Nature Photography, LLC
Following up on last month’s article on how to photograph butterflies, this month we focus on another of spring’s glorious welcoming signs: flowers. We’re not talking about staged shots of flowers in vases or other controlled environments, gorgeous though such images may be. Instead, this month is all about capturing the beauty of the explosion of colors that come with the warming of the earth and the air, without pulling a single stem from the ground. Get ready to get low!
The first thing to concentrate on is composition. Very few images shot from above, framed dead center, and with busy backgrounds show off a flower to the height of its beauty and interest. Look for unusual angles and vantage points, ways of looking at the flower that are not part of our normal, everyday experience. Try framing the flower off-center to add visual interest. Don’t feel like you need to include the entire flower in the image; experiment with cropping out parts or entire petals, or even most of the actual flower in order to focus on a small portion. Pay attention to the background. Is there something lurking back there that will detract from the image? If you can’t move it out of the way, move yourself to a new angle.
Flower photography is often about getting tightly cropped images of a single or only a few flowers, frequently with a very shallow depth of field. The shallower the depth of field, the more critical it is to have your focus spot on. Pay careful attention to precisely what is in the focal plane: very slight adjustments can make a huge difference. If you are including an insect on the flower, the same rules apply as to other critter photography: unless the major focus is something like the colorful wings of a butterfly, ensure that the insect’s eyes are in sharp focus.
Wind and breezes can be a problem when trying to capture striking images of flowers not in a controlled studio environment. Sometimes the motion of the flowers can be incorporated into the image to give a sense of motion or to lend an abstact feel. At other times, even slight movement will drive you batty while you try to capture a sharp image. There are three major options to deal with wind if you want to leave the flower in place. The first is, of course, to shoot only on still days. Because that may be an overly restrictive constraint in some locations, having other tricks up your sleeve is always a good idea. Building some sort of wind break is often very effective. This can be as simple as draping a jacket over some brush next to the flower. (Be careful that whatever you use to deflect the wind does not adversely affect the light falling on your subject.) Use your imagination. Cardboard, gray cards, even your camera’s owner’s manual may serve as great wind breaks. The third option is to actually hold the flower still. Keep in mind that humans have a tendency to shake ever-so-slightly, so hand-holding the flower stem is not likely to give you the most rock-solid steadiness. Depending on your shutter speed, this may not be an issue. There are also various contraptions that are made to hold flower stems still for you, removing the unsteadiness of the human hand. Basically, they are small clips attached to either end of a thick, stiff coil of wire. One clip attaches to something that doesn’t move, such as your tripod, and the other is clipped onto the flower’s stem. I have never personally used one these clips, but I have heard good things about them. I imagine that a homemade version would not be difficult to construct, and would be just as effective. Be careful that the clip does not crush the stem, which will kill the flower. And of course, make sure that your composition does not show the clip or the wire coil.
Lighting is another important consideration when photographing flowers. Backlighting can be gorgeous on flowers, and sidelighting can bring out a stunning dimension to the petals. When getting in close, take care to not get in your own light; it is easy to cast a shadow over your subject. If fill light is needed and you decide to use a flash, try diffusing or bouncing the light rather than using it straight on. This will give you a more natural result, without the harsh effects of direct flash. You can also use a reflector to direct more light onto your subject. Reflectors can be anything from fancy, purpose-made professional rounds to a sheet of paper –- anything that will reflect light. They don’t have to be white, either. Given the enormous range of hues that Mother Nature dyes her flowers, colored reflectors will often provide a much more intriguing feel to the image. Got a red jacket? Try it. A baby blue T-shirt? It might be just the color needed to give that extra zip to your image.
No matter how you photograph flowers, don’t forget to enjoy the process. Flowers are little bursts of petaled fireworks, whose immense variety of colors is rivaled only by their fineness and delicacy. It would be a shame to capture the image without truly appreciating the physical thing.
Come See Us In Spokane
We’re back to Spokane this month for Artfest Spokane 2013. Come see us and swap a few stories about great places and fun critters. There will be lots to see and do in this outdoor art and music festival about a mile west of Spokane’s city center. Come to Coeur d’Alene Park (don’t let the name fool you – it’s in Spokane), in Browne’s Addition. We’ll be there all weekend, May 31 through June 2. We hope to see you there!
Friday, May 31: 1pm – 8pm
Saturday, June 1: 10am – 8pm
Sunday, June 2: 10am – 5pm
Get 10% off of unframed, 8x10 prints of “Ahoy, Blue Bill!” and / or 10x15 prints of “Yellow Lilies” when you order from our specials page. As with all of our unframed prints, these prints are eligible for our No Hassle Returns.
May 18th is the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. Do you remember where you were when you heard about it?
· Two months of earthquakes emanating from the volcano, including a magnitude 5.1 quake, preceded its massive May 18th eruption.
· In the week prior to the eruption, eight earthquakes of magnitude 4 or above were recorded daily.
· Ash clouds rolling down the mountainside prior to the eruption created static electricity, which in turn created lightning bolts -- some of which reached two miles in length.
· Another magnitude 5.1 earthquake triggered the eruption, causing a landslide at a magma bulge that had formed on the north face of the volcano.
· The release of pressure over the bulge caused the eruption, which had an energy equivalency of 24 megatons of TNT.
· Flying rock from the blast reached 670 mph.
· The ash column reached 12 miles in altitude in less than ten minutes.
· 230 square miles of forest were flattened.
· Eleven states had significant ash fallout, with visibility in Spokane, Washington, over 350 miles from St. Helens, reduced to 10 feet within 3.5 hours.
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CITY ESCAPES Nature Photography, LLC