Wildflower photography tips
By Stephen Scourfield, Travel Editor and Photographer, The West Australian.
1. Ease the breeze
Be aware of even slight breezes, or you may end up with a soft, fuzzy subject in your photo. Putting up a windbreak – even a camera bag or, better still, an umbrella will help. You can also increase your shutter speed to 400 or 640 ISO, but this can compromise your image quality. Sharp pictures are good pictures.
2. Isolate the flower
Reduce the depth of field to isolate a flower. ‘Depth of field’ is the distance in front and behind your subject that is in focus. This will make the background fuzzy, rather than sharp.
Many cameras have an Aperture Priority setting to control this. It shows ‘f-stops’, which you can think of as distances. The lower the f-stop, the less will be in focus before and after the subject. For example, a flower photographed on f/2.8 will be more isolated than on f/32.
3. Shoot from low down
Try shooting up from down low amongst the flowers. Pink everlastings can look amazing against a blue sky. Digital cameras with a tilting screen are handy for this. But please be careful to chose a spot where you won’t damage the flowers.
4. Use a tripod
A tripod will make your camera rock-solid. This will give you much better results by eliminating camera shake and enabling you to slow down shutter speed. A tripod also changes the way you work – giving you stronger, more thoughtful compositions. If you are buying a tripod, look for a solid, sturdy one with legs that extend and retract well so you can get very low. Tripods with ball heads allow for smooth action and very fine adjustment.
5. Control harsh overhead light
You can’t beat the softness and colours of early and late light, but reality means that most of us will find the flower we wish to photograph when the sunlight is harsh. Try holding a translucent gauze material on a frame (such as an embroidery hoop) over your subject when the sun is blasting overhead. This will help diffuse the bright light. Muslin, white nylon and cotton allow different strengths and tones of light through. Experiment.
6. More light
Consider using a flash or reflector when you need extra light on your subject. When using a flash, try to keep it subtle. Most cameras have an adjustable flash you can turn down.
A reflector is often a better option. These collapsible discs give a more natural, diffused light and are readily available to buy.
7. Macro settings and lenses
Most cameras have a flower symbol which is the macro setting for close-ups. But beware, this makes your camera more sensitive to focus. Move the camera in and out to double-check the focus on your screen.
Special macro lenses can be added to digital SLR cameras, which are designed to focus very close to a subject. The positive is a very high quality image – but this needs to be weighed up with the cost and the need to carry an extra lens around for a specific job.
8. The rule of thirds
If you divide the image area in thirds horizontally and vertically, the four points where these lines cross are spots where the viewer’s eye will naturally fall. Your camera’s display may have a setting for this.
Keep three words in mind for photo composition – simple, graceful, dynamic.
9. Show the context
While close-ups make great images, it is also good to stand back and take ‘bigger shots’ to show context. These images tell the story not only of what you have seen, but where you have seen it.
Two more invaluable bits of gear for your camera bag are a notebook and pen. Note your impressions and reactions to the environment you are standing (or kneeling) in to add to the story.
10. The flowers
If you are photographing a flower close up, it must be a good flower. When focusing on a small group of blooms, the flowers need to be quite tightly set together and form a good shape. Be sure to choose flowers that are physically perfect and in pristine condition. But they must also have character. Look for something that grabs attention and be guided by your own reactions.