Wednesday, December 08, 2010

About Photos - a Very Wordy Wednesday!

I often get nice comments on the quality of the photographs here on the blog (thank you!). Recently, Janine asked for a few tips on how she could improve her garden photos, and I decided it would be fun to expand on my initial response.  Although I’m by no means an expert, my photographs are an important part of my business, not only for this blog, but for lectures and classes, to document the site conditions for my design projects, and for my portfolio as well. I also use photography as a design tool; in isolating my view through the lens of a camera, I can focus in on a unique composition or isolated detail.  In other words, a camera often helps me “see” better.  Last but not least, I think photography is fun --- I truly enjoy sharing my little corner of the world with you!

General guidelines:
Composition: If your subject doesn’t look good when you look at it through the viewfinder, it’s not going to look good on screen or in print. In garden shots, be especially aware of hoses, tools, or toys lying about.
Light: Try to avoid the intensity of mid-day sunlight. If the glare from glossy leaf surfaces doesn’t get you, the contrast of deep shadows will. Early morning, early evening, and – even better, in my opinion – the soft light of high cloud cover, work best.

Camera Setting: Never use the "auto" setting on your camera. Although I rarely work in full manual mode any more, I do always play with the preset modes that vary the lens aperture (opening). Photograph your subject with a few different settings. You may be surprised what the subtle differences in depth of field and focus can do in creating a better image. I’ve also found that the “action/running man” mode can be great for capturing images outdoors when conditions are breezy.

 Quantity: Take lots of pictures. For every photo you see here on the blog, I’ve usually taken 3-6 more with a slightly different angle or different camera setting. And I’ve taken hundreds and hundreds of pictures that never see the light of day!
Keep your camera handy: Most great photographs are the result of an unexpected opportunity, just being in the right place at the right time. The vast majority of the photos you see here on the blog are taken in my own garden simply because I can respond immediately to a random occurrence.
Minimize Editing: Almost every photo can use a bit of cropping – and some of them can use a lot. Light balancing (moderating glare or deep shadows) can also be helpful, but for the most part, if you’re after a natural representation of the subject matter, don’t belabor it. All the bells and whistles in the world won’t turn a bad photo into a great one (review the first two items, above).

My camera and why I love it:
For the past 18 months or so I’ve been using a Nikon D60-SLR camera with an 18-55mm lens and 10.75 mega pixels. I’ve gone through several digital cameras over the years (the first was a Sony FDMavica with 1.6! mega pixels that used floppy discs! for image capture), and now understand which features work best for me.
Large Size: I almost never use a tripod and I find that a larger, heavier camera is actually easier for me to hold steady as I frame and squeeze off the shot. That said, the Nikon D60 also has a built in stabilizer that really has improved my ability to take a still photo by hand. (I use a very small digital Polaroid that I keep in my briefcase for quick documentation during site surveys of design projects.)
Quick-set Format: My term (not Nikon’s) for the way I typically use this camera, as a glorified point and shoot (see Camera Setting, above). I’m not a professional photographer, nor am I a particularly studious amateur, but I do need good photos for my work.
Viewfinder: No more fighting the glare off a screen!
High Pixel Count: The large number of pixels available with this camera allow me to crop the images to the extreme and – somewhat – replicate the effects of both a macro lens and a telephoto lens, before they break up.

A high number of pixels also allows for better quality large format prints. Three of my photos have been cover images for Colorado Green magazine (a regional trade publication).

High Quality Lens: Finally, for the best photos you must invest in good equipment. It all comes down to the optical quality of the lens. Over the years I’ve been very pleased with both Nikon and Pentax cameras.
On my Wish List: a telephoto lens, so I can shoot up into the tree tops!

I hope these tips have been helpful and I hope you’ll leave a comment about your experiences with garden photography.


ScottHokunson said...

Thanks for these great tips Jocelyn! I have been thinking about upgrading my camera and your thoughts will help with that process. The picture of the Clematis seed heads should be hanging in a gallery, absolutely magnificent!!

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

You're welcome, Scott. I know you'll love having a better camera for your work - it really does make a difference!

Janine Robinson said...

These are so helpful--better than any complicated book! I'm going to have to peruse them closely! I have yet to take my camera off auto (not sure why I'm so chicken!), but you have given me both the motivation and inspiration to give those manual controls a try.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Hey, Janine, thank YOU for the idea for this post!! Yes, cameras can be intimidating. I feel like I'm only using use 10% of my camera's functions 99% of the time! Let me know how your experiments go...

erin said...

what i did in high school photography, trying to get a decent understanding of apertures and shutter speeds [on a completely manual camera], was to: sit somewhere like a busy park and take a series of shots of the same thing, changing one thing [like aperture] every time, then noting it in a note book. portrait, landscape, motion, bright light, low light, etc.
with a digital camera it is especially easy to go back and compare a row of shots to what you wrote in the note book.
This way, when you are in a situation where you are trying to get both clear and blurred motion shots [for example], you can remember the 2 settings you're going for and are more likely to get the results you want.

Robert Webber said...

Lucky students to have you teaching them!
Very clear and well presented and lots of sound advice here!

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Erin, that is a fantastic tip! It doesn't do any good to take lots of shots if you can't remember how you achieved the results. As you learn from your experiments you'll be able to get the type of image you want more easily.

Thanks, Robert! I do try to use my knowledge for good, not evil. heh.