint: 0
Roundness: 0
Feather: 100

Highlights: 0
Grain Amount: 0

Style: Highlight Priority
Amount: 100
Midpoint: 50
Roundness: 0
Feather: 100

Style: Highlight Priority
Amount: 100
Midpoint: 0
Roundness: 0
Feather: 100


Amount: -100
Midpoint: 6

Midpoint: 0


The instant transformation to make the daytime outdoor photo look like a night-time indoor image was surprisingly convincing. It also creates a mood that was never there before.

Note: the spider’s web makes these images unfit for commercial use but effective for teaching.

Example 3

Yellow star flower with vignette style

Amount: 54
Midpoint: 8
Roundness: 0
Feather: 50

Example 4

Yellow-and-pink dahlia (1/800 F/5.6 ISO 250) (100,29,0,50)

The Aqua and Green Saturation in HSL (Command-3) were set to -100 to remove all background color (green foliage).

Example 5

Large red-and-white dinnerplate dahlia (1/500 F/5.0 ISO 125) (100,29,0,50)

Copy Settings > Effects > Post-Crop Vignetting

Using this path, the previous setting was copied and pasted. Half the image background was pure white; the quick PCV trick made it an entirely white. There remains a very slight drop shadow to give the flower a look of suspension.

Audrey Bloedow: The Iris Lady

Flowers, Irises

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”–John Keats

Purple iris in Audrey Bloedow’s Iris Garden

In memory of my late mother, Audrey Bloedow, also known as “The Iris Lady,” it is only fitting to focus on the most beautiful part of her legacy, an iris garden. She was an avid gardener, planting and looking after many plants and flowers for most of her adult life, but her favourites were irises.

Yellow butterfly on purple iris in her garden

She was attracted to the flower like a bee to honey or, well, a butterfly to an iris. She won competitions for them, and in her garden when she left this world she had over 1,000 irises.

Field of irises

The Pakenham Horticultural Society wrote the following in its historical document:

It was with much sadness we lost both Denise Drew and Audrey Bloedow, dear friends and dedicated members. Audrey’s iris garden inspired us all and many of her treasures live on in our gardens and at our flower shows. The new plant beds built at the arena have been filled with shrubs and perennials from Audrey’s lovely garden and her contributions to our annual plant sale and door prizes at our meetings live on throughout the village. In her honour, the Audrey Bloedow Award was established to be given to the exhibitor with the most points in the iris classes at our spring and summer shows.

Audrey Bloedow’s Garden

From the PHS she won the following awards:


“Presented to members of the Pakenham Horticultural Society who have been active for a minimum of ten years and made an outstanding contribution to the field of horticulture.”

Macro of bumble bee tapping iris’ reserves


“Presented annually to the exhibitor winning the most points for specimen flowers, in all flower shows during one season, who has never before won a society trophy.”

1991 Audrey Bloedow

Peach iris with orange beard


“Presented annually to the member winning the most points in all shows during one season.”

1998 Audrey Bloedow


“Presented to the member exhibiting the best Iris at the June Show.”

1997 Audrey Bloedow
1998 Audrey Bloedow
2000 Audrey Bloedow
2001 Audrey Bloedow
2003 Audrey Bloedow
2004 Audrey Bloedow


“Presented to the judges’ choice for best overall exhibit in any category.”

2002 Audrey Bloedow

Her legacy

Peach iris with speckled edges

Dark purple iris

Closeup of white-and-dark-blue Iris with yellow beard (1/1000, f/8, ISO 400)




How to Photograph Iris Flowers – Tips and Tricks for Maximum Quality

Flowers, Irises, Tips

Red iris with water drops (1/800 F/2.8 ISO 100) ^ 1200 x 1200


I didn’t see any websites with tips on “How to Photograph Iris Flowers,” but it was a Google suggestion, i.e., something people want to know, so I started making this page.

I have taken many photographs of irises, because my late mother had a large iris garden; and then my Dad gave me some of her irises for my own garden. I learned slowly the mistakes I was making, and now I will share with you what I do differently since my first iris photoshoot in the summer of 2006.

I’m going to cover issues for beginner, intermediate, and advanced photographers as well as those who are new to photographing irises up to those who have snapped many already. This is for readers ranging from anyone wanting to send an image to family to those hoping to create pictures for Hallmark greeting cards.

Camera Angle

Isolated and centred yellow iris

After reviewing and editing many iris photos, I have concluded there are only a few flattering camera angles. The safest angle is putting the camera perpendicular to the iris as above to clearly show the side view.

Siberian iris from above

I will occasionally see or picture an iris from a top view and find it attractive, but it’s generally a tougher sell, and I usually don’t even bother to photograph an iris like that. In a recent photobook of irises, I had about 5 shots from above out of 30. It can help add a little variety.

