50mm lens, automatic focus, automatic settings, taken from a standing position.

Of the arguments thrown around in the great internet copyright wars, the one I find most frustrating is the claim that nature photographs shouldn't be copyrighted on account of involving little creative input. The logic is that photography captures real scenes, real scenes are like facts, and facts aren't copyrightable. The photographer, in this view, is just a recording device.

Yet that argument undersells photographers' creative options. Sure, we can all thoughtlessly point a camera at something and fire away in full auto mode. In fact, the top photo in this post is just that. With the camera in auto-focus and auto-exposure, the camera made the exposure decisions, and all I had to do was aim. But just because one image of a subject is slap-dash doesn't mean all photographs are.

Taking the lede photo as a default, we have a fine control for a small creativity experiment. Below, I explore 15 variations on the same flower. How much creativity is involved in a simple photo of a common flower? Judge for yourself.

With the aperture left open (f/2.8) on a 200mm telephoto lens, the background blurs away.

Closing the aperture to f/25 extends the depth of field and brings background details into the composition.

Using additional sources of light increases our creative toolkit. Here, a diffuse overhead strobe highlights our flower.

Placing the strobe behind the flower creates dramatic backlighting.

White paper placed in the background and illuminated with a second strobe creates a simple, stylized effect.

Rotating the camera for a portrait composition.

Photographers not only choose where to place the camera, they chose when to take an exposure. The right timing places a bee in the scene.

Turning up the background strobes against the paper and turning off the overhead strobes makes a silhouette.

Returning to ambient lighting with the 50mm lens from a lower angle.

An even lower angle yields an ant's eye view.

The previous photo lost the sky from overexposure, but adding strong flash to the subject balances foreground and background light, bringing the sky back in.

A bird's eye view, for contrast.

A 200mm telephoto lens several feet away makes a mural of the prairie. Our flower is near the lower middle left.

An oblique wide-angle view, with subtle off-camera fill flash to bring up levels on the center flowers.

Wider still! A fisheye lens set close to the flower combines the best of both close-in and landscape photography.

(view larger images in gallery)