Daybreak was foggy within a white, crystallized wonderland of hoarfrost-decorated trees and vegetation. That scene is what I have been waking up to every day this past week. The damp cold has been bothersome, but what photographer could pass up such a creative opportunity to wander through frosty woods and fields trying out different lenses and locations. I like the search and the discovery.
This morning I talked my wife, Linda, into venturing out into the cold to photograph the hoarfrost in her garden. For that we each mounted macro lenses on our cameras and I included a flash mounted on a light stand for both of us. There was a time when we would have been burdened with wires running from the flash to camera, but those days have passed now that wireless flash technology has become the standard.
The morning was overcast and foggy, so the addition of flash was a must in the dim light. I have a ring flash that I like to use when I photograph plants, but the white crystalline hoarfrost would have been easily over exposed with the direct light from a flash mounted around my lens and I wanted to preserve as much of the delicate details as possible. All we had to do was position our flashes for the best light angle.
Our cameras allowed us to sync the shutterspeed above 1/250th of a second. Many modern cameras have a feature in their menus called “Hi-Sync” or something close to it and I recommend readers check their manuals on how to select and use a high flash synchronizing speed so they won’t be limited to 1/250th of a second shutterspeed.
Handholding at 1/500th of a second (or greater) reduces camera shake and with the addition of flash it is easy to stop any plant movement. Whenever I use a flash outside I like to reduce the ambient light by a stop or two so that if I didn’t use a flash the scene and subject would have been under exposed, consequently, I add the flash to illuminate the main subject, and those elements that the flash doesn’t affect are under exposed, and that flash is off camera sending light from the side or the rear, not limiting us to the on camera flash directly in front of the subject, or forcing us to position ourselves dependent on the sun.
We had a lazy morning and got out late, so although we both prefer to use tripods for close-up photography, we needed to working fast as the temperature rose. We could hear and see the crystals falling with the morning breeze. I suppose if we had a warm outside couch and been bundled up, just sitting on the porch would have been nice. Nevertheless, we got right into photographing our frosty subjects only stopping when we had to reposition our flash.
I approach and light a plant the same way I would a person. I begin by checking the exposure with my camera meter. I always use manual mode so in today’s foggy low light and because I was using hi-sync I could keep my shutterspeed at 1/650th and sometimes higher. Next I chose the best angle of view for my subject, and as always pay attention to what’s in the background. Lastly, I move the light around making exposures until I am satisfied with the highlights and shadows on my subject just as I would if I were doing portraiture of an individual.
I like foggy, frosty mornings and the last few days have been a great time to wander around with my camera. Soon everything is going to change. The frosty vegetation will be replaced with green buds and the cold, foggy, overcast days will be filled with sunny days and blue sky. Yes, I am looking forward to that, but for now winter is a creative challenge and I wouldn’t change it.
And thanks to 96arley (www.shootabout.com) for the nomination.