The Story Behind the Image: Grounded

An undercover glimpse into creating the photo

Nature photography image titled Grounded by Chrissy Donadi photographed in The Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Grounded, Arizona, USA, 2023

The Photography Location

February in the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

The Story Behind the Image

The trip where I created this image was supposed to be a personal retreat – a little photography time to myself with some friends. During the first couple hours each day, it didn’t feel very refreshing. Ping. Ding. Buzz. Swoosh. Should I get that? It might be my family needing something. Or maybe it’s a work email I should answer quickly and get off my plate. There were simply too many distractions to fully immerse myself in the garden landscape. 

At some point, a memory popped into my head about a wise man reciting that one should “Never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing”. With a smirk and a sigh of realization, I silenced the phone and decided all other life responsibilities were going to wait. It was time for some deliberate play. And guess what, the world kept on spinning as I found my focus and flow.

Parks and Recreation is one of the greatest shows. Change my mind.

Naturally, that lesson permeated directly into my images. That sharp, center focus is needed from time to time, and not always for work. Sometimes you need to deliberately focus on play, those truly important parts of life – sharing a meal with family, enjoying a few drinks with friends around the campfire, sitting on the porch with a morning coffee, feeling the sunshine warm your face, photographing and connecting with nature, select your sanity-saving activity. Those were all the thoughts running through my head as my eye returned to my camera’s viewfinder.

Photographing In the Field

For this image, I played with intentional camera movement (ICM) where I would spin the camera slightly around this Queen Victoria Agave plant. After much fun and tinkering, I decided that 1/4 of a second delivered the blur effect I wanted with how swiftly I like to spin my camera. The center of the image still appeared somewhat focused with the least amount of spin effect. That was the lightbulb moment how to show “staying focused and centered as the world keeps spinning” through the image.   

Image #1: around f/4 with the Lensbaby 85 mm Velvet, 1/4 sec, ISO 400 with spinning ICM

However, I deliberately wanted that very center to be more in focus. It was still too soft. To pull this off, I took a second image without ICM. The goal of the second image was to have the center area of the image be in sharp focus. Additionally, I knew I needed to keep the focal length the same to easily blend the two files into one image in Photoshop.

For the focus on the second image, I stopped down to around f/5.6 and f/8. Increasing the aperture provides more depth of field (distance between the closest and farthest parts of the plant that appear acceptably sharp) but also reduces the amount of light entering the camera. To keep the shutter speed fast enough to shoot handheld, I had to pump up my ISO to 1600.

Image #2: around f/5.6-8 with the Lensbaby 85 mm Velvet, 1/125 sec, ISO 1600 with no ICM

Post-Processing the Image

Once I returned home, I combined the two images in Photoshop. First, I placed image #2 (sharp focus) as my bottom Photoshop layer. Next, I stacked image #1 (ICM) on top of that bottom layer and then created a mask on image #1 (ICM) to hide the very center of the Queen Victoria Agave. I did have to tinker with the rotation of the bottom layer to get the center areas to align. Afterward, I removed the distractions, such as the little yellow spots with content-aware fill as well as some cloning. Next, I cleaned up the edges of the frame. Finally, since the eye is drawn to the brightest and sharpest parts of images, I used some dodging and burning to brighten up the center of the image.

I hope this gives you a spark to try something new in your photography.