Flora - Nature - Photo Expert (Part 3) - Flowers, Depth-of-field & Lighting

6/4/2012 5:40:41 PM


Getting the right shot takes skill - and a little knowledge of depth-of-field, lighting, viewpoint and blur goes a long way

Description: Flowers

WILD OR CULTIVATED, plants and flowers grow in many different guises. But while they can vary greatly in size, shape, colour and appearance, most plants can be approached in a very similar way photographically - for all kinds of plant life, the technique and way in which you light them is actually very similar. Therefore, whether you visita local park, public gardens, stately home, wild meadow, moorland, coastline or ancient woodland, our advice will ensure you return with incredible images time after time.


The aperture you select will have a large influence on how your nature images look. The size of the aperture greatly dictates the amount of depth-of-field - the zone of acceptable sharpness in front of, and behind, your point of focus. A large aperture (small f/number) like f/4 produces a shallow depth-of-field, ideal if you wish to render background detail pleasantly out of focus.

A small aperture (large f/number) like f/16 generates a wide depth-of-field, which is best suited to images where you want the subject to be sharp throughout. It is important that you don't let your camera automatically control aperture selection. Instead, manually select apertures by using either your camera's aperture-priority or manual exposure mode.

Depth-of-field is also affected by the focal length of the lens and camera-to-subject distance, with the zone of sharpness appearing progressively shallower at longer focal lengths and at higher magnifications. Nature photographers will often have to contend with a limited depth-of-field, so focusing must be pinpoint accurate. A tripod will aid focusing, helping photographers to fine-tune and position their point of focus. When photographing plants - particularly in close-up - it is often better to switch to manual focusing to give you greater control. Admittedly, working with such a limited zone of sharpness can prove challenging, but you can also use it to your advantage. A shallow depth-of-field can be a useful creative and visual tool. Using a large aperture, like f/2.8 or f/4, you can isolate your subject against a diffused backdrop - perfect for picking out a single flower from all the others growing around it. Arty or even abstract-looking results are possible by intentionally using wafer-thin depth-of-field to highlight small, interesting details - like a petal or stamen. There is no secret formula as to how much or how little depth-of-field is best for nature images. The trick is to experiment. Try different focal length and aperture combinations until you achieve the level of depth-of-field that suits your particular subject. Review results regularly on the LCD monitor and zoom into your images to scrutinise sharpness and depth-of-field. If your camera has a depth-of-field preview button, use it.

Depth-of-field: Making flowers stand out against their setting is half the battle. Employ a large aperture to create a shallow depth-of-field


The light's quality and direction is a key ingredient for any nature image. Strong sunlight is often best avoided as it can be too harsh to capture the finest detail. While shadowless light might be considered dull and lifeless for some subjects, a bright but overcast day is perfect for flower or woodland photography. On days like this, the cloud cover simulates one huge softbox, producing beautiful, evenly lit results. In fact, in strong light, it can be worthwhile casting your subject in shade - using your shadow or an umbrella - to lower contrast and allow you to capture authentic colour and detail.

Generally speaking, overhead light is best avoided as it casts ugly shadows. However, you can relieve shadows by placing a reflector nearby or by using a small burst of fill-in flash. Traditionally, the best light is during early morning and evening, when it is naturally softer and warmer. The sun's low position casts longer shadows that accentuates shape and form - so it is well worth setting your alarm early and staying out late. Also, at either end of the day, the sun's low position makes it easier to shoot subjects in beautiful backlight.

Backlighting - when the principal light source is positioned behind the subject - is particularly well suited to plants and flowers. It highlights the intricacy of translucent subjects like leaves and petals, and places emphasis on shape, form and fine detail - like tiny hairs or prickles on flower stems. The drawback of shooting towards the light is the risk of flare. Attach a lens hood or shield the front of the lens to help prevent flare and a reduction in contrast. Backlit subjects also tend to trouble metering systems, fooling the camera into underexposing results. Check histograms regularly and, if this is the case, increase the exposure by applying positive (+) exposure compensation.

Lastly, don't overlook flash. If you don't have a reflector to hand, flash can fill in areas of distracting shadow. Shoot at a reduced output to ensure you retain a natural feel. Flash can create ugly hotspots on reflective foliage or petals, though, so it is worth diffusing flash bursts. Flash can also be useful for simplifying a subject's background, as the fall-off in light can create a pure black backdrop if surrounding vegetation is outside the range of the burst. While the effect can look slightly unnatural, it can still be a more desirable option than capturing your subject against an ugly, distracting background.

Description: Lighting

Lighting: You might think a sunny day provides the perfect conditions for nature photography, but the reverse is true. An overcast day, or shooting in the morning or evening gives your flower shots better colour and contrast.

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