Flowers as Portraits   

Easter is about a month away and I expect a few readers will be getting flowers from someone or giving flowers to someone. Those flowers will be a great photo-opp.

A portrait photographer’s studio set-up usually includes a backdrop and lighting equipment. The lighting, from small, or large flash units, is controlled by an array of modifiers that can include reflectors, umbrellas and softboxes. And the backdrop is chosen not so much because it is a flat surface but because it is a background to flatter the subject seated in the foreground.

The lighting illuminates the subject and separates it from that background as well as creates depth and dimensional form.

When producing an outdoor portrait most experienced photographers will begin by placing their subject in front of a neutral background or sometimes erect a backdrop and use either flash, or reflectors, to control the light on their subject and create depth and interest.

However, if I asked those same photographers to make me a good picture of a plant they would likely just kneel down next to some pretty flower and snap the picture with little thought to background or lighting.

After years of doing just that to lazily document some plant that caught my eye, I decided that I wanted more from my images. I realized that it was the shapes and plant forms that drew me to gardens.

During my quest to make my plant and garden photos more than flat, lifeless documents, I discovered the flower photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. His portraits of flowers are always posed and include the kind of dynamic lighting one would expect in photographs of beautiful people. His spectacular and thoughtful compositions of flowers, like orchids and calla lilies, convey moods that to me reveal more with each viewing.

When I photograph people I try to be both creative and flattering with my lighting, remembering that a good portrait should have lasting power. I want future generations to see a portrait of their parent or grandparent and still like it. If one gets too edgy, or trendy, the portrait will not stand the test of time and be discarded when trends change.

I have come to think the same way about photographs of plants. Flowers, of course, are so much easier to photograph than people, especially potted plants. Select a good location, turn the pot until the pose looks good and add light. Plants don’t get tired, nervous or jittery. Maybe that’s why I like photographing flowers, they (almost) always cooperate.

Photographing a plant in the garden or in a pot should be more than quickly pointing a camera at that flower in a garden or a windowsill and releasing the shutter.

Put that boring iPhone away, and take the time to make it more than just a repetitive, unimaginative record. Don’t be in a rush; take time to develop a plan, don’t take the lighting for granted, work with it, and above all, be creative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography in the October Garden       

 

Echinops 2

grass 3

Yellow leaf 4

Oregon grape 5

Pink leaf 6

Salvia 1

I have written before that I find wandering around our home garden with my camera relaxing. Unlike photographing people, animals, scenics, sports, or almost any other subject, garden plants are just waiting to be looked at, and it’s not necessary to pack the car with equipment to search for some secluded or exotic location. Most of us can find an easily accessible and welcoming garden close by.

I know that spring’s brightly coloured plants, or the mature flowers bathed in light on a damp morning in early summer are what most photographers are interested in. I admit that I am not very savvy when it comes to the names of flowers. Plants are more my wife’s interest than mine. Her time is spent designing, planting, and coaxing her sprawling garden. Sure, I do much of the heavy lifting, but my time in her garden is mostly with a camera and unlike those photographers that I mentioned that do most of their gardens’ photography in the spring and early summer, I don’t really care about the season, weather, or the condition of the flowers for that matter.

My intention is to find something unexpected in the familiar plants. When I’ve chosen my subject, I look at it from all angles paying attention to the background so that whatever is behind won’t interfere, and I want the shadows, colours, and other plants to add interest to my composition.

I think some people get all tied up with a need to have inspiring subjects, and ignore the commonplace subjects just outside the door. I just walk out in my yard and make pictures of anything and everything. I guess the difference is between making and taking pictures.

My sojourn into the October garden was a bit about the colour and a whole lot about the shapes. I waited for late afternoon and lucked out when the sky clouded over just a bit. I like what photographer, John Sexton calls, “quiet light”, that as he says, “fades toward the darkness of evening.”

The light at day’s end allows me to underexpose the background and to add a “pop” of light on a specific subject from an off-camera flash.

I don’t really have a plan or a specific subject that I want to work on. I just wander and look. Figuring out the exposure and balancing the fading light with my flash only takes a moment as I choose an interesting plant and search for a creative angle.

It is that quiet and calming time on an October afternoon that welcomes me to the garden, and to quote Sexton again, “I feel quiet, yet intense energy in the natural elements of our habitat. A sense of magic prevails. A sense of mystery – It is a time for contemplation, for listening – a time for making photographs.”

Photography Excursion in the Garden – After the Rain

Red Mahonia/ Oregon grape  Rose bloom

Crab apple tree after the rain

Crab apple tree after the rain – Infrared.

Oregon grape on a rainy day

Oregon grape on a rainy day

Close up of an Iris on a rainy day

Close up of an Iris on a rainy day

Mahonia in black and white

I have heard complaints recently from photographers that they haven’t been able to get away from the wet weather this month and have only been offered a few rain free days to plan photography events.

The last three days has seen rain, sun, and shortly thereafter, rain again; nevertheless that needn’t be a reason to be depressed about the weather. Of course, the rain meant delaying a trip to the mountain waterfalls; and landscape photography might not be as dramatic unless one is willing to wait for the clouds to part. But, in my opinion, one doesn’t need to stray far from the back door to pursue that insatiable need to make pictures.

