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Flower photography, Part 2 (10/31/2005)
By Tom Hirsch

Time of day has an effect on the quality of flower pictures. Strong midday sunlight is the worst for many types of flowers, especially the darker colored ones, because shadows are the most pronounced and colors are the coolest. But this time of day might be the best for white and bright yellow flowers.

Early morning hours are best for most flowers. At this time of day, colors will be the brightest, sunlight is warmest, and there is less breeze than will be found later in the day. Also, flowers are at their freshest, and the early morning dew will give them an added freshness.

As with most subjects, lighting direction is almost always an important consideration in flower photography. Frontlighting illuminates everything, but it tends to make flowers appear flat - two-dimensional. This is usually undesirable, but the effect might be appropriate, or at least acceptable, for a group of flowers such as a flower arrangement or a bunch of tulips. Be careful, though, that your shadow doesn't fall where it will appear in any part of the picture.

Sidelighting brings out the form and shape of flowers, and emphasizes the texture of petals. Anything from forty-five to ninety degrees sidelighting will add a feeling of depth.

If the petals are translucent, backlighting can provide the most dramatic lighting direction. Contrasted against a dark background, the bright light shining through the petals can result in some really striking photos.

Although lighting direction by itself can have a strong impact on a photograph, its effectiveness can be enhanced in close-ups. By eliminating all but one blossom, total concentration can be focused on a single subject, and all parts of it, including the shadows and other effects of lighting, become an integral part of the picture.

Some 35mm compact cameras provide for close focusing to a degree, but only an SLR, at least in the 35mm format, will allow closeness along with precise subject placement in the frame. If you want to get really close 35mm flower shots, buy a set of close-up lenses that screw onto the front of the camera lens. Prices and quality vary, so shop around.

Beautiful close-ups of flowers are also possible with a compact digital camera if the LCD monitor is used for viewing and composition. Just be aware that the monitor uses the battery to a much faster degree than the viewfinder. That really isn't a big deal if you're aware of it and prepare for it by having extra batteries on hand or have the internal battery charged up.

In close-ups, shadows are important for bringing out form, texture and depth perspective in flowers, but strong shadows falling on the petals can obscure some of the detail. The softer light of cloudy-bright sky is ideal, but it's one of those factors that can't be controlled.

When taking close-ups of flowers on bright sunny days, harsh shadows can be softened with a reflector. The easiest material to carry for this purpose is aluminum foil. Get the widest and thickest gauge you can find. Tear off a piece a little longer than the width of the roll, then crumple it up and flatten it out - instant reflector.

In the field, meaning anyplace out-of-doors, wind is almost always a problem in flower photography. Trying to chase a flower being blown around by a three-mile-per-hour wind can be frustrating, to say the least. This is only one reason for restricting your flower photography to the early morning hours before the heat of the day stirs up the air currents.

In 35mm photography, one way of countering the wind is with fast film. The faster the film, the faster the shutter speed you can select, if the camera doesn't set it automatically. Trouble is, fast film means grainier film, resulting in lower quality images. Don't use film faster than ISO 400 for flower photography, and always the best quality film. A photo dealer can suggest one.

Wind can also be counteracted by using flash to stop motion. This works, but shadows might also be eliminated, and they are what give flowers form and depth. Flash can also cause objectionable reflections on petals.

We'll have one more go at flower photography next time, then on to something else. 


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