When Issy Eyre from Fennel and Fern asked me recently if I'd like a guest post sharing her top tips for taking luscious plant photographs like she has on her blog, I was delighted to say yes...
Plants sit so well for their portraits: I love photographing them. Crouching on slightly damp grass to photograph a shy bulb, or contorting into an odd position to snap the arching stems of a witch hazel has become a bit of an addiction ever since I started blogging in 2008. It's not just about taking a photo of the plant: it is capturing its character and its setting that grips me so.
I taught myself photography with the help of a point-and-shoot Nikon Coolpix, and more recently, a Canon EOS 350d. Most of my favourite shots have come about through a mixture of messing about with the camera and leafing through the work of my favourite garden photographers, including Rachel Warne, Marianne Majerus and blogger Susy Morris.
Far from technical knowledge, I've found the most important ingredient in a photo is the photographer's own eye. Our own eyesight is totally deceptive: we gaze at the things that we love most about a view, and manage to filter out all the boring details that a camera so willingly picks up. So learning what it is that attracted me to a plant in the first place (the fresh, clean rose petals resting on one another? The light tickling the edges of the leaves?), and then working out how to arrange the whole photograph around that was a key step for me in moving from slightly boring snaps to images that made me very happy.
One of the biggest mistakes I made initially was cramming too much into the image. I would take a photo which included the whole plant, and the soil and dead leaves around it as well. Now I tend to get much closer, and I try to work with as shallow a depth of field (this means how far into the background you can see) as possible. I also take care that there are not lots of different colours in shot. This just confuses the eye, and makes the photo look messy.
Once you've taken your image, it's time for a little post-shoot editing. I'm trained in Photoshop, but now use the free, open-source GNU Image Manipulation Programme. Some of its most useful tools are levels, curves, and the dodge and burn tools. Adjusting the levels is a more sophisticated way of altering brightness and contrast without damaging the quality of the image, and curves change the saturation of red, green or blue in the image. Just a little tweak on one of the curves can transform a picture, such as this image of a summer snowflake, which has had its blue saturation increased very slightly. I use the burn tool to lift the central subject out of the photo by brushing the burn around the edges very gently.
Once you're fiddling with your camera and taking as many shots of flowers as you possibly can, all this will seem terribly basic, but it's a start. The best thing you can possibly do is crouch down on that grass and start snapping your tulips and alliums. Keep doing it until you find a shot you love, and then shoot some more. It's great fun.
Thanks for a fab guest post Issy :) Now, how about you having a go and showing us the results of your endeavours via your blog? You might like to check out Issy's blog for further inspiration or try the experiment Happy Mouffetard showed us recently. Or do you have a top photography tip to share with us in the comments below?
All images are courtesy and copyright of Issy Eyre.