“Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen…” says Gray’s Elegy. I found this baby fern in the undergrowth on the edge of a volcanic crater on the island of Hawaii. The light was generally poor in the dense vegetation, but here and there, shafts of sunlight illuminated small pools, in one of which stood this little plant. In the murky surrounding light, it glowed. Its soft lilac colour and delicate shape seemed a statement of new life rising amid the brown foliage of its dying and dead predecessors.
I was rooted to the spot when I saw it, struck by the ephemeral beauty of its fragility, its progress towards maturity and the changing light conditions in which it was bathed. Coming to my photographic senses, I hurried to try and capture an image before the momentary illumination passed.
Bobbing and weaving
The visual magic was somewhat dimmed by the difficulties of finding a suitable position in which to crouch among low lying branches and the squelching, dead undergrowth in the muddy ground. I was using a monopod, but because I was nearly squatting on the ground, I could not take up the “tripod” stance, using my legs as complementary balance. Despite my best efforts, I therefore found myself rocking backwards and forwards on the balls of my feet. I thought to fight this problem by setting a fast shutter speed and shutter priority, but given the poor lighting this generated the maximum wide aperture of 2.8. I could have tried much higher ISO in order to squeeze out some more depth-of-field from a narrower aperture, but I was determined to honour the delicacy of the fern’s colour and shape by staying within relatively high quality “film” parameters.
Photography is full of such decision-making trees. Unfortunately the ephemeral nature of light often prevents trying out even a few of the possible permutations.
As outlined above, the capture required relatively aggressive settings, particularly prioritising a high shutter speed. Vibration Reduction was switched off, because it is ineffective and even disruptive at speeds above 1/500s on my Nikon setup.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: VR 70-200mm zoom f/2.8G,
Focal Length: 200mm
Focus Mode: AF-S
Shutter Speed: 1/1000s
Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single
Exposure Mode: Shutter Priority
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 800
Mounted on a monopod
I was truly touched by the delicacy and beauty of this plant, which was unlikely to be seen in this light and at this stage by any other human being than me. I hope that my efforts to preserve it for you have been worthwhile.
Copyright Paul Grayson 2016 All Rights Reserved