Spring is here in Western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania. Warmer weather brings spring wildflowers and nature photographers eager to get back outdoors. There is a wide array of wildflowers that can be found in our area, some common and not so common varieties. They all make for great subjects to photograph.
One of my favorite types of photography is macro or close-ups. Wildflowers fit right into this type of photography, but you don't have to shoot just macro, they can also be used as the foreground subject for a great landscape. In shooting any type of subject there are certain steps to follow that will allow you to get the best shots possible. Let's take a look at what is involved with photographing wildflowers.
Wildflowers can grow practically anywhere and are found all over the world. In our area, each type of wildflower has a specific time of the year when they bloom. There are several types that appear as soon as the weather breaks and others that don't appear until the end of summer or beginning of fall. So finding the proper subject to photograph means you need to know when it can be found. The other half is where it can be found. This information can easily be found through an Internet search, or a quick trip to your nearest bookstore or library.
Wildflowers make for great subjects to photograph. Using the proper lighting, equipment and positioning can help you capture nature’s beauty.
Photo by Dave Hecei
Now that we have done a little research, it's time to go out shooting. This can be anywhere like a local park or nature trail. If you're lucky, you might even find plenty to shoot in your own backyard. Here are a few tips to help you get some great images.
Timing. Finding the right time of day to shoot is very important. The middle of the day is usually the worst time. Afternoon lighting can be harsh and very unflattering. My favorite time to shoot is early morning. This is when wildflowers seem to look their best and many times you will find a nice coating of dew on the plants that adds that special something to the shot. Shooting late evening can help add extra color to your shots. The lower the sun gets in the sky the warmer the color will be in the scene.
Lighting. One of the best times to shoot is on bright overcast days, or better yet right after a light rain shower. With overcast skies, lighting is very soft and even. Direct light might be more striking, but deep shadows and bright highlights makes for very difficult exposures. If you have to shoot in direct sunlight you can try using a diffusing material to help soften the light. My choice for this is just a plain old white trash bag cut into a large sheet. Just hold this over your subject and it will create a tent of soft light.
Tripod. This is not imperative, but using a tripod will allow you to get the sharpest photo possible. Remember, the more magnification you are trying to get, the more critical focusing can be. Depth of field, the area just in front of and behind the point of focus is very narrow when shooting close-ups. It can be a narrow as 1/8th of an inch. The higher your f/stop (aperture) the larger the depth of field will be (I will normally shoot at f/11 to f/32). Unfortunately, when you go to a higher f/stop you have to lower your shutter speed. To shoot with a slow shutter speed you need a tripod and cable release. Many times I will be shooting as slow as 1 second, but usually more at 1/4 or 1/8. At these slow speeds you will also want to shoot on days with little to no wind.
ISO. To get the best color and best sharpness, you will want to shoot at a low ISO. Most modern cameras can shoot at higher settings and still get good results, but if you are shooting on a tripod you might as well shoot at the native ISO of your camera, which is likely ISO 100 or 200.
Focal Length. The choice of lens, focal length, is a creative decision you will need to make. If you are trying to shoot a landscape, then a wider lens is called for. If you want to isolate a single flower, a telephoto is the best choice. To get true macro photographs, there are few different ways to accomplish this. The least expensive is to use filters. These are nothing more than a magnifying glass for the front of your lens. Both Nikon and Canon make a more sophisticated close-up filter for their lenses, but they do cost a bit more. Another way is to use extension tubes. These are just hollow tubes that you place in between your DSLR and your lens of choice. While they have no glass lenses, they do have the electronic contacts that allow your camera to get proper exposure and still autofocus. For the serious macro photographer, you will want to get a true macro lens. This is a single focal length lens that has the ability to focus extremely close. Common focal lengths are from 50mm to 200mm. For shooting flowers and insects I like a more telephoto macro, say 100mm, 150mm, 180mm, or 200mm. Telephoto macro lenses allow you to have more distance between you and the subject and still get macro shots.
These are just a few tips in my arsenal. To finish up, here are a few other things to keep in mind when out in the woods. Watch your step - nature is much more fragile than you may realize. Wear proper clothing - pants, boots, rain gear, and my big tip, kneepads. Don't just shoot down on wildflowers; get down to their level. This means getting down on your knees. Shoot both vertical and horizontal and try some wide shots, not just up close. Check your backgrounds - bright twigs, pieces of trash, etc. Eliminate anything extraneous. And lastly, enjoy yourself. Look around and enjoy the beauty of nature that surrounds you.