Having Fun Lighting Flowers With Off Camera Flash

Spring Crocus    Crokus5

The snow has finally, and at last, left the north side of our house. It’s barely been gone about two weeks, however, that means two weeks of new growth in my wife’s garden.

I had been making notes in preparation for a workshop on using flash outdoors that I will be leading the first two Sundays in May, when my wife mentioned the crocuses were coming up everywhere, and I thought I would take a look to see if there were any left after a weekend visit from our two granddaughters who like to pick flowers, and I thought it might be nice to walk around her garden.

As it turned out the girls hadn’t got them all, and, anyway, there were many more coming up thru the ground every day. Discovering there were lots remaining I decided I should select a couple plants to photograph before the bloom was over.

Keeping in mind that I have been thinking about the upcoming outdoor lighting class I thought why not photograph the flowers just as I would do a portrait of a person.

I got out my 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 Nikon wireless flashes on light stands, and put a 40-inch umbrella on one that I placed shoulder height to my right, and a 30-inch on the other positioned low to the ground and to the left.

Needing to shoot low, I used my favorite garden tripod, the uniquely flexible Benbo. The Benbo tripod allows each leg to be independently positioned, and instead of a vertical center column configuration most tripods have, the Benbo has a column that fits off center and when the legs, that 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 my subject crocuses, and 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 as 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 the lighting that would flatter the 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. There isn’t really a choice when I have a chance to use a flash because I use a flash always. For me it 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.

I always appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

 

TTL Flash Photography in my Wife’s Garden

Tulip 1 Blue Muscari Arbis Sempervivum Pennesetum grass - fountain grass

This is beginning to be a busy spring. I expect that isn’t news to those in my area that have spent all day doing yard work the past few days. But for many photographers thoughts kept wandering to, “That could make a good picture.”

I really wanted to do some photography in my wife’s garden. The nights are still cold, but the days have been almost hot, and with that heat the first of her flowers are beginning to bloom. My goal is always to photograph what happens in the garden with the changing seasons.

There is always something in the garden no matter the weather, be it snow, rain, or like today, high clouds. The slight overcast day was perfect for my subjects. Bright sunny days increase the contrast of scenes, making it hard to capture details in the extremes and I wanted to retain what details I could. The diffused daylight reduced the number of f/stops from black to white.

My setup is a 200mm macro lens and depending on my mood and the light, either a ring-flash, a reflector, or as I used this afternoon, a wireless, off-camera flash.  Outdoor portraits, whether of people or flowers, in my opinion, aren’t that interesting when one only relies on illumination from the sun. Flash, on or off-camera, or even a reflector, adds dimension and depth that makes for a much better image.

I mounted my flash on a small 2-foot stand and carried a tiny six-inch tripod if I needed the light to be lower to the ground, and I this time I didn’t use a tripod because the few flowers were close to the ground and I prefer shooting very low level. That means almost every shot is made while lying on the ground.

By the time I could get out to the garden the sun was low and, sometimes, a heavy overcast. Perfect light. All I had to do was put the flash to one side and adjust my shutterspeed to decrease the bright ambient light.  Today’s TTL (through the lens) flash is amazing.  Previous generations recall when the flash/camera sync speed was limiting and we could only use a flash at 1/60th of a second! How did one survive?  Today I moved my shutter between 200th of a second and 8000th of a second. That gave me lots of control over the ambient light and easily allowed me to move my aperture to increase or decrease depth of field. My advice is check your camera’s manual, read about, and set the camera to hi-speed flash sync, if available.

I’ll include a brief explanation of TTL flash. When the shutter is tripped, the light from the flash fires off and hits the subject. Then that light from the flash bounces back to the camera, and a sensor reads it as it builds up exposure. The in-camera computer determines when the light has massed enough light for the correct exposure and turns off the flash.

The photographer controls the flash rather than the flash controlling our photography. With TTL technology the camera’s computer provides the correct exposure regardless of the aperture, or flash-to-subject distance.  TTL technology puts the control of depth-of-field back into the hands of the photographer.

Most of the time I kept my flash on TTL, increasing or decreasing the power depending on how far I positioned the flash from a flower, and only selected manual flash as I began loosing the light.

Books on garden photography recommend morning when everything is fresh, but I didn’t get a chance till late in the afternoon, as I was occupied building a temporary yard for six new chicks. We had an early morning marauder a few months ago, probably a bobcat, reducing my laying hens to two. I now have reinforced the chicken yard and think everybody’s safe now. I’ll give the garden another couple week’s growth and try for that fresh morning (and hopefully some overcast) light.

I’ll repeat what I wrote about garden photography last February, “Just about anytime is good for a dedicated photographer to make photographs. My advice is to be creative, have fun, and don’t worry about failures. Open them up on the computer, learn something from them, then quickly delete.  Of course, some tweaking with PhotoShop always helps and, for those photographers that are like me trying for something different, anytime and any conditions will be just fine.”

I always appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

The Autumn Garden for Photographers

       

For the past week I have been looking at my wife’s garden as I walk the path from our front door to the car on my way out.  Her garden plants are dry; actually, crackling dry might be a better way to describe the plant life here in British Columbia’s interior after another summer season with very little precipitation.  She explains that she has a “dry garden,” and that she doesn’t water the garden, only for new plants when necessary.  Plants are selected that have the best chance of survival given the conditions. Parts of the garden are crispy dry, or have gone dormant, and offer a unique opportunity for photography before fall rains soften the landscape.

The nights are now getting cooler and the days aren’t as blistering hot as they have been for the past month and the plants that still have leaves that haven’t shriveled and fallen to the ground are beginning to change colour.

Most of the books that discuss garden photography recommend photographing plants in the morning when everything is fresh. Of course, spring is the most popular season for flower photography; and, I doubt those presenting their photographs to garden or photography clubs include photographs of lifeless plants. However, for this dedicated photographer, the combination of very dry, withered leaves and those with just enough life left to change colour are intriguing. As I have in the past I’ll admit that, unlike my wife, I can name few of the many of the flowers growing in our garden. To me, I look for colour and shape and how they fit in the environment.

My regular readers are already aware that I venture into our garden on rainy days and when it’s snowing. I enjoy photographing our garden in any season, and its dry condition is an invitation not a deterrent. So, this morning when I got up to a bright, clear, 9 degree autumn day, I thought I shouldn’t wait any longer and walked around our garden slowly looking for the flowers I would photograph later when the sun began to drop in the sky.

I waited for what I’ll call the “quiet light” at days end. I like that light that lasts for a very short time before dark when there is still light enough to see details, but not bright enough create highlights. As much as I like to use it, I can’t claim the term “quiet light”. That goes to photographer John Sexton and is described in his wonderful book of black and white photographs titled, “Quiet Light”. A protégé of Ansel Adams, Sexton and his collection of black and white photographs that he calls “an exploration of the natural environment” is inspiring; and it’s him, and photographers like him, that make me want to search out the unusual in the natural environment that would normally be ignored.

I wandered around with my tripod, a stand-mounted wireless flash pushed into a 30-inch diffuser, and a 200mm macro lens on my camera, and worked at picking out interesting shapes to photograph. The subdued light was perfect. I could place the camera on the tripod, focus on some intriguing-shaped plant, then direct the diffused flash from different positions to open up the flat-light conditions.

It’s easy to move the flash closer or further away to change the way the light effects a subject, or release the shutter several times while opening or closing the aperture.  The outcome would be different versions. Some would have shadows depending on the position of the light while others would or wouldn’t have a dark background depending on the exposure.

I didn’t spend a long time because the light didn’t last long, but I released my shutter at least a hundred times photographing different plants, trying to be as creative as possible and get the exposure and the angle just right. I had a good time and expect I’ll be at it again before everything changes again.

I appreciate all your comments, Thanks

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com