Pink-and-white iris from the top (1/500 F/5.6 ISO 160)

Sometimes the silhouette or shape in the top view can closely resemble the side view.

Elegant pale blue iris

Depth of Field (DOF)

My biggest regret from my first photoshoot was a depth of field setting that showed too much of the field. I used the Flower mode (f/5.6) for every photo, which of course captured the flowers just fine or in focus–but also all the grunge in the background!

Irises can look much better when the background gives them full attention by being blurred, neutral, or contrasting. There is no value in seeing dried, brown leaves, earth, etc., in a closeup. Lowering the f setting can “take out the trash” and still let you see the most important parts of the iris in focus.

When I photograph outside, I now mostly set the camera to f/2.8. Inside I find f/22 most effective.

Perfect timing

Iris starting to open

Keep your eye on irises to photograph them as soon as they flower. Defects of various kinds are increasingly likely the longer they are open. Insects, wind, etc., can decrease their quality very quickly.

In the above example, a purple iris is just beginning the flowering process. This was probably about an hour after it began. I once happened to notice an iris just after it started to open up, and then photographed it at regular time intervals. One petal descended slowly but surprisingly quickly; then the other two petals were lowered together more slowly.

It is typical to see an iris begin to open in the evening; the next day you see it fully opened as soon as you get up.

Irises I’ve seen in my garden were neither rugged nor long-flowering. If you say to yourself, “I’ll photograph them in a few days,” you may be unpleasantly surprised. They are tissue-thin and don’t rebound from stress.


Yellow spider (1/1000 F/4 ISO 100)

It’s easy to miss spiderwebs when you are staring into a camera window or even during playback. Then you download them onto your computer and catch them. Avoid this simply by putting spiderwebs on your pre-photoshoot mental checklist.

Macro of spider on edge of flower (1/800 F/3.5 ISO 100)

They are pretty easy to see when you inspect the subject and almost as easy to remove. Be careful, though, because irises are very delicate. I accidentally tore a petal once when trying to remove a web. Sometimes strands are easy to remove in Lightroom if you have that software; sometimes they aren’t. In any case, if you are worried about damaging the petals when removing the threads, take pictures before and after adjusting the petals.


In the first picture above, the iris isn’t even open fully but already it has spiderwebs on it.

Stalk wrappings


Iris “wraps” that hold the iris flowers get dried out and don’t usually help the picture. But they are actually fairly easy to remove without damaging the stalk or petals. You must be careful, however, and peel them slowly, holding onto the stalk as you do. Try it out on an iris that has already flowered and closed and there are no flowers ready to bloom, i.e., no risk of damage.

Wrapping removed

Closed flowers

Iris after flowering (1/800 F/ 2.8 ISO 4000)

When irises are done flowering, they “close up shop.” They don’t remain in the same shape as when they flowered; it’s like the reverse of when they open up to flower. These tightly closed flowers can get in the way when photographing other flowers on the same stem which are right behind them, blooming a day or more afterwards.

Snapped-off closed iris (1/2)

Snapped-off closed iris (2/2)

Fortunately, the ‘folded’ sections can be snapped off quickly and easily without damaging the rest of the iris. The break is fairly clean.

Indoor studio

My first indoor iris photoshoot wasn’t planned. My dining room became my photo studio. The blinds were backdrop. A gorgeous iris in my garden was knocked over by 50 km/h winds. It was too beautiful to leave outside on the ground, so I cut it, took it inside, and placed it in a vase. Away from wind, photographing inside opens the door to all kinds of long-exposure shots and interesting lighting, starting with a basic white background.

Cute flower on white background

Macro photography

Macro view of red iris with yellow centre

Super closeup pictures of irises can be visually appealing as if abstract art. Fine details are also intriguing. Capturing the centre as above is difficult. Irises don’t often open up completely. This was a rare occasion when it happened, the only time for me in the 2017 season. If you have a good lens for macro, it’s easy, but it can be very difficult to avoid any shaking or blurring in an outdoor setting. I took this shot indoors using a tripod and a special macro lens.

I’ve tried and failed many times to snap quality pictures of parts of irises, as macro or closeup. The beard or tongue is an interesting details, but not that exciting.


Group of small Siberian irises (1/80 F/14 ISO 100)

I prefer closeup photos of individual irises, but occasionally see a decent group shot. There are more things that can go wrong with multiple irises; it’s a challenge for ‘the stars to align.’ The more flowers, the tougher it is. You want the group to:

  • fill your frame;
  • not have too many or too large gaps;
  • have a strong centre (or at least not a weak one);
  • have a reasonable overall shape;
  • have a decent background

Group of purple irises (1/80 F/14 ISO 100)

An advantage of photographing from further away, however, is small imperfections aren’t noticeable.  A potential disadvantage, though, is the f setting likely has to be increased to get more flowers in focus, so the background imperfections become more obvious.