I have heard of groups having photographic challenges and I suggest that because of the rain that they have a challenge in their own back yard.  My goal this week was to get out during the rain to make pictures of the wet plants in my wife’s garden. I had planned to attach two small umbrellas to light stands, one for a flash and one for my camera and me. However, when the rain came down the last three days it really came down hard. So even though I don’t mind getting wet, there was no way I could be successful in the kind of deluge I faced each day.

The rain would come fast and hard, then abruptly stop. Next would come a strong breeze and bright hot sun that quickly dried the leaves. All perfect if one wanted to go for a walk, but I wanted wet leaves and water drops that I could add sparkle to by using a flash.

After waiting three days I put my umbrellas, light stands and flash away, slipped on rubber boots, and dashed out into the still wet garden as soon as the rain began to ease up.

As had been the pattern for the past few days, the sun came out quickly, hot and bright, and, as usual, the breeze began. Fortunately, the bright sun allowed shutterspeeds of 1/600th of a second and above, and, in most cases, made up for the plants moving with the light wind.

I used two cameras; one converted to infrared with a 70-180mm macro lens and the other shooting normal with a manual focus 200mm macro.  Some plants looked as though they might be perfect for infrared while others were so colourful that I knew I wanted the image to end up as close as possible to natural, although some would be converted to black and white. As I mentioned I wanted something unexpected and that also meant I photographed some plants taking into consideration that I might do some altering in post-production.

Wandering around the home garden is relaxing. My intention is to find something unexpected in the familiar plants. When I’ve chosen my subject, I look at it from all angles paying attention to the background so that whatever is behind won’t interfere, and I want the shadows, colours, and other plants to add interest to my composition.

I know many photographers may be content with aiming their programmed, little point and shoot cameras straight forward at some particular flower or foliage, and that is acceptable if all one wants is a life-like representation for a club’s plant catalogue, however, I find much more interesting photographs are from photographers with their DSLRs who are more intent in creating artistic representations of the flowers and other plants.

I think photographers get themselves all tied up with a need to have inspiring subjects, and ignore the commonplace subjects just outside the door.  When I want to try out some new piece of equipment, or software, I don’t wait for an excursion; I just walk out in my yard and make pictures of anything and everything. I can easily return to the computer to test some recent exposure, then go out again; and on days like I just wrote about it is easy to change out of wet cloths immediately at home, instead of driving home uncomfortably for several miles.

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

Photography in the Garden on a Rainy Day

     

Two weekends in a row have seen me climbing up steep, loose, shale-covered cliffs to photograph eagles where they live high above a long, green, lake-filled, British Columbia valley.  However, this last week the weather has been cool, pretty wet, and certainly not good conditions for climbing or wildlife photography.  Oh, well, I had intended to stay away from those eagles until the chick was ready to fly later in the summer anyway, and I expect the interior of this province was getting a bit dry so the rain is welcome.

As I drank my morning coffee to a forecast of another day of rain I forgot about those birds and instead decided to go out into my wife’s garden to do some photography of her very wet plants. Hmm… I seem to make a lot of decisions over that first cup of coffee.  Just after a good rain is a favorite time to do garden photography and the dripping, spring morning was perfect.  When I mentioned I was going out, my wife, Linda, grabbed her camera and rubber boots and joined me.

Linda placed a ring flash on front of her 70-180mm macro lens and I used a 200mm macro and included a stand-mounted, off-camera flash. Adding light on the overcast day gave our images contrast and “pop” in the otherwise flat and limited lighting conditions of the rainy day. We both used monopods to steady our cameras as we moved around in the wet landscape.

When photographing plants I meter much the same as I would if I were doing an out of doors portraiture of a person. Selecting the camera’s manual exposure mode, I meter for the proper ambient, or existing, light exposure of my subject, and stop down to reduce the overall exposure. Then I add light. If the flash is set to TTL, then I use its exposure compensation feature to increase or decrease the power. If the flash is set to manual I move the flash closer or further away from the subject (in this case, the flower) until I get the illumination I want.

We enjoyed our photography in spite of the steady drizzle and I’ll mention that it is a good idea to keep wiping the slowly accumulating water off one’s flash. I don’t worry about my camera because it’s weather sealed, but the electrically charged flash is another matter. I know many photographers would opt for the dry comfort of home on a day like this, but sometimes we need to make our own photographic opportunities and even though this isn’t as exciting as hanging off a high ledge photographing eagles, I personally can’t think of any kind of photography I find more enjoyably relaxing than ambling through a garden capturing interesting light on interesting shapes, and the addition of rain drops on leaves and flower petals makes everything all the more creative.

We don’t have to go far to find something interesting to photograph. For my wife and me that location is just outside our front door and on that rainy day we would walk back to the cover of the porch to view and discuss the images on our camera’s LCD, and then we would step back into the garden and continue. There were no camera bags to be packed, trip planning, or driving of a car to a distant destination.

I am sure that is why I got interested in garden photography in the first place. It isn’t so much that I am fascinated with flowers, however, as a photographer, I am interested in colours, shapes, shadows and how easy it is to access all that. When I first started venturing into my wife’s garden, I would do it as a way to relax after a day of work.  Now it’s just fun photography that I recommend to any photographer wanting to be active with their camera.

Be sure to click the “follow” button.

Or, at least, select the “like” button.

See my personal website at www.enmanscamera.com