Dandelions

There are a handful of photo projects I have been intending to get around to for some time. Some such ideas have been sitting on my to-do list for years but, as is often the case, means, motive and opportunity do not always align.

One such concept involves macro photography of dandelions, which are a nice, traditional thing to photograph in closeup. Some opportunities have come close in the past – one weekend I realised some dandelions had sprouted in our front garden, but before I could get out and do anything about them, our neighbour decided to be helpful and mow the grass, taking out the dandelions with it.

Luckily one lovely spring weekend day last year I noticed some dandelions sprouting again, so I took the chance to get some shots of them.

1/500sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

The chances of dandelions growing exactly where I wanted them was pretty slim, so I picked them, took them to a spot in our back garden, and propped them up by clamping them to a bucket.

As you can see, it was early spring and my garden was looking pretty overgrown, which helped give me a nice green background to the shots (but before you say anything, after I’d finished taking photographs, I did mow the lawn).

My plan wasn’t just to take macro photographs of dandelions. As nice as they look in macro, it’s not quite enough to make a compelling set of images. It was always my intention to do something more, in order to make them a bit more interesting. Something which might seem, to some, a little destructive, although if vegans are allowed to eat plants then this is probably morally fine as well.

Anyway, point is I decided to set fire to them.

The plan was relatively simple. Set my camera up on a tripod with my 100mm macro lens, clamp a dandelion in the right spot, set the camera to burst mode, and use my remote cable to fire off as many shots as the camera can do for the second or so that it takes for the dandelion to burn.

My first attempt I missed the fire completely.

1/250sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

Even though I missed the money shot, I really like the faint glow of the smouldering remains of the dandelion combined with the smoke – something which may become a bit of a theme in this set.

For the next dandelion I struggled to get positioned in the right place. The stem was a little limp, meaning it had to be clamped a bit lower, meaning the bucket I was clamping to ended up in shot.

1/1600sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

I did a lot better at catching the fire this time, although as you can see the lighter I was using was in the shot.

1/1000sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

When editing I decided it was worth cleaning up the shot by removing the lighter in Photoshop. My first go using the Cloning Stamp tool was not bad.

1/1000sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

With a rapid-fire shutter I managed to capture the whole thing going up in flames nicely. When you’re dealing with something like fire there is a big element of luck, because you have no idea or control over where the flames are going to go or what they will look like, so you just have to fire your shutter and hope for the best. So I got a bit lucky with this next shot.

1/1000sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

This shot again had the tip of the lighter in frame, and I quickly started getting a bit lazy with removing it, and resorted to using Photoshop’s often quite remarkable Content-Aware Fill to paint it out in one go. It worked really well, you have to look pretty close to see the rough edges. Certainly it did at least as well as I did with the Cloning Stamp tool, so why bother wasting my time?

Even with the camera firing at full tilt (which a quick internet search suggests is just over five shots a second), it was all over very quickly, and I was again left with the glowing embers of a dandelion.

1/1000sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

I did catch one little moment, if you look at the lower centre of this next shot you can see a single, smoking dandelion seed falling out of frame.

1/1000sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

I lined up another dandelion, quite a pristine example. I managed to again get the bucket in shot thanks to a weak stem.

1/1600sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

You know the drill by now: set fire to the dandelion, fire off shots on the camera as quickly as possible.

1/1600sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

The next two shots, I’ve once again used Content-Aware Fill to remove the lighter tip.

1/1600sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm
1/1600sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

As you can see this dandelion burned differently to the last one, it turned charred a lot quicker and I didn’t get the same half-burned, half-pristine dandelion shot as with the last one.

1/1600sec, f/2.8, ISO 100, 100mm

My next dandelion had a stronger stem so I could get the bucket out of frame. That said, I managed to position it so high it was above the grass and you can make out my garden wall in the background. I also closed up the aperture from f/2.8 to f/5 to make sure I was getting more of the dandelion in focus.

1/160sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm

I still got the lighter in frame, but Content-Aware Fill continued to do its work.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm

For just this one shot I got a bit creative and put the photo though Analog Efex to see what the filters should do to the colour. The fake analogue damage, to my mind, adds to the look and it seems to make the flames pop.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm
1/250sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm

As with many of these shots, sometimes the glowing, smoking epilogue of the main fire is at least just as interesting.

1/250sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm

I framed the penultimate dandelion slightly differently, easing in to the other side of the frame. I still brought the flame in from the left though, to see if it all burned in a different way.

1/200sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm

Annoyingly I think I knocked the flame setting because it was a lot shorter than the previous shots, meaning I had to get the lighter much closer to the dandelion to light it up – which made me decide against removing the lighter in Photoshop.

1/200sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm
1/200sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm
1/200sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm

I positioned my final sacrificial dandelion in a similar spot in the frame.

1/400sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm

This time I did better at positioning the lighter out of the frame and so no Photoshop shenanigans were required.

1/400sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm
1/400sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm

For whatever reason this one didn’t fully burn in one go, leaving some bits intact and smoking.

1/400sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm

I had another go at burning off the rest of it but not much photogenic came of it.

1/400sec, f/5, ISO 100, 100mm

And with that, I was out of dandelions.

I’m pleased with how this one went. I love some of the results, especially the shots where some of the remnants of the dandelions are still glowing red hot and giving off pretty wisps of smoke. It was also good to get round to shooting a little project like this that requires setup and planning, something I used to do a lot more in the earlier days of this website but haven’t done in years.

Every so often when I see a patch of dandelions in my garden or near my house I think about doing this again, but as is often the case with these little experiments of mine, I try it once and move on. Still, I’m not adverse to playing about with fire some more in front of my camera.

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