Rob Fairweather

Photographing your flowers and gardens
At the April 2014 meeting of the Society, I presented a talk on how members could improve their garden and flower photographs. I was asked to concentrate on "Point & Shoot" cameras. since very few members owned SLRs (Single Lens Reflex) cameras.
I tried to show how the images looked under different shooting conditions (lighting), using an SLR connected directly to our digital projector, and then the intention was to actually shoot an image with a P&S sitting on an adjacent tripod, and then project that image.

Well, the setup was too cramped, and the lighting was a bit of a failure, however lots of questions were asked, and through this page I intend to try and answer them, and to be a little clearer in my discussion of the subject.
Three cameras

After my initial Dos and Don'ts, my intention is to show you the results after shooting a number of subjects with 3 different cameras.

I'll use what's called a "Full Frame DSLR" (meaning a digital camera with a sensor the same size as a 35mm slide), and two "Point & Shoot" cameras - both Canons, one being the unit that I used at the meeting, the other a much smaller (and older) model with somewhat fewer options.
We'll call them the IXUS, 5D, and the G11.
The three cameras are shown above (Left to Right)

At this stage I'm not going to suggest that you switch your cameras to "Manual" mode. It's possible that some of you don't have a camera that has a manual mode, so we'll have to put up with what the camera serves up.

When to shoot
Try early morning on a partly cloudy day. Since I'm going to suggest that you don't use flash (more on that later), you'll be walking a fine line between sufficient light, and too much wind. Many early mornings (particularly in Summer) are very still, allowing you to shoot in low(ish) light without blur, however as the sun rises further, you'll notice more and more unexpected wind gusts which ruins your images that are shot without flash. The lighting late afternoon is often lovely, but the wind often persists.

I suggest shooting under light cloud, because if you attempt to shot in bright sunlight, you'll find that all your shadows are very deep with virtually no detail in them, and many leaves (particularly if shiny) will cause your image to be full of over-exposed reflections - absolutely ruining the delicate foliage appearance.

Forget Flash
Unless you have an external flash that mounts on your camera, and you're able to adjust the output of the flash, and can fit it with a large diffuser to soften the light, then it will do more harm to your image than good. Although I mostly use flash on my SLR, there are often instances when shooting very pale or dark flowers when I revert to shooting with available light.
The flash on a small P&S has only a limited power and is frequently limited to shooting distances of under 3 metres, and it often does not have the ability to reduce it's power level to shoot very close.

Since the shutter speed of the P&S is usually low when shooting in cloudy conditions, unless the camera can be reliably held very still, the image produced will be smeared. This should not be confused with being out of focus. A well focussed image will be ruined if the camera is moved during the exposure.

The answer (providing conditions are still enough) is to use a small tripod.
Now I don't suggest using one of those cheap numbers with sloppy pivots
that always seem to be aimed at the video market (complete with pan and tilt mechanisms): What you need is a well designed light weight rigid tripod that will probably cost you just under $100. I always us Manfrotto tripods (made in Italy), and my light weight 'pod, purchased about 7 years ago is probably out of date, but the current model will be something like the Manfrotto MKC3.P01. It comes complete with a "ball head" that permits your camera to be locked in almost any position, and it is fitted with a quick release mount - using one of these you're much less likely to drop your camera when mounting it on the tripod.

No tripod?
Where circumstances preclude using a tripod (like you forgot to bring it with you, or space to place the tripod is too limited), other methods of minimising camera shake are required. The first thing that I do if I'm out in the open shooting, is to take several slow, deep breaths, then let the last breath slowly escape, and just before all the air is expelled, gently squeeze the shutter button. This little exercise relaxes your body, and greatly reduces shake. Try taking a deep breath and hold it in for 2 or 3 seconds. Note the increase in body shake! - no good for photography!
Some people kneel on one knee and use the other knee as a support for the camera. All very well if you're young and supple, but "oldies" find this method out of the question. You can also lean against a wall or tree if one is available.
If your camera has an LCD screen viewfinder, try standing with your elbows tucked firmly against your chest instead of holding the camera at arms length. If you can't see the viewfinder clearly in the arm-tuck position, then you obviously need new glasses!

If your camera allows you to determine what part of the image it's focussing on, try to focus on an area that it between 20% and 30% back from the closest part of the subject. This will ensure that the greatest range of your image is acceptably crisp.
Obviously, if you are trying to show a particular part of a view or a flower, then try to make that part as detailed as possible by focussing on that part.

Whether shooting single flowers or scenes, the old "rule of thirds" applies. Like any rule, it is made to be broken when you think the situation demands it, so you make the decision!
The image on the left (below) has not been cropped. The image on the right has been cropped to suit an A4 formatted page. Notice that it is "looking" into the picture.

Stacks Image 3516
Stacks Image 3514

The grid in the right image (above) divides the image into thirds - both horizontally, and vertically. When presented with the image, the eye tends to move from the centre left of the image, and ends up at the intersect marked (1). Each of the four intersects appear to be zones that the eye tends to gravitate towards. To a lesser extent the locations of the lines can be used as a "magnet" for the eye.

If shooting a landscape (and this includes gardens), the horizon is normally placed on, or near one of the horizontal dividers. If there is an interesting sky, or there are features high in the garden, the "horizon" is normally aligned with the lower divider; whereas where most of the interest is in the lower part of the scene, the upper divider will be aligned with the horizon.

When making a portrait (and this includes a "portrait" of a flower, if the viewer is seeing the subject slightly from one side, convention suggests that the rear of the flower be placed close to one edge of the frame, allowing the front some free space: (see above right image).

Depth of Field
The image below was shot with the 5D. The focal point was right at the front of the subject (the yellow portion almost in the centre of frame. Note that almost everything else is out of focus.
In the second image (below right) shot with the 5D, the focal point was set about 30% of the way into the subject (the area to the top right of centre).
Note that the previous focal point focus has suffered, but is still not as blurred as the area behind the current focal point.
Cameras with large frame detectors always have a much shallower depth of field than the small photodetector P&S cameras, and shooting closeup requires much more work to obtain a usable image. The lens aperture has to be made much smaller (changing the "f stop"), and this then affects the amount of light needed to illuminate the subject and so on...

Cloud Hill garden
Cloud Hill garden
The image (opposite) was shot with a Panasonic Lumix FZ-200 P&S camera, (the 16:9 aspect ratio seen here is pre-adjustable in-camera). Many members will have seen me use this camera at society meetings.
Note that the focal point here is the chair! It is positioned near the lower left quadrant intersect, and the rear hedge is placed on the lower 2/3 horizontal.

Not only do we have the chair positioned appropriately according to the "rule of thirds", but the two hedges in the immediate foreground lead the eye towards the chair and it's private space.

The lighting here is relatively soft, with light cloud cover over the sun. The hedge shadows are not dense or lacking in detail. A lens hood was used to keep the sun off the camera lens as I was shooting into the sun. If your camera does not have a hood, you can try shading it with your hand, hat or piece of stiff paper. Care must be taken however to keep the light shade from intruding "into shot".
Failure to keep the sun off the lens face will result in an image with low contrast, or flair - showing in the image as splashes or streaks of multicolour light.

The second of these two images (both shot at Cloud Hill in Victoria) illustrates the use of a path to lead the eye into the picture. The weeping grasses on each side of the path provide some repetition, emphasising a common theme.

In case you were wondering... yes - the elderly lady did manage to navigate the garden steps, tho' not without some difficulty!