Initially, when I chose ‘flowers’ as my theme for this assignment I worried that it was maybe too simple. Having researched this though, the one thing I’m finding successful flower photographers saying time and again is that it isn’t enough to take good or even excellent photographs of flowers as there are millions of them out there, you have to do something different and creative so that your pictures stand out.
A couple of weeks ago I thought I had my 10 or 12 images for this assignment ready for submission. I had even saved them all into a folder in JPEG format and prepared the contact sheet which my tutor also likes. But then, having gone back to the brief; ‘the final image’, ‘my best pictures’, and re-visited some of the articles I had read earlier on, I decided that some of my pictures were at best very ordinary and at worst boring, so back to the drawing board.
Heather Angel, in her ‘Learning Zone ‘ article in Outdoor Photography, Angel. H. How to take creative shots of plants and flowers. Outdoor Photography. (165), pp. 26-31, discusses how to control light using a diffuser, reflectors and flash, ways of de-cluttering the background and shooting when the sun is at a low angle in order to separate tones and make your subject stand out. She also talks about using different patterns and designs to achieve creative compositions, where to place the focal point in the frame and getting in close to isolate interesting parts of the plant. One thing that I did learn from this that I hadn’t considered before is that, in order to maximise depth of field in macro shots, I need to make sure that the sensor plane in the camera is parallel with the main plane of the subject. Heather Angel’s nine steps to success include fairly basic stuff like using vibration reduction when hand holding the camera, using a long lens for inaccessible flowers and tieing stray branches back out-of-the-way, but it’s useful all the same to be reminded to take a kneeling pad with you as you are likely to have to get down on your hands and knees and also not always to take a flower as you first see it. The example she gives here is a shadow of a snowdrop over a lichen covered rock that caught her eye and makes a really good photograph. This is my version, not convinced though.
Of course creative can also mean digitally enhanced and although not my forte by any means, I felt that as this is a digital course, one part of which focused on digital enhancements post processing, that I shouldn’t rule this out. As I type this I can almost hear my tutor saying, ‘yes but that is just one of the tools at your disposal , this assignment is about your best images therefore do what you do best’ … or is that just my ‘safe’ sub conscious saying that? Either way, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and have a look at what creative flower photography might look like.
My first attempts were iffy to say the least.
Various filters in Nik software and Elements – totally overdone
I took a photograph of a Chinese lantern which I thought was technically ok but boring and applied some filters, both in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and Photoshop Elements. What I find difficult is getting the balance right, back to the old ‘how much is too much’ syndrome. Certainly my first effort was way over the top, so I’ll undo some of it but my problem was that I had just played around with the filters without recording which I had used or by how much – lesson 1!
Detail extraction filter only – Nik Color Efex Pro 4
This is going to take a lot of practice and observation of what I think works elsewhere. I am much happier with my second attempt using only the detail extraction filter in Color Efex Pro 4 and may even use it in my final selection. Initially I was in two minds whether or not to leave the stem and leaves in the picture and one of the ‘critique’ team in ephotozine suggested that I lose it and show only the flower. I didn’t like the modification he put up though and having seen it without, felt that the flower needed the stem and leaves to ground it into its natural environment.