Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Garden Photography Tip Sheet

Harvesting

I put this information together for some photowalks that I'm leading at Cantigny, and I thought I'd share it with you.

Things to Photograph in the Garden

Don’t just think flowers and trees. There are lots of other things to point your camera at: containers and planters, bridges and streams, trellises and fences, pergolas and gazebos, buildings and greenhouses, sculptures and fountains, and in Cantigny - tanks.

What did I photograph???

Save maps and brochures so that you can identify the things in your photos later. And take a picture of the plant’s label, sign, plaque or tag.

Light

Sunny - You often want light that is warm (kind of orange) and has longer shadows. This means the ideal time is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Dawn has extra moisture in the air, making for misty shots, but who wants to get up that early? Midday sun can be OK, but only for close-ups, and usually not for landscape shots. Midday sun, particularly in the warmer part of the year, can be really boring.

Cloudy - Cloudy days can be ideal for photographing people and flowers. There are either no shadows or much softer shadows. The colors are more saturated. And you can shoot during the middle of the day. If it’s a sunny day, a shady spot gives you similar light.

Weather Challenges

Rain - Not good. But after it’s rained you get water on flowers and leaves, which is a very nice effect. And if it’s sunny where you are, but there are still storm clouds in the sky, the lighting can be wonderful. It’s called “storm light”

Wind - Also not good if you’re planning on shooting close ups. You need your subject to not move so that you can focus critically and use lower shutter speeds. See “depth of field” below. If the wind is more than 10 or 15 miles an hour, it’s going to be tough unless you’re shooting in a relatively sheltered location.

Composition

Crooked Horizons - A horizon that isn’t straight ruins your pictures. It’s easily fixed, either by being more careful when you take the picture, or by fixing it later using software. Just about all picture editing packages have tools to level horizons.

Rule of Thirds - It’s not so much a rule, but a guideline. Avoid having your subject in the center of the image. Try positioning it 1/3 of the way from the edge and see what happens.

Cropping - If some part of the image doesn’t contribute, crop it out. You may have to do this later using software. If you photograph a close-up of a flower, for example, ask yourself why you should leave all that other stuff in the picture

Leading Lines - You want to draw your viewers’ eyes into the picture. Leading lines do that. Paths, streams, bridges and dirt roads work great.

Layers - Look for three layers in your pictures - the foreground, middle, and background. This gives your images some depth.

Avoid intruders - These are things that appear in your pictures that you weren’t counting on. In gardens, that will include bright spots in the background, webs, blemishes and dirt on flowers, odd branches and leaves, and people and equipment in the background.

Avoid distracting backgrounds - Generally, the simpler the picture, the better. So consider choosing a clean background, like a hedge or a stone wall. But, particularly in gardens, beware of bright spots in that simple background. Some folks will actually carry a piece of black cardboard to put behind a flower as the background.


Watch your “depth of field” - When you’re taking pictures, you’ll find that the subjects will go out of focus depending on the distance of the lens from the subject. If you’re shooting a close up of a flower, this is a serious problem. The petals in front and in back may be out of focus. You can help control this by using a higher f/stop. That means you’ll need a slower shutter speed, which creates other problems. See “wind” above and “tripod” below.

Change your point of view - Look up. Look down. Get underneath. Get above. See “angle viewer” below.

People

One of the best times to photograph people is on a cloudy day. This avoids the high contrast of mid-day sunlight and there are no unflattering shadows. If it’s sunny, shoot early or late in the day to take advantage of the warmer color and more interesting light. Or find a shady spot. If you absolutely have to shoot in bright mid-day sun, position your subjects so the sun is at their backs and use your flash to light up their faces. Avoid having your subjects face the sun - you may get lots of squinting. A well backlit shot with fill flash looks very professional. Check out your camera’s manual to figure out how to control the output of the flash to get just the right balance.

Cool Tools

Hoodman Loupe - It’s expensive (about $80 hoodmanusa.com), but it lets you get actually see your camera’s LCD when you’re outside on a bright day.

Lens hood - This is the thing that probably came with your lens and you’re not sure what to do with it. Even worse, you put it on your lens backwards. Put it on so that it shades the front of the lens. This helps prevent glare and pictures that look washed out. And, it’ll provide a little protection to your lens.

Angle viewer - You can often purchase an angle viewer from your camera’s manufacturer or third parties (Hoodman again). These attach to the eyepiece to allow you to look down and take pictures from a much lower perspective. This is particular good for getting better angles on flowers. If you have a camera that has a fold out and tilting LCD screen, that’s even better!

Tripod - If you’re planning on shooting close-ups or macros, you’ll need a tripod. They help with critical focusing and carefully composing your shot. And they give you the ability to shoot at longer shutter speeds. This allows you to shoot at higher f/stops to get deeper depth of field.

Air blower - Use a bulb type air blower when you’re taking pictures of flowers and other plant close-ups. The blower takes care of little specks of dirt and spider webs (see “intruders” above) that you won’t spot until you see your picture on the big screen of your computer. And it keeps your equipment clean.

Macro lens - If you have an SLR, you’ll need to invest in a macro lens to get really close shots of flowers, plants, etc. Some point and shoot cameras have the feature built in.

Shoe-mount flashes - These flashes give you more light, plus they can be, with the right equipment, mounted off the camera resulting in more interesting shadows and light.




Jim Frazier

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