Wednesday, March 22, 2017


I thoroughly enjoy nature and landscape photography, but I never pass on a good opportunity to photograph flora--flowers, plants, fungi, etc. In most cases I do not try to document what my eyes see, even if I can make it look better than what my eyes saw through photo editing. What I do prefer is to see what I can make it look like, in camera, then fine-tune it later. 

Nature's shapes, colors, and designs elicit mood, feelings, awe, and even art. I try to reflect that through my photography, depending on what "moves" me at the moment.

My right brain kicks things off then shakes hands with my left brain and says, "I've got an idea, and this is what I need from you." What I need depends on what I want to create. And I satisfy my needs through various techniques, which I will mention below. Sometimes, when  the subject itself has inherent artistic value, I respect it, thank it, and go "click." 

Now that I've introduced my tip of the month, I will now share several examples.

Double exposures is my most common technique when photographing flowers. Not all flowers or groupings are conducive to double exposures. It's not science,  but rather a feeling I get, based on composition, colors, shapes, and the lighting at the time. All factors fell into place for me for this first example.  

What I did for this image is the most common double exposure technique I use. My #1 step, always, is composition--what is going to be included within the four corners of my viewfinder, and how? Using manual focus (not manual exposure), I first set a wide, or small number, f/stop and focus so that everything is slightly out of focus. I take a test shot--making sure it's not too out of focus, and testing for exposure. If either is not right, I delete, make proper adjustments, and try again. Once it's right, I then engage my multiple exposure feature and take my first out of focus image. I then refocus, change my f/stop to a higher number, and under-expose my second shot usually by 2/3 of a stop. Click, and voila!! Oh, and remember, there are no right angles in nature, meaning I often tilt my camera to improve my compositions.                                  

One of my favorite props for flowers is a large non-reflective piece of black material which  
I use as a backdrop. It does a great job at giving florals a studio-like feel, even when shot outdoors in the middle of the day. Try it!    

Spot metering. If you have never tried it, you have been missing out! I learned this during film days. Why spend an hour (or more) in photo editing software when you can get creative in the field? For this image, spot metering right on those bright colors changed the metering by -3 stops! Yes, minus three stops. Because of the wide range of colors between the flowers and the background, it worked perfectly. This is one way of converting backgrounds into backdrops.   

Sometimes the scene itself is so awesome that all I need to do is get the best composition of what nature provides me. I shot straight down at the boulder covered with leaves, branches, and lichen. Rain from the day before had collected in a small indention in the boulder, which added to my composition. 

Another prop I use is my round 32" diffuser. I usually use it as a backdrop. When I saw this grouping, the background was too busy for me. The flowers in the background were competing with these three beauties for attention. What to do? I simply placed my diffuser behind the three, touching up against the ones in the background. Because the diffuser is translucent, the background flowers were, well, diffused. They complemented the foreground rather than compete against it. 

Here is yet another application for diffusers. It was a terrible extremely bright sunny day. There were harsh shadows everywhere and the range between lights and darks was a nightmare. Solution? No, not HDR. I simply placed my diffuser between the harsh sun and the lily and lily pads. Problem solved. Solutions don't have to be extreme, just well thought out.  

These last two techniques are not for everyone. These get into the artistically surreal realm. Some folks like it; some don't. In either case, loosen up and just have fun with it!

The first one I call "swirling." Not everyone has an equally easy time with this. It takes a lot of focused hand-eye coordination. What I do, after I get a good composition, is take my camera off the tripod and hold it on the palm of my left hand. It doesn't have to be the left hand--it just works better for me. During a slow exposure (1/4-1/20 of a second), I smoothly pivot the camera clock-wise or counter clock-wise, swirling my left wrist. It usually takes 2-4 times until I get it right.


I will leave you with one more fun technique. It is a technique that an artist might apply on canvas for a surreal effect. Zooming. You can zoom in or zoom out. Experiment and see which one works for you. As a general rule of thumb, I try to use shutter speeds of 1/4 to 1/20 of a second, to give me enough time to zoom during the exposure. And this is but one effect you can get. Have fun. 


I have also placed materials like thin plexiglass in front of flowers to create artistic results.
Now that I have shared several techniques, I urge you to go out and try them all. After several attempts, you will decide which ones work best for you. As the saying goes, "If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always gotten."