Your camera can help you see your garden in ways never imagined
Photography invites you to notice, to look, to see and to focus. When you photograph a flower, you see the fine details and make choices about which aspect of the flower to document. The stamen? The inside of the flower? The edge of a petal? Because your garden is a place where you have some ability to control and modify the environment, it’s ideal for practicing macro-, or extreme close-up photography. Think of it as making portraits of plants, single petals on a sunflower, the curve of green beans, the shiny mottled-green of a zucchini, the work of bees pollinating.
Many point-and-shoot cameras have a flower mode that sets the camera up for macro pictures. Macro capability can be added to cameras that have interchangeable lenses by purchasing a macro lens or adding a two-element close-up filter to a lens you already own. Using one of these filters on a telephoto lens blurs out distracting backgrounds and provides a fairly long working distance from whatever garden subject you choose—especially useful for bees and bugs and other creepy crawlers that you may not want to get too close to.
Now, select your image file size. Go big. Choose the largest file size in your camera’s menu and then select the highest quality—generally called “Fine.” This setting provides enough resolution to crop pictures and print enlargements. Memory cards for a digital camera are larger capacity and cheaper now than ever, so don’t bother to “save space.” Need help? Go to your local full-service camera store, have them show you how to make these changes, and invest in a second, larger memory card. You can’t get a crisp print from an undersized file. For resizing and other fine tuning, you can edit your images in a program like Adobe Photoshop.
Now that you’re ready to work with your camera, your next task is to consider shooting conditions. With macro photography you’ll quickly discover that the slightest breeze creates movement, blurring your subject. And, good lighting is essential.
The best natural light is often that of bright overcast skies, early morning, or evening. Otherwise, choose a breeze-free time of day and be prepared to modify the light to create the best photographs. Notice where your own shadow falls to prevent accidental shading. Use your camera’s built-in flash to light deep shadows and create sparkling highlights. Try lighting accessories like reflectors and diffusers to catch and redirect sunlight to fill shadows. This kind of reflected light looks warm, soft, and natural. Consider a gold reflector to mimic sunset light and warm colors. In the harsh midday sun, placing a diffuser or a plain white umbrella above your subject softens and diffuses the light while preserving details in the highlights and shadows. An umbrella also can be useful to block the wind.
Macro-photography is best accomplished from the stability of a tripod, even with your point-and-shoot camera. Once you set up your camera, check to be sure there are no objects in the back or foreground of the picture that will compete for attention with your chosen subject. Sticks, rocks, and leaves that are out of focus and mostly invisible in your viewfinder can become glaringly apparent in a photograph. A single blade of grass or a dead weed can spoil an otherwise perfect picture. Find them by looking through the viewfinder or on the LCD screen on the back of your camera and remove them. Next, look for sneaky plant parts that have inserted themselves between your camera and your subject.
The essential skills in macrophotography are patience and intimacy. Patience while you wait for a playful breeze to pass. Patience in either finding or creating the perfect lighting conditions. Patience with checking details of focus. Intimacy because you will see and experience your garden in ways you have never done before.
Jenna Caplette is employed by F-11
Photographic Supplies, Bozeman, Montana.