When I first got started in photography, there were two subjects that I photographed all the time, birds and flowers. I photographed so many birds back in the day it made me hungry for Kentucky Fried Chicken! Before emptying my bank account into KFC’s, it was time to find another subject. Flowers are everywhere, they don’t talk back, they stay upright, are visual appealing, don’t need a model release and they even smell good once in awhile. Who doesn’t like a great photograph of a flower? They are on greeting cards, grocery advertisements and when Mother’s Day comes around you better watch out.
As I make my rounds at different locations either with classes or if I’m just putting around, I look to see if there are any interesting flowers around. The flowers that I’m going to show you here came from the History Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. The location isn’t so important; it’s the subject that sells the show. If you live in either a hot or cold climate and you don’t want to go out and brave the elements, that’s perfectly fine, that is what a florist or grocery store is for. For less that $20 you can get a bouquet of flowers that will entertain you for hours in the comfort of your home. When you’re done, give them to your spouse and tell them that you were thinking about them. This actually worked the first few times, but the wife is on to me now! In fact, when I do buy flowers, she asks if they are really for her or for the camera. Another great place to get flowers cheap are in a funeral home the back yard. Check out my other post called, “Yard Art” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Let me talk about what my main gear is when I go on these types of shoots. Since I shoot and enjoy macro so much, I use a regular macro lens. This is a dedicated lens just for this. The one that I use is a Nikon 105mm Nikkor marco. Yes, B&H has these in stock. Personally, I was never able to get as close as I wanted with the “flower” setting or the “macro” setting on a long lens. Macro lenses allow you to get within inches of your subject. Depending on what you are shooting this may or may not be a problem. If you are shooting butterflies, you better freeze them sneak up on them on a colder morning. If you are trying to shoot drops of milk like you see in commercials, then it’s quite easy. There are different focal lengths of macro lenses; the ones that I’m familiar with are 60mm, 105mm and 200mm. If you are going to be shooting bugs, get the 200