Beat Monet with a Polarizer! Water Lilies

The Mission: Find some water lilies and take their picture

Some French guy named Claude Monet did it….. well so can I!! So can you! Why not? My mom told me I have talent and my mom is never wrong. So full of courage, I checked out what Claude did at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and I can tell you…. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. While his composition may be good, there is no detail, total lack of sharpness, and frankly, very little dynamic range. Heck I have a Canon 5D Mk II packed with 21 MEGA pixels… I can beat this Monet guy.

Click here for more water lilies I shot one year later.

Where to go: A pond with water lilies

I went searching for ponds with water lilies in the fall even though I was told the flowers were all done for the year. On the east coast, the fall is a nice time of year that can have some pretty good weather but many of the gardens, parks, and areas with ponds around usually close up early for the winter. I figured they close because it is the end of the flowering season until I had a long conversation with one of the grounds keepers at a local park.  She let me in on a little secret: the gardeners are sick and tired by this time of year and they start snipping off the blooms!  She reckons the flowers would be there through December but darn if they want to hang around.  So they just snip ‘em off.  Takes them about two weeks to snip ‘em all to a stub.  Now I understand why the water lilies are always blooming in the ponds but everything else is just a brown stick: ‘cause they can’t reach them without going for a swim.  I asked this grounds keeper what her name was….. it was Morticia.The Grounds Keeper

The Set Up: Lay down and light up a polarizing filter

Add some interest to your pics by showing a viewpoint not normally seen by standing. Shoot whatever it is from a different angle such as ground level. I’ve always admired pictures of ducks and floating things from a surface view and I thought I would try it here with the water lilies. Only way to do this, is to lay down in the dirt and ruin your shirt.

Now whenever you are shooting around water, consider using a polarizing filter. I use a Hoya HMC Super for no other reason other than I use their stuff and I have been happy with them. No, polarizing filters are not the editors at FOX news, but glass that filters out deviant photons of light taking out glare and shine from the water surface.  It did some really cool things with the water in front of those water lilies… just blacked it out but still left in the reflections of the lilies.  Cool.  I wonder what kind of crappy filters Claude Monet used because his pictures are full of annoying reflections.

I almost never use polarizing filters because you lose about 1.5 stops of light and I need all the light and speed I can get. I have very shaky hands and even with image stabilization, I toss tons of otherwise good pics away due to my lack of steadiness. What this 1.5 stop loss means, is that for a given aperture, your shutter speed slows down from say 1/100s to 1/40s which is way too slow for me especially if I am trying to blur my backgrounds by shooting with a wide open aperture. When I am shooting birds that are constantly moving, speed is everything to me so a polarizer just makes things worse.

But, water lilies don’t fly and since I want to shoot at ground level, I can set the camera on a rock. Rocks are steady so a perfect situation for a polarizing filter.

Post Processing: Gotta tweak it up a bit!

When I looked at these pics out of the camera, I only shoot RAW by the way, they looked pretty good to me! But they did look a little flat with low contrast and I wanted to darken some areas to limit the amount of stuff in the frame. What I mean is that I wanted the flowers to stand out against a dark background. Another little problem was the flowers themselves were not strongly lit. I chose to shoot them at an angle that had the setting sun mostly behind them giving them a great glow, but they needed brightened up just a bit.

So, in LightRoom, I bumped up the contrast a bit and using the local brush, I brightened up the blooms. I also discovered that lying on my stomach in the dirt and propping the camera on a few stacked rocks resulted in a drunken tilt to the images. No problem as I just sobered up the pictures by twisting the pic back to level with LightRoom. Overall, I did very little processing.

Note: Not all are with the polarizer

I was so excited I took a few good pics of these lilies that I wanted more, so I went back to the same place the next day with ideas on how to improve the pics. But… I forgot my polarizer and for some reason, I didn’t do as good a job as I did the previous day. So it goes. Can you tell which two pics I took without a polarizer?

The Equipment:

  • Canon 5D MkII
  • Canon 70-200 IS f/2.8 II lens (wow, what a lens!)
  • Some rocks
  • Trashed shirt

Location Types: Garden and Lake. Galleries: Flowers and Water Lilies. Tags: 5D Mk II and 70-200mm 2.8.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply