Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘creative vision’
On November 20 I sat down (virtually) with Matt Payne to chat about landscape photography for his podcast, F-Stop Collaborate and Listen.
We had a great time talking about a variety of topics including
- – Our respective journeys into landscape photography
- – How to create visual impact in your photography
- – Motivations to keep shooting
- – The creation of Photo Cascadia
- – Conservation and the sharing of locations
You can listen to our conversation here (email subscribers may need to click the link above to listen on the web):
Make sure to go to the podcast page to check out the other great conversations Matt has recorded with photographers like
- – Erin Babnik
- – Joshua Cripps
- – Candace Dyar
- – Guy Tal
- – David Kingham and Jennifer Renwick
- And many more…
Also, since we recorded our conversation, F-Stop Collaborate and Listen is being featured by Outdoor Photographer Magazine and will also be available on their website every month, so congratulations to Matt on that!
My new book Visionary Landscapes has just been released by Tuttle Publishing and it can be found at your local book store, chain, Japanese garden, or online venue. A description given by the publisher follows.
Japanese gardens are found throughout the world today-their unique forms now considered a universal art form. This stunning Japanese gardening book examines the work of five leading landscape architects in North America who are exploring the extraordinary power of Japanese-style garden design to create an immersive experience promoting personal and social well-being.
Master garden designers Hoichi Kurisu, Takeo Uesugi, David Slawson, Shin Abe and Marc Keane have each interpreted the style and meaning of the Japanese garden in unique ways in their innovative designs for private, commercial and public spaces. Several recent Japanese-style gardens by each designer are featured in this book with detailed descriptions and sumptuous color photos.
- Hoichi Kurisu – transformative spaces for spiritual and physical equilibrium.
- Takeo Uesugi – bright, flowing gardens that evoke joyful living.
- David Slawson – evocations of native place that fuse with the surrounding landscape.
- Shin Abe – dynamically balanced “visual stories” that produce meaning and comfort.
- Marc Keane – reflections on human connections with nature through the art of gardens.
Also included are essays on the designers and mini-essays by them about gardens in Japan which have most inspired their work, as well as commentaries by patrons and visitors to their North American gardens.
The book focuses on recently-created gardens to suggest how the art form is currently evolving, and to understand how Japanese garden design principles and practices are being adapted to suit the needs and ways of people living and working outside Japan today.
For a good part of my life I’ve had a comic posted on my wall of a guy sitting in a chair with the caption, “Dare to be boring.” Sometimes I embrace that in my photography when trying to get creative with abstracts in a mundane landscape, or when embracing the blue skies above. Maybe it’s all the smoke from fires lingering overhead, but these days I’m feeling blue and I would like to see a little of it in the sky too.
I like great light as much as the next person, but in these “Red or Dead” times of landscape photography, when some are shooting for another click on social media, then the redder the sky the better. But when I dare to be boring, it’s time to embrace the blue. Not only does blue sky photography sell pretty well to clients, it can also look good. What follows are the times I’m more apt to embrace the blue sky around me with a polarizer attached, and my white balance set to 5200 Kelvin.
1) When there is water involved.
If there is water in the scene, then blue skies generally look appealing to the eye, since the water reflects blue like the sky and it might pick up the reflections of the land pretty well too. The images below show a photo I took in 2008 from the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon, and a garden I photographed for my upcoming book. I like them both, and the garden I photographed in southern California is on the cover of my new book.
2) When there are puffy clouds or dramatic skies.
Skies can make or break a landscape photo, and even during those blue sky hours they matter. I love those puffy convective clouds in the Palouse region of Washington, but any dramatic blue-sky clouds will do.
3) When there is a complementary color on land, such as yellow flowers, gold fields, or red rocks.
Need I say more?
4) When there are harmonious colors on land that blend well into the sky.
These colors work well together, so why not?
5) Sometimes the blue light is just better.
At Canada’s Peyto Lake the early light is often not good. When all that beautiful turquoise water is below it’s best to show up at 10am after a few clouds have formed, and take advantage of blue on blue.
6) At the “blue hour.”
Well, duh. The light evens everything out during the blue hour in the morning and at night.
7) When I’m in canyon country.
This is a great time to head for a slot canyon or stay in the shade to photograph bounce light.
8) When I’m in Yellowstone National Park.
This park—and other geologically active areas—have minerals and pools which show up better when there is blue sky and the sun is high.
9) When I’m shooting black and white.
I’m no Ansel Adams, but he did well on blue sky days and so can you. This is also a good time to pull out the infrared camera.
10) When I’m in a desert or in tropical climates.
If I’m on a tropical island or down in the Baja desert, then blue looks cool. Plus, I wanted to throw in this picture of Sean Bagshaw with his dorky straw hat.
When I started studying photography seriously, I was a slow learner when it came to light. I spent too much time photographing things instead of light—photographing birds, barns, and trees until it got boring. The result was too many average shots of things I no longer wanted in my portfolio. And then came the epiphany–these things looked a lot better, and sold a lot better when they were photographed in good light.
In the image below I am not photographing a mule deer I’m photographing the light, and the mule deer makes for a nice addition as a subject. If I wanted just another mule deer shot, I could have taken 500 subpar images, but instead I anticipated its movement and framed a shot of nice light; then I waited for the deer to walk into those bands of light. That makes for a far better image.
I also have tons of barn images from the Palouse, some in nice light and many in flat light. The barns are just “things.” I no longer want to take images of things to document the area, I want to photograph light. The barn image below works because of beautiful foreground light, the glancing light on the barn; the bands of light in the background and the speckled light in the clouds which tie the scene together for a more interesting image. I’m not photographing a barn anymore, but composing with the light that surrounds it.
A simple image like the tables and chairs below is all about light and what it’s doing. This photo was taken in 10a.m. light (not the best time for stellar rays), but the way in which the shadows were cast to create form and interest in the image was what moved me to pull out my camera. Again, I’m not photographing “things” (the tables and chairs), but light.
I’ve also included a recent image from Patagonia of light on a glacier. I was at this location for hours and studied the glacier and the light on the glacier. There was bounce light, rim lighting, back-lighting, side-lighting, and glacial calving too. I tried different things, but nothing grabbed me until I noticed the fleeting rim light along the glacier as the sun set over a distant ridge. I composed a shot I thought would work compositionally and waited for the light to work its magic. The image below is what I liked. I took another shot about three seconds later, but two-thirds of the light had already disappeared. Six seconds earlier and the light was too bright, but the image below caught the light just right.
Get your mind off of photographing “things;” photography is all about light and how it creates better images. By doing this, you will become a better photographer.
American Dreamscapes – Book Review
By David Cobb
I’ve been friends with Christian Heeb for a number of years. An immigrant from Switzerland, Heeb first got his photographic start in the U.S. photographing the Native American. His wonderment in the American myth of the Wild West led him to a variety of places including the desert southwest, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, and Route 66 among others. During his career—which includes over 200 published books—his assignments have taken him to every corner of the states and also around the world. His newest venture isn’t for a U.S. or German publisher however, but a personal project titled American Dreamscapes.
American Dreamscapes is the American dream not as interpreted by Horatio Alger, but maybe one closer to the vision of film director Quentin Tarantino. Coming of age in Switzerland, Heeb’s photography has certainly been influenced by fellow countryman Robert Frank; but Heeb also has influences in the surreal imagery of Gregory Crewdson, and the more voyeuristic photos of David Drebin. His settings also remind me of the more banal locations of photographer Stephen Shore.
Many photographers of the lost America like Anthony Hernandez, Lewis Baltz, and Robert Adams show the blight of American expansion and decay, and those who have been left behind or forgotten. Heeb photographs the edge of American life in a Hopperesque way: from the wayward hotel to the diner, with guns, girls, cars, and sex being common themes. This is the dark side of “when America was great again,” and this is the America that would give Dorothea Lange nightmares.
These people are not only on the fringe of society, but also on the fringe of daybreak. These are the hours when the neon glows brightly, and the hours when folks are desperate enough to commit a crime as seen in his images “The Hold Up” or “Stolen Car.” His models pose with cold distant looks, disconnected from each other and reality. In the photo “The Fun Center,” they’re having anything but fun. These people inhabit a lurid world, and they’re all trying to hang on to make it through another day.
American Dreamscapes is a limited-edition book which may be purchased in both print and digital versions from the Christian Heeb website. The book is in the dual languages of English and German.
Here is a link to download your digital copy here at his web site.
“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” —Neil Gaiman
Exhibiting any creative work entails some amount of risk. Anyone who has a reason to show their work to others has a reason to care about how well it is received. No creative photographer is ever entirely immune to fretting over that simple question that begs for consideration before the release of a new photograph: “Will they like it?” Even if all that is at stake is a feeling of accomplishment, the risk is real, especially for those photographs that we hold dearest.
The higher levels of risk involve decisions that take us outside our norms, whether they are departures from the conventions of a genre as a whole or simply from those of one’s own oeuvre. A risky decision might entail working in a certain type of light, featuring an obscure location, composing in an unconventional fashion, employing a new post-processing treatment, or any number of other decisions that might place us outside our comfort zones. The further we step out on a limb, the more unnerving it can be, so having a strong will is important for taking those steps. What follows is advice for making risky creative decisions with confidence, some thoughts to keep in mind when you feel as though you may be flying without a net.
Onward and Upward
Risk is essential to creative work. Taking risks is how we make progress, how we manage to put something of our own selves into our photographs, and how we can get that special taste of satisfaction for having done so. It is all too easy to fall into habits that seem to work well and that feel safe, and sometimes those habits can become limiting. Of course, there is a lot to be said for reaching a point of some consistency as an artist. Establishing what we like is crucial to self-expression, so consistency in a portfolio usually indicates a certain level of creative maturity. Nonetheless, if consistency drifts into habitual repetition, it ceases to be self-expression; at that point, it’s just rehashing. When you find yourself at a crossroads wondering if you should play it safe or take a risk on something, just remember that the latter option is likely to be more rewarding in the long run. Even if you deem it a failure at first, your decision may be a first step towards a development that you never could have imagined at the outset.
Move Towards, Not Away
Probably the strongest reason to make any unusual creative decision is because of a compulsion to do it. If we are genuinely drawn to an idea or are at least curious to see the results, then we are responding to an inner urge, following our own instincts. The opposite situation would be to make a decision to do something unusual for the mere sake of novelty, fixating on what we want to avoid instead of on what we find interesting. Creativity is the pursuit of ideas and the application of them, not a simple rejection of what came before. If a risky decision holds distinct appeal, then at least you know that you’re following your own nose when you carry it out, and that is usually reason enough to do it.
Be in it for the Long Haul
When a photograph departs from some kind of norm, a portion of your audience may not ‘get’ it. Accept that familiarity is appealing to most people, and that not everyone who typically enjoys your photographs will cheer you on enthusiastically down whatever trail you may blaze. Even if your experiments do not result in immediate encouragement, there could be momentum building, and if that is the case, then you will only ever realize it if you stay the course. Regardless, doing something unconventional is gutsy, and that point in itself should provide a certain degree of satisfaction and motivation. Knowing that you are being true to yourself is a source of real power that can continue to propel you forward.
Be Honest with Yourself
It is possible to convince ourselves that our accidents are happy ones, especially if we put a lot of effort into a photograph that ultimately missed a mark in some regard. If a photograph has some quality that is unusual simply because misfortune struck, then it should undergo special scrutiny. Sometimes the results of happenstance will be genuinely appealing and will inspire further experimentation along the same lines, but otherwise we need to let go. We should never allow a rescue mentality to convince us that an unsatisfactory photo is a bold act of creativity.
Tomorrow is Another Day
Keeping perspective is important. No matter what you produce today, even if it amounts to the biggest feather in your cap, the next blank canvas awaits you. What ultimately matters most is the process of creation, which for a nature photographer means experiencing the outdoors, having responses to those experiences, and expressing those responses through the medium of photography. Everything that follows is peripheral and should not be allowed to derail the process. As the saying goes, just keep on keeping on—and above all, remember to have fun.
How do you handle risky decisions? Is there anything that you like to keep in mind to make them any easier? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
There are a number of reasons I’m drawn to photographing ghost towns. Perhaps it’s something to do for a change of pace, maybe it’s photographing the history of a bygone era, or possibly it’s my fascination with dystopian literature. But mostly it’s just fun. I’ve photographed ghost towns from Alaska to Mexico. Most of them exist from the boom-and-bust of the mining era, while others are from the days of Manifest Destiny gone awry; leftovers from a time when Americans thought if we moved to arid lands for cultivation then the rain would follow.
The ruins these people left behind are in different states of disrepair. Some are preserved as parks, some are not and are left to crumble, and others are resurrected as artist colonies for an affordable place to work and live. Whatever their state, there is always something to explore and photograph.
I’ve explored and photographed the well-known ghost towns (i.e. Bodie) to the little-known towns (i.e.) Farlin. Hell, I even did a ghost town long-distance walk across the Yukon and Northwest Territories on the 221 mile (355km) Canol Heritage Trail, and followed a World War II oil pipeline through the wilderness. The walk past little-used and abandoned autos, pump-house towns, and work stations was fascinating. Additionally, I walked the 33-mile (53km) Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia that follows a land of artifacts and relics from the Klondike Gold Rush. But you don’t need to walk long distances for most ghost towns; they’re on maps and a good AWD vehicle will get you to most of them. Just remember that the majority of ghost towns are at a higher elevation and not lowland valleys, so you might need to wait until summer for access.
Upon arriving for the first time, I like to get that establishing shot. Maybe it’s an overview of the entire town from a nearby highpoint, or possibly it’s a shot of one of the more prominent buildings in town like the mine itself. If the light is not right, I’ll come back to that establishing image as the light improves, but at least I’ve found what represents the town as a whole. Once I have the establishing shot, I begin to look for the intimate. Ghost towns are known for what’s left behind. It could be a table setting, an old poster still on the wall, or implements hanging from the ceiling, but I look for those things that might tell more of the story of the place I’m photographing.
Ghost towns usually have plenty of texture and plenty of rust that can create interesting patterns of shape and color. I look at the old boards for details of pattern and rusted old cars with peeling paint can offer a myriad of abstract compositions too. If artists are moving into the area, look for the weird. Near a Nevada ghost town I photographed, there was a whole field of cars planted in the ground grill first. The exposed sections of the autos were covered with graffiti art exploring life, politics, and the exotic.
Since this is a ghost town, also look for the creepy. I had one ghost town all to myself in the middle of Montana. I walked into an old abandoned hotel to look around and then heard something upstairs. When I walked upstairs I just saw a long hallway of light and dark, and thought to myself, “I’m not going down there.” But I did try to capture in a photo the way I felt at the time.
Also when you’re visiting a ghost town look for the cemetery; there is always one nearby. Some can be quaint, others historic, and still others a bit spooky. Any way you capture them, the images can be interesting and will also help tell the story of place. Ghost towns are also a great place for night photography, and light painting the old buildings while photographing the stars overhead can make for a fun evening shoot. If you’re photographing at night, use common sense and leave the steel wool at home. Sparks from these efforts can level a whole town, and enough historic relics from California to Florida have already been lost to photographer’s fire.
In 2017 I’ll be returning to Montana to conduct a photographic loop of the western ghost town locales. I hope you can join me. You can click here for more information.
Book Review by David Cobb
“Unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.” Sally Mann
Sally Mann photographed what she loved: her land, her husband, her children, herself; but where does her creativity come from? In her new memoir Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (2015 Little, Brown, and Company) Mann gives us insights into this world by exploring her life, family, friends, death, and sense of place. She never writes directly about her creativity in this memoir, but it exudes from the pages; like the oppressive humidity from one of her summer Virginia landscapes.
In the chapter ‘Hold Still,” Mann goes through the process by which she photographed her children, from the mundane to the disturbing. Her likes, dislikes, successes, and failures are all there to see. The images from this time period brought her celebrity status and with it controversy, and that fame and contention added a creative temperance to her psych. She sums up this thinking with a quote from writer Adam Gopnik, “When we hit pay dirt, we often find quicksand beneath it.”
Mann seems to credit her mother’s side of the family for not only her work ethic, but also her romanticism of the land, her love of place, and the land which she inhabits. If it’s her family and her own life on the land which built a foundation for her landscape images, perhaps it’s photographer Michael Miley and her artist friend Cy Twombly who helped shape and inspire her landscapes. She photographed Cy Twombly’s art studio in her early years and noticed by doing so her work “changed from documentary to evocative.” Mann’s landscapes aren’t the usual fare you might be used to seeing on the internet—they can be dark, moody, and claustrophobic, while also being timeless or by hearkening back to a bygone era.
Maybe her landscape images changed because of her father’s influence. His life-long fascination with death and his own stoic demise appears to influence her last chapter of creative energy. After a death on her land, she wondered how the land had changed for her with that incident and set about capturing it with images. She writes that “It’s not that we southerners are exactly in love with death, but there is no question that, given our history, we’re on a first-name basis with it.” For me, her photography at this time goes to another level. Before my workshop in Florida this year at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden, a professor sent me an email question about “how to capture kami (spirits) of the garden?” I could now point him to the ending chapters of this book as a guideline.
From the death on her own land, she travels to Civil War battlefields such as Antietam to represent the landscape and death that took place there over 150 years earlier. These chapters are well-covered in the documentary What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. The film also mentions the irony of her collodion process in the creation of these prints, and that collodion was also used to hold wounds together for the injured on the Civil War battlefield.
Her work changes from the metaphorical to the literal, as she photographs at the University of Tennessee’s Anthropology Research Facility known as the Body Farm. The program records decomposition and decay of the human corpse. Her work here for the New York Times Magazine added to her closing chapters and furthered her creative exploration of death.
Overall, Sally Mann’s Hold Still is an outstanding book on many levels. Intellectually interesting, whimsical, and humorous; and at times it carries the shock value of a who-done-it novel. Ultimately for me this memoir is about creativity, and it’s a look into the soul of an artist. By taking a page from Sally Mann, I wondered how those around me and the land I hold dear influences me and contribute to my artistic process–and that’s the kind of thinking that can help artistic creativity and growth.
Knowing how to use post-processing software is important for any creative photographer, but it is equally important to know what to do with that knowledge. No matter how proficient we are with our development tools, we still need to decide which direction to take an image for its final presentation. What follows is a guide for getting the most out of your image development by having clear strategies to guide the process. These strategies fall into two basic categories: directing attention and conveying character.
1) DIRECTING ATTENTION: Work with the composition, not against it.
Effective post-processing will emphasize the composition of a photograph by helping it to direct eye movement and to highlight points of visual interest. The first step to determining how to proceed with processing is to have a clear idea of how the eye should travel through the frame and which parts of the image are most important. Where is the main path that the eye should follow? Is there a primary point of interest? Are other points of interest playing a supporting role or are they competing for attention? Is anything drawing the eye out of the frame? With these questions answered, we can concentrate on a few approaches to addressing any concerns that they raise.
• Finesse the Light
The eye follows light, so it will be attracted to the most luminous parts of an image. Increasing or decreasing the luminance of an area selectively can help to bring it ‘forward’ or to push it ‘back’ in the hierarchy of visual interest. Likewise, a gradation of light can be very effective in transitioning the eye between zones.
Some caveats: While digital processing gives us remarkable and very selective control over luminance in an image, there are limits to what we can accomplish in affecting the quality of light in a scene. Very strong, directional light is the most difficult to finesse because its effects tend to be quite emphatic, while soft light is quite malleable, allowing for a high degree of discretion in post-processing. The suggestions above for adjusting luminance can only go so far—if the light in a photograph is working strongly against its composition, then that photo is probably a candidate for reshooting in different conditions.
• Adjust Colors
Colors can attract attention much like luminance does. Warmer colors ‘advance’ and draw the eye more than cool ones, which tend to recede in an image. Nonetheless, cool colors can demand a lot of attention if they are anomalies in an otherwise warm color palette. Selectively adjusting the hue or saturation of a feature can have a great effect on its presence in the frame, allowing you to control how much attention it demands.
• Take Charge of Textures and Forms
Features with greater dimensionality attract more attention, while flatter ones are less noticeable. Sometimes increasing the contrast of a feature will help to make it stand out better. Conversely, making an area “flatter” (that is, less dimensional) can help to take attention away from it. If a scene has an area of busy detail that detracts from the more interesting parts of the photograph, then reducing the contrast there could be beneficial to the overall image.
Forms that are very different from everything around them are also likely to attract attention. For example, a footprint in an area of smooth sand or a jet contrail in the sky may amount to an unfortunate distraction, in which case it may be a good idea to remove those features by cloning them out.
2) CONVEYING CHARACTER: Bring out the essence of the image.
Any compelling photograph has the potential to suggest certain qualities of character or mood over others. A scene may be cheerful, ominous, dreamy, surreal, whimsical, or any number of other possibilities. Identifying the essence of an image in these terms will provide a framework for processing decisions of a more creative nature. Once you have a good idea of the character or mood that you would like to express, there are a few categories of adjustments to consider that can be very useful in creating the final look of an image accordingly.
• Tailor the Overall Tonality
Most photographers agree that camera settings should target an exposure that will provide the most flexibility when it comes time to process the image. Working this way in the field may result in an initial tonality that differs from what will best express the mood that you have envisioned for the final photo, however. A cheerful feeling may require a brighter treatment, while darker tones tend to suggest a more “moody” character. Even the range of tones may need to be narrowed or expanded to hit the right note, as it were. For example, when giving an image an airy, high-key treatment, you may want to restrict the range of tones so that there are no absolute blacks in it.
• Constrain the Color Palette
Colors can do a lot to express a certain character. A palette of earthy tones tends to provide a more mature, relaxing appearance, while more vibrant palettes can suggest high levels of energy or exuberance. Shifting certain hues within an image can get them to adhere better to the dominant color scheme, making the character of a final photograph more pronounced. Harmonious color palettes are not only more expressive but are more settling to the eye, so it is worthwhile to explore the possibilities for getting colors to harmonize and to set the right mood for the scene.
• Emphasize Ambience
Some processing treatments do more to establish a sense of ambience than anything else. Deliberately softening an image or making it more hazy can cause it to appear more dreamy, whereas increasing sharpness and clarity can lend a more gritty tone to the whole. Making light sources appear to glow by diffusing them versus hardening their edges can have a great effect on the tenor of a scene. Such treatments can be very subtle and yet still go a long way towards emphasizing the qualities of an image that make it particularly expressive.
Considering how we might direct attention and what character we want to convey will give clear direction to our development process. Although there are endless options for editing images these days, they are all best employed in the service of a goal. Sometimes a round of experimentation is necessary to help define those goals, but once the direction is clear, all else will follow with more effective results. Do you ever struggle with the direction to take a photograph during its development? What strategies do you find most helpful in pointing the way forward?
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
The spring wildflowers have started to pop in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon, so I thought I’d take the time to explore a technique I often use for photographing spring wildflowers called “shoot-through” or “cramming.” I had used this technique for a number of years before I learned macro photographer Michael Brown coined the phrase “cram-it.” It’s fun, and it takes a bit of practice, so if you’re willing to give it a try here’s how to do it.
I often use a telephoto for this procedure, and employ this method when I want to eliminate distracting elements or when I want a wash of color throughout my image. I use a fairly wide-open aperture setting and find f2.8–f5.6 works best. I place my lens against a number of blossoms while selective focusing on a background flower. The front images are blurred and help obscure a number of distractions like twigs or branches. They also create a more ‘painterly’ feel to the photograph.
I loved the color of these tulips on top of a rock, but couldn’t photograph them without including distracting parts of a nearby house. My solution was to lay my lens right in front of a bundle of red and orange flowers and then “shoot through” them. This added a nice wash of color across the stems, and also eliminated the distracting staircase and window of the house.
In a recent photo of water lilies taken on the Big Island of Hawaii, I was going for more of a Monet feel for the image. For this shot I used my Canon 70-200 telephoto lens, my Kenko Pro 1.4x teleconverter, and my Canon 500D close-up filter. I placed my lens right in front of a clump of grass and “shot through” it. The shallow depth-of-field gave me the softness I liked, but “cramming” with the grass lends an even softer look and captured the Monet feel I was after.
I’ve posted a couple of other examples of this technique below. You can find this tip and 99 others contained in my e-book 100 Tips to Improve Your Flower and Garden Photography.