Tuesday’s Tips — Flower Photography

Barbara & Mary Beth: Today we thought we’d share a few tips on how to get great photos of all the beautiful things you grow. Now, we don’t claim to be photo pros, but we have some tips that will help you get great, dramatic pics of even the most humble garden flowers.

Tip #1: Depth of Field

OK. We saw your eyes roll back in your head. At first, this concept freaks out just about everyone but stay with us. We’re going to ignore a lot of detail and believe us, there’s a LOT of detail on this one subject and it can get confusing. But you don’t really need to understand all of it to use this technique. We’re going to keep it real simple.

Depth of field simply means how much of your image is in focus from the front of your shot to the back. Is it just one flower? This a shallow depth of field.

This astilbe was shot at f/8. If it had been shot at f/5.6 (like the lobelia below) the focus would have been limited to just a couple of the little blossoms.

Or, is it the whole garden? The depth of field just got a lot deeper.

This was shot with the aperture at f/125 (and it probably should have been higher).

You can control your depth of field by doing one thing — making the aperture, a.k.a. the f-stop, or the hole in the lens through which the light travels on your camera lens bigger or smaller. When you use an aperture of f/8 or less, you’ll get a really shallow depth of field. This makes the background very fuzzy and pulls your attention to the in-focus part of the picture. When you increase the aperture number, you increase the depth of field — and that means that more of your picture will be in focus.

Here’s a little bit of the confusing part. When your camera is in the manual mode and you open up your lens for an aperture of f/8 (or less) more light is getting in which can overexpose your shot. You’ll need to compensate for this by increasing the speed — the other half of the exposure equation. Set your aperture and then watch your meter reading, bumping up the speed (1/100, 1/250, 1/500, etc.) until your meter is in the middle of the +/- scale.

Or, if you’re more familiar with all the bells and whistles, you can set it to aperture mode (A mode) and the camera will automatically change the speed to get the best exposure.

Tip #2: Focus

It’s not enough to just make sure your focus is sharp. Pay attention to what you’re focusing on. You’re in charge!  You’re telling a little story here. Is the story about the garden? About the flowers? About one single flower, or part of the flower? Decide what you want the viewer to look at and focus on that. That will draw the eye to the part of the picture you want them to see.

For example:

We love lobelia. In this photo the aperture is set to f/5.6 for a shallow depth of field. The focus is on the lobelia in the middle of the frame.

No wait, we love the pansy! Same shot, same aperture (f/5.6) but this time the focus is on the pansy.

So go get your camera and play around with the buttons. Read your manual — not all of it if you don’t like that sort of thing — just enough to know how to put it into manual mode or aperture mode.

That’s it for today. In the near future we’ll follow up with a couple more tips, like how shooting at the right time of day will help you get great shots (hint: early morning or late afternoon) and how backgrounds can affect your picture.

One more thing. We feel the need for a little rant.  If we had a dollar for every time someone asked us what kind of cameras we use, and then said that they could take great shots if only they had a fancier camera, we’d be very rich. It’s not the camera, people. It’s the photographer.

We’ve both stepped up to fancier cameras — Barbara uses a Nikon D80 and Mary Beth uses a Canon 50D and we’ve scrimped and saved to get some pretty nice lenses too. But before that we worked with little point and shoot cameras in the $ 200 – $300 range and we got great pictures AFTER we learned how to use them. (A lot of the earliest pictures on this blog were taken with point and shoot cameras.)

So no excuses, get out there and take some great shots!

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