Plant photography tips for botanical artists
The author of this post is Bernard van Giessen (http://www.catchlight.ie/). Bernard is a professional photographer with over 30 years’ experience both in his native Holland and here in Ireland where he has lived for 13 years. In this post he provides hints and tips on macro photography, a useful tool for botanical artists who wish to record details for later reference.
Macro photography–for example, close-ups of flowers and insects–requires the right combination of patience, favourable weather conditions, suitable backgrounds and some basic knowledge of your camera equipment and specific techniques.
More important still is an awareness how we perceive the world around us. Just look at your subject for a little while before you whip out the camera. As you focus on your subject you may well discover details you would have missed if you had started to take pictures straight away.
- For Macros and Close-ups, the lens-opening should ideally be small, this means the aperture setting, or F-number, should be high. Remember, the bigger the F-number, the smaller the lens opening and so the greater the depth of field.
- Shutter-time is important too and is directly related to Aperture; if you change either, the other will change too.
- Sensitivity (ISO) directly influences Aperture and Time. Higher ISO values give you more room to move, but increase the risk of ‘noise’ which is the digital equivalent of grain and unsharpness in traditional film.
- The closer you get to the subject, the more you also magnify movement caused by wind, camera shake etc. A tripod will help to suppress camera shake but the downside is that you become less flexible and unable to move quickly.
- The area that will appear in focus on your screen/photo will decrease as you get closer. This relates directly to the severely reduced Depth of Field which can be as little as 1mm, even at very small lens openings of F16, F22 etc.
- Direct sunlight can cast deep shadows and/or can cause parts of an image to appear ‘washed out’. Most garden and plant photographers will prefer overcast weather because of this. The saturation of colours remains limited and there are virtually no shadows. If it’s sunny you can try to shield the light with your body or buy a cloth diffusor which you will need to place/hold between the sun and the object.
- Be conscious of a background that will make your subject stand out and avoid clutter. Because you are very close to your subject it will be important to choose an angle that will limit a distracting background.
- As you know from your painting work, with flower portraits you can try different compositions. Sometimes an off-centre image creates a bit more tension and interest. This matters even more when you are showing a section of a garden. You may want to use ‘leading lines’ to guide the viewer and give a sense of a three dimensional space. Background, middle ground and foreground need to be in harmony and allow the viewer to briefly rest their eye on each part of an image before returning to the main subject.
- In photography you ideally want to have an image in your head of what the actual photo will look like when you’re done.