When Do I Like Photographing Flowers?

Iris sculpture

Columbine bloom

 

Columbine

 

Foxglove

 

Poppy bud

 

Dandelions seeds & Oregon grape

When I am bored, stressed, or just want to get away from crap that sometimes happens, I grab my tripod, camera, and flash, and head out to my wife’s garden.

I admit that I am not really a flower kind of person and plant names are more my wife’s interest than mine, although, I do try to document her sprawling garden as creatively as I can throughout the seasons.

Somehow pointing a camera at some colourful plant is calming, and wandering through a garden of differing shapes and tones offering photographic opportunities gives me a different experience than any other subject.

Unlike photographing people, animals, scenics, sports or almost any other subject, garden plants just wait to be looked at. One doesn’t have to cajole, creep, or climb, and it’s not necessary to get in a vehicle to search for some secluded or exotic location. Most of us can find a welcoming garden close by that is, in most cases, easily accessible.

The result of 30 years of my wife’s effort has put me in a fortunate position of having about a half-acre of garden right out our front door. However, even if I lived in a city and only had four or five potted plants, I still would have a place in which to get lost.

The past month has been busy keeping me constantly on the go. So when my wife and I went to the car to drive to a mid morning appointment, the doggone thing just stopped working, and I was confronted with another stressful problem. To make a long story short, I was (I’ll use nice words here) very irritated as I watched it disappear down our rural road, chained to the bed of a tow truck.

I stormed around for a while. Then as the bright afternoon sun began dipping into the mountains and the light started to fade I looked around. I had walked back into our yard and was standing hidden from the road in my wife’s garden. Everything was bathed in what photographer John Sexton called “quiet light”.

“It is light that reveals, light that obscures, light that communicates. It is light [that] I listen to. The light late in the day has a distinct quality, as it fades toward the darkness of evening. After sunset there is a gentle leaving of the light, the air begins to still, and a quiet descends. I see magic in the quiet light of dusk…”

As I wrote in the beginning, I was “stressed and just wanted to get away from the crap that happens” So I returned to the house, I grabbed my tripod, camera, and flash, and started looking at the plant shapes waiting in the garden.

Sexton had continued by saying, “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.”

I immediately began to calm down. I wonder if it was the act of setting up a tripod and attaching the camera. Maybe it was figuring out the exposure and balancing the fading light with my flash. It might have been choosing an interesting plant and searching for a creative angle. Or it just might have been all of those together that stole my attention and allowed me to redirect my energies.

Another of my favorite photographers, Robert Mapplethorpe wrote, “With photography, you zero in; you put a lot of energy into short moments, and then you go on to the next thing.” I guess so.

I expect capturing an expression on someone’s face, photographing an exotic scenic or some sporting event, will get more raves from friends than a picture of some delicate flower. But none of those help to relax me and sometimes even trouble me more. So, next time I am, as I was this week, confronted with problems or just feeling pressure. You’ll know where to find me. And maybe it’ll work for some readers, whether it’s in their garden, a public park, or even on the side of the road; there are plenty of photos for the taking.

I enjoy all comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

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

 

 

Photographing a late winter garden.

Oregon Grape birch  golden leaves  dry&frozensedum

Last September I wrote about how I like photographing my wife’s garden in every season and I didn’t really care about the weather conditions. I mention here that the more uninviting the elements better I like the photography.

The day here in the interior of British Columbia wasn’t really cold, it was only about -3 Celsius. With a slightly overcast sky I knew it would be perfect for photographing things poking out of the snow. I mounted my 200mm macro on my camera and connected a ring flash on that and stepped out into the snow-covered garden.

We had lots of snow this winter and if one digs down the soil is damp and unfrozen. The images I made last September were of dried out faded plants with a golden hue. But as I wandered around this time I found more than one green plant sticking out of the slowly melting snow. The deep, powdery snow that I had been photographing in all winter had turned crusty and no longer clung to the trees. There had been enough of a melt that I even could see some of the garden hose I forgot to put away last fall.

I mentioned that the overcast day was perfect for my subjects. Bright sunny days increase the contrast of scenes, especially snow covered ones, 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.

I used a ring flash. That is a flash that mounts around the front of a lens and can emit a soft direct light towards small subjects. When I add flash to a daylight scene I usually underexpose the ambient light and create fill light with the flash. My ring flash doesn’t have the TTL technology with which modern flash users are familiar.  I must first determine the exposure, remembering that the shutter controls ambient light and flash intensity is controlled by the aperture. The flash is constant power, but can be full, quarter or sixteenth power output.

I began by photographing tall plants, but the small features poking out of or just above the snow seemed more interesting and instead of looking eye level I wandered searching the snow covered ground at my feet. I wandered around with my tripod searching the snow-covered garden for intriguing shapes.

I again ignored what books on garden photography recommend. I shot late in the day, not in the fresh morning light. Of course, spring is the most popular season for flower photography, but that is still months away, and, as I have written before, I doubt presenting winter photographs of shriveled lifeless plants to garden or photography clubs would be acceptable. However, my photographs are more about colour and shape than of a garden environment

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 like me are trying for something different, anytime, and any conditions will be just fine.

I 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.

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