Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Better 'Mum Show Photos ~ Telephoto Tuesday!

"Floral Waves"

The question has come up regarding what my top advice would be for photographing all the different annual flower shows that happen all year round. The question is well timed, as I just began reviewing my images from my visit to the Annual Fall Mum Show over at Hamilton's Gage Park. So I thought I'd share some tips that have worked for me from day one till now. And as always, you can apply these to much more than flowers. So here we go with my impromptu list:

~No matter what camera or lens, you can always find ways to get in closer. On point and shoot cameras you'd be amazed at how helpful your macro settings are for allowing you to get really close yet still allowing you to focus. And the larger the file (raw or fine jpeg option) the easier it is to crop later in even a simple editing program to give the impression of being closer still.

~With a DSLR it's no secret that a good telephoto lens can be a great substitute for a macro lens if needed. Hence the images posted today. It may require you to stand at a further distance from your subject initially, but it gets you much closer visually. Be very careful to have a tripod when possible though, with tight detail you want the image as sharp as possible. 

~When you can, wait for great light. This is hard to anticipate, but once at the location assess what kind of light you're working with (or against in the case of dark interiors with florescents). Greenhouses are ideal, you know whatever the light is doing outside will be infusing the interior as well. But I have found cloudy weather, though great for even lighting, is still dark enough in a greenhouse that I either need to use a tripod again to use longer exposures with sharpness, or I need to use a combination of subtle flash and a higher ISO. Light in the autumn season is the most wonderful light to work with, even when it's full on sun. It's still warm and no matter the direction, it wraps around a subject. I waited for a sunny day to visit the Mum Show and the wait paid off in really rich light bathing the flowers.

~Stop looking for "flowers" per se, and start looking for engaging shapes, forms, and color patterns. It can be overwhelming to step into wall to wall award winning chrysanthemums, tulips, or orchids and then try to figure out what to actually zero in on. I'll often single out the largest or most boldly colored blossoms and aim my lens at those first. It gets me warmed up, and I start seeing things more creatively. I always look for the petals that might still be holding water drops, that are unfurling in unique patterns, and contrasting colors of petal against others beyond them. Clusters of perfect blossoms can be very dramatic if your exposure is set to maximize deep color.

"Sweet Baby Jane"

~ Change that perspective PLEASE. Many displays are at eye level, and it's easy to forget to change your vantage point after a while. I can always pick out the more intense photographers at a show because they're the ones getting beneath the flowers shooting up, tucking themselves against displays shooting across or into rows of fabulous flowers, or finding the stairs or balcony of a show room and shooting over top of it all. Heck, I've been know to hold my camera way over my head and hope the auto focus does it's job while I shoot blind over the heads of a group of flowers. Or nearly set it on the floor, just as blindly pointing the lens up into identical groupings for impact. Zooming into the middle of a large bloom on a long exposure setting can be magical too!

~Finally, pay attention to your Depth of Field. Understanding how to use a shallow DOF (keeping your aperture wide open, F/2.8 for example) and how it works in relation to the lens you're using, the distance you're photographing at, and what the purpose of the shot is, is key. Dramatic, creative images can be enhanced with a wider aperture. But later when you photograph an entire display with layers of fabulous flowers, you want to close down your aperture to use a narrower DOF to your advantage, getting the whole scene in sharp focus. And be aware if you're not using manual focus that you are choosing a focus point in your viewfinder that allows you to get the most out of the available hyper-focal distance. For landscape format compositions, this can mean being careful to focus a third of the way into the scene so that everything beyond is also continuously full of detail. And pump up that DOF if your goal is to have every petal in the close-up sharp too.

Whew, a lot of writing today. But I find it difficult to dissect what happens every time I consider photographing flowers... I hope this was helpful?
Have a great day gang, and thanks for the instructional ramble!


  1. Great advice and tips. I think I might need to print this and keep it in my camera bag:) Judging by the pictures I would say your suggestions really work. I totally agree with the Perspective comment, there is so much more to see when you change your shooting position

  2. Awesome, thanks so much Peter! I'm finding as I get older, the crawling around UNDER the flowers is less appealing... makes me get super creative now to avoid creaky joints, lol.