In my opinion, there are two kinds of photographers: those who think about the background and those who don’t. Everyone considers the subject, but not so many pay attention to everything else. You see this on Instagram a lot. There’s a huge step up in quality when the background is taken seriously. It’s really the difference between amateur and professional.

Red iris (1/200 F/5.6 ISO 100)

What makes a good background for irises? Color and pattern. This iris was captured like this because the yellow flowers behind it provided a complementing color and pattern.

Garden design: plan before you plant

Iris garden above swimming pool fountain (1/125 F 5.6 ISO 200)

You are largely at the mercy of the location where your irises are planted. So if you plan to take great pictures, think about what the background options will be as you consider “staging” for photography. This will enable you to enjoy your garden and its photos more.

Isolated yellow iris with black background

By planting irises above my fountain, it simply allowed a black backdrop for some clean and dramatic low-key iris pictures. There was no extra work or equipment; it was just the camera position. You get the best of both worlds: the quality clean look of a studio shot and the natural lighting of the sun.

Cream of the crop

The right crop can make or break a photo. Most iris closeups are best square.

Drama Queen – low-key fuchsia iris on black background (1/800 F/2.8 ISO 1250)

But occasionally 4×6 or 8×10 is ideal. The main issue of course is equal distance from the edges to the subject.


White Peony with Yellow Center: One Flower with Three Different Kinds of Lighting

Flowers, Nature

Example 1: Natural light (Clouds)

White peony with yellow centre (1/200 F/5.6 ISO 100)

This was a gift for my garden and it didn’t flower last year. It’s only been flowering for a few days this year and today it looks better than yesterday. Overcast weather conditions allowed a harsh shadow-free picture, and the natural soft drop shadows here have a very fine and gradual change in tone. With no wind, finally, shooting in Flower Mode at 5.6 didn’t show any blurring.

After a little rearranging of the leaves all around the peony, pulling them to the side a little, the shot was ready. The leaves or stalks weren’t as stubborn or reflexive as iris stalks, returning to their original positions, but not so fast.

A little editing in Lightroom afterwards, clearing up some spots, etc., this one is ready to go to print at 3300×3300.

Example 2: Camera Flash

Peony (1/200 ISO F/10 ISO 400)

1 pm. Compare the petal shadows first image with one after a few hours and a little rain taken with flash (Canon Speedlite 570). “Cloudy Days Are Nature’s Softbox,” says photographer Anita Cross, among many others.

Example 3: Sunlight

Direct sunlight (1/640 F/5.6 ISO 100)

4:30 pm. The final shot for comparison of all three major sources of light. It doesn’t have as bad shadows as with some other flowers, but it hardly beats naturally soft cloud lighting.

White peony (1/250 F/5.6 ISO 100)

The side view, captured a few minutes after the preceding image, makes a more compelling photograph. The yellow center is much more impressive, and the flower fills the entire 3:2 frame. This peony was surprisingly not tough. It got brown spots and its petals looked very weathered after only a few days. Make sure you photograph yours as soon as possible. This was shot the day it started to flower or the day after.

Wildlife at A.Y. Jackson Park and Watson’s Mill in Manotick

Birds, Ducks, Nature

An hour in the afternoon at the bridge on Bridge Street in Manotick, Ontario yielded a few nature photos (a few more than expected). We walked into A.Y. Jackson Park to get beside the water.

Large grey bird in Manotick

This bird stood on the rock with his wings extended for quite some time. I’m not sure what kind it is. He has some yellow on his beak.

Heron flying beside Watson’s Mill in Manotick

He was flying very low. There’s an intriguing contrast between the power of the rushing white water and the grace of the large bird.

Two herons flying near Canadian two flags

Two street lamps… two flags… two birds… couldn’t resist. It wasn’t planned, honestly, I was shooting the birds and noticed the scene symmetry later.

Mallard ducks beside rocks in shallow water

Two large fish in the clear water of Manotick

We saw a guy fishing under the bridge on Bridge Street not far away from these slow-moving fish.

Canada geese on family outing

Two parents enjoying an afternoon together with their six healthy ‘children.’

Tortoise in thick grass

Duck Learning How to Walk a Tightrope? (Not a Photoshop Trick!)

Birds, Ducks, Nature

Duck with two feet on clothesline (1/320 F/2.8 ISO 6400)

I never thought I’d ever see a duck trying to walk on a clothesline! What happened?!

I heard a duck land in the “pond” (unopened swimming pool), but didn’t pay much attention as I made my dinner late on Saturday night. After finishing my pizza and salad, I checked to see if he was still there.

