How To Get Perfect Light ?
Wildflowers display some of the most brilliant colors found in nature. And, for good reason– they’re fiercely competing with each other to attract their pollinating friends: the insects and a few species of birds. However, their brilliant colors often make them difficult to photograph. Have you ever come
home with a full memory card only to find out that all those beautiful flower photos you took have blown out highlights, washed out colors, and harsh shadows? Well, there’s a secret to avoiding all these problems: photograph wildflowers on an overcast day. The clouds act as a natural diffuser of the Sun’s
light, so when the sky is overcast, you’ll get the most balanced natural light possible.
On the other hand, when the sky is clear, the bright sun will cast harsh shadows on flowers which creates a problem for exposure (and usually results in blown out highlights, like in the photo on the right). Since the colors of
wildflowers are practically all highlights, this is a huge problem! So, ideally, you’ll want to shoot your wildflower
photos on an overcast day. But, don’t worry if you can’t wait for the perfect light, you still have a few options (see the next tip).
How To Control The Light ?
What if you can’t wait for an overcast sky? Well, the next best thing you can hope for is a partly cloudy day. Then, wait until the sun goes behind a cloud before you shoot your photos. This won’t provide as good a diffusion as a completely overcast sky, but it will still get you great results. For example, the wildflowers of the Mojave Desert bloom for only a few weeks, and this desert rarely has an overcast day. So, in order to take the photo at the right, of a Desert Dandelion, I just waited until a few clouds blocked the Sun. You also have another option to compensate for poor natural lighting: use an artificial light diffuser. You can build your own in two easy steps. All you need is scissors, tape, a wire clothes hanger, and a shower curtain (make sure you get a semi-clear and non-tinted one).
And, here’s how to build it:
- Bend the wire hanger into a square or circular shape. You can do this just by pulling on the
bottom of the hanger and bending it until you get a nice square shape.
- Place the shower curtain over your bent hanger, and cutout a piece that is a little bigger
than the wire frame. Then, just tape this onto the frame, and you’re done!
- You should have something that looks like the photo below.
How to use your new diffuser ?
Using your new diffuser is easy–just hold it between the sunlight and the wildflower you’re photographing. Make sure you’re holding it in such a way to diffuse ALL light that’s coming into the frame (not just the light that’s shining on the flower).
How To Get Sharper Images ?
Since the viewer tends to look at the sharpest part of the image rst, it’s important to try and make
your flowers as sharp as possible. So, here are a few tips:
(1) Always use a tripod. I know–tripods are heavy, they take a long time to setup, and can cost a
lot of money, but it’s nearly impossible to get sharp photographs without one. Nothing keeps
your camera more still.
(2) Enable mirror lockup. Normally, the mirror in your SLR will flip up immediately before the shutter opens, and this flip can make the camera vibrate a little. Enabling mirror-lockup (disabled by default on most cameras)
will add a significant pause between the time the mirror goes up and the shutter opens, letting any vibration die down before the photo is actually taken. Look in your camera’s manual to find out how to enable this feature.
(3) Use a remote shutter-release or timer. The less you touch your camera, the less it will shake. When you press the shutter button on your camera to take a photo, there’s a good chance you’ll shake the camera a little. To prevent this, use a remote control to release the shutter, or you can just use the timer on your camera (so any vibration you
caused by pressing the button will die down before the shutter is actually released).
(4) Shoot lots and lots of photographs. Because wildowers are so gentle, the slightest breeze can send the ower bouncing through the air. Taking lots of photos will help you capture the ower in between these movements.
(5) Use the sweet spot of your lens. Most lenses are sharpest in their “mid ranges.” For example, if your 70-200mm zoom lens has a speed of f/4, then you’ll probably get the sharpest results from using f/6.3 and zoomed at 135 mm. Very rarely are lenses sharp on their “fringes.” Also, fixed focal length lenses are generally sharper than zoom lenses.
How To Get A Perfect Exposure ?
Getting a good exposure is extremely important in wildower photography, because if you try to correct the exposure too much in post processing, then you’ll lose a lot of detail in the flower’s petals. Luckily, with digital photography, we have tools like the histogram to help us find that perfect exposure. The histogram is an essential tool for determining digital exposure. If the word “histogram” brings back bad memories of boring lectures in math class, don’t worry: the histogram is pretty simple. It basically just shows the distribution of light and dark pixels in your image.
Here’s an example, with each axis labeled:
The goal with the RGB histogram is simple: you don’t want to underexpose or overexpose any of the color channels, so look at each channel’s histogram to ensure the graph isn’t bunching up to one side and overowing off the graph. If you’re overexposing your image, then the histogram will show a line on the far right that extends all the way to the top of the histogram. As an example, below is the RGB histogram for the same photo I showed earlier of the
Desert Five-Spot: Notice how the green channel doesn’t spread all the way to the right? At first, you might
think this means the image is underexposed, but remember: this is only the histogram of the green channel.
With the RGB histogram, your goal is not necessarily to get a balanced histogram in each channel, but instead to ensure you’re not losing details in any one of the color channels by underexposing or overexposing.
Your goal is to keep increasing exposure (using longer shutter speeds), until the histogram is as far to the right as possible in at least one of the color channels. So, although the green channel doesn’t have many highlights in this image, notice how the blue channel does: its histogram is spread out and nearly touches the right side. The important highlights in this image are in the blue channel, so that’s what I exposed for. Many times you will have just one of the color channels spreading all the way to the right, while the others will be to the left or in the middle. The channel you should focus on is the one that’s farthest to the right. In this case, it was the blue channel.
How To Darken a Background ?
To make a wildflower really stand out in your photos, you’ll want a dark background, so the bright colors of the wildflower really jump out at the viewer. This is really easy to do in Photoshop, and here’s how:
(1) Use the “Elliptical Marquee” tool to circle your subject. If your flower isn’t circular, then you’ll need to use the lasso tool to outline it.
(2) Invert your selection by selecting “Inverse” from the “Select” menu.
(3) Add a new “Levels” Adjustment Layer by going to the “Layer” menu, then selecting “New Adjustment Layer” and finally “Levels”
(4) Make your selection darker by dragging the leftmost triangle towards the right (see red circle in screenshot below). The more you drag this triangle to the right, the darker your background will get. Stop when you’re satisfied, and click “OK”
(5) You should now have a dark background, but there’s probably a sharp outline between
your subject and the background now. To get rid of this, go to the “Filter” menu and
select “Gaussian Blur” under the “Blur” submenu. Start at 100 pixels and keep
increasing the value until that sharp edge is gone and the dark background merges
smoothly with your wildower.