This week we had the pleasure of a visit from Liz Cole, a plant and garden photographer. Liz runs a Japanese Garden Photography course at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. Her images are regularly used by gardening magazines, books, newspapers and horticultural labels. It had been 9 years since Liz had previously given a presentation to Musselburgh Camera Club, so this one was long overdue.
Liz began by describing the equipment she uses for plant and flower photography. She uses Fuji X-Pro 2 mirrorless camera. The advantage of a mirrorless camera is that it is small and light, doesn’t attract attention, and yet still gives good quality photos. The camera has a very quiet shutter, which helps if you are photographing plants in a Japanese temple, and a good autofocus. Two types of lens can be used for flower photography. A macro lens lets you get up close and capture small details, but a medium telephoto lens will let you capture a larger plant or flower and blur out the background. A lens which gives a good out-of-focus bokeh gives the best results. Liz recommends photographing plants and flowers by natural light. Using a flash can upset the colour balance (which is not good if you are aiming to use your image on a plant label). A silver reflector can be used to brighten the shadows. It is possible to attach a circular reflector to the front of your lens to help with macro shots. Adding a UV filter can help to improve the colours in sunlight and a polarizer filter can create a richer sky background. Liz doesn’t use any other kinds of filter for plant photography.
Liz began by showing us the images of plants and flowers in their natural setting which she uses for horticultural magazines and plant labels. There were several beautiful images of Japanese gardens, common and exotic garden plants, trees and wild flowers captured in the Aberlady nature reserve. She used a lot of upward-pointing shots of trees which kept tourists and distractions out of the shot and captured the blossom against the sky or background plants or buildings. Liz then showed us a collection of studio portraits of plants and flowers which she had captured indoors or at flower shows. Unlike the outdoor shots, these images have a plain background. Liz uses a white, an 18% grey or a black background, as appropriate for each image. During her presentation, Liz gave us some hints, tips and great ideas for improving our photography:
- Make sure you control the exposure so that flowers with white petals are not blown out in the highlights. Always underexpose a white flower.
- If you don’t have a silver reflector handy, you can use the silver lid from a curry carton.
- Check your plants carefully for ugly defects, pieces of dirt or lurking insects. Also (if you are allowed to) remove bits of rubbish from the surroundings. It is much better to get the shot right in camera than to try to fix it afterwards.
- Don’t forget that seed heads and shoots can be just as beautiful as flowers.
- If you want to ensure you have a plain background at a flower show, take along a print of an out-of-focus image of your own lawn. This kind of background can also be used for insect shots.
- If you are using an artificial background make sure it is far enough away that your subject doesn’t cast a shadow on it.
- If you are composing your images for a magazine cover, leave enough space for the wording at the top.
All in all this was a fascinating and enlightening talk.