Duck sitting in the grass

He had decided to sit in the grass which had just been cut, and sat there for about ten minutes. He seemed pretty chill, not moving around at all, just hanging out.

I watched him from my living room window, camera in hand, expecting a chance to get a few in-flight pictures after giving the ducks a break for several days. He wasn’t in a rush to leave, but there wasn’t much good daylight left at 8 pm, so I decided to try going outside, and slowly approach him, get closer than usual, to get a better picture than usual.

Nervous duck thinks about leaving

In my limited experience, you can approach ducks in the wild slowly, and as long as you don’t startle them by any sudden movement, or make any noise, they will allow you to close the distance (somewhat). They will get up if they were seated, keep a close eye on you, and walk around a bit.

Mallard gets airborne

When he finally decided to hightail it out of my backyard at 8:20 pm, he took off, and everything looked like usual. Until…

He flew right at the clothesline! I didn’t notice until I looked at the pictures afterwards that both his feet actually touched the clothesline, and he could have taken a nasty tumble! A few inches lower, and he would have crashed…

Duck successfully clears clothesline

Duck flying in forest at high speed

Duck disappears into the woods

Dark Purple Iris Isolated: Simple Technique for Quick Photo Editing After Outdoor Capture

Flowers, Irises, Software

Top view of purple iris with white background (1/320 F/5.6 ISO 100) ^ 1200 x 1200

The first main photoshoot of the day was virtually a total washout. I could hardly find an image I liked. There was just much background “noise” (elements that compete and distract). It prompted more aggressive editing of background space.

This small purple iris was still in good condition, so I wanted to get a good picture; I removed weeds around it and other stuff beside it. But it still didn’t look very good, so I sliced part of the stem. Even then, it wasn’t enough, because I wanted a higher f than 2.8, which meant more competition with anything and everything on the ground. Solution?

I simply took a clean sheet of 8.5×11″ paper, cut it in the middle past half way. It surrounded the iris.

It didn’t create a perfectly white background instantly, but it made editing in Lightroom much quicker. After global editing mostly by Whites moved to +48, local editing was only required in two or three spots.

“Meg” The Giant Hosta: Tourist Attraction in Ottawa, Canada

Hostas, Plants

Meg f/k/a Mega (1/40 F/22 ISO 250)

The gardener started calling the giant hosta “Mega”; the name was later shortened to “Meg.” She grew up under a regularly overflowing eavestrough, mostly because it had not been properly emptied.

Centrepiece Garden Design (1/500 F/4 ISO 100)

Meg got so big, she became the star attraction, so she was moved to the centre of my front garden, officially its centrepiece.

View from Second Floor (1/5 F/36 ISO 100)

Large Leaf (1/40 F/22 ISO 100)

One visitor was so affected by Meg’s size, she wanted to get her picture taken with it like a tourist attraction.

Giant Hosta’s White Flowers (1/60 F/22 ISO 100)

(1/125, f/13, ISO 500)

(1/3200, f/2.8, ISO 100)

Closeup of Giant Hosta Leaf (1/60 F/22 ISO 100)

Giant Hosta Leaf with Water Drops (1/800 F/2.8 ISO 3200)

Bee on Leaf for Scale (1/800 F/5.6 ISO 125)

May 19, 2017

May 26, 2017 (1/800 F/2.8 ISO 5000)

For the record, I have no idea exactly which big, bold, and beautiful hosta this is; the previous owners bought it.

The Beauty of the Trinity: Three Purple Irises in One

Flowers, Irises

Triple Iris Flowering (10.0 f/22 ISO 100) ^ 1200×1200

This iris caught my eye early in the morning. It reminded me of a black-and-white orchid poster set of two with multiple orchids flowering that I had bought and put on my office wall before I sold it. The three here seemed balanced and altogether filled the camera frame.

The histogram also had the coveted curve with sufficient high, mid, and low levels of light.

Editing in Lightroom was quick and easy. The trick here was to turn up Whites (+40) and turn down Lights (-45). I just turned up the Whites to +53 to blow out the background and make it 100% white. Using the “J” shortcut, I incrementally changed the whites until the background was entirely red. That didn’t alter any of the flower, including the edges. Only one small section needed local editing with a mask to bring back lost detail at one edge by lowering Exposure. Before and after comparison showed almost no compromise.

I tried f/32, even though I find f/22 is usually good enough, but f/22 had better sharpness of the focus for the entire pic.

I hope to use this image for a Greeting Card. I am currently waiting for the printer of my first set of Greeting Cards to complete the order. If the quality is high enough, this will probably be in my second print run.

It is 3456 x 5184, large enough for a poster.