I intended to spend some time this week photographing the spring garden.
Last week I was sure that the days and nights would warm and I would have lots of colour to point my camera at. However, as with all the other surprising changes this year has brought the weather turned cold and although there is a lot of green in my yard there isn’t much else. With that I thought I’d repost this article I wrote in April 2014.
“The snow has finally, and at last, left the north side of our house. It’s barely been gone two weeks; nevertheless, that means two weeks of new growth in my wife’s garden.
My wife mentioned the crocuses were coming up everywhere I thought I’d check to see if there were any left after a weekend visit with our two granddaughters who like to pick flowers. As it turned out the girls hadn’t got them all and there were many more coming up everywhere. So I decided I should select a couple plants to photograph before the bloom was over.
I had been making notes in preparation for a workshop on using flash outdoors that I planned on leading the May.
I thought why not photograph the flowers just as I would do a portrait of a person. I got out a small 2’x2’ backdrop and placed it behind some of the flowers. That small backdrop, especially constructed for flowers and other small items, is made of black velvet material attached to sharpened dowels that easily poke into the ground.
I mounted two wireless flashes on light stands, and put a 40-inch umbrella on one placed shoulder height to my right and a 30-inch on the other positioned low to the ground on the left.
Needing to shoot low, I used my favourite garden tripod, the uniquely flexible Benbo. The Benbo tripod allows each leg to be independently positioned, and instead of a vertical center column configuration that most tripods have, the Benbo has a column that fits off center and when the legs, which go in almost any direction, are splayed out flat, the camera can be positioned just off the ground.
I mounted my 200mm macro lens on my camera. That focal length let me situate the camera several feet away from the crocuses so I wouldn’t have to put an end to the new growth coming up everywhere in my wife’s garden while still letting me have a close focus.
The exposure was made exactly the same way I would have made it if photographing a person in an outdoor studio. Slightly underexpose the ambient light, reposition the flashes for the best light direction, and continue to make tests until I got lighting that would flatter my subject.
Lighting a subject with off-camera flash is fun, and putting up a backdrop ensures that it is even more so. It doesn’t matter who or what the subject is because I like to use a flash.
For me portraiture is all about adding light. It was also really nice to spend some time outdoors in the garden and see it coming to life in the spring.
Thank you John. Lovely. I also love photographing flowers. I like your idea of the velvet background on pointed stakes. I bought some heavy duty for camping but I’m going to try out your idea!. I think I’ve a tripod that might work since I don’t have a Bembo. In memory of you dear wife… Lovely flowers. Shine…
Thank you Lise-Anne, I’ll look forward to hearing how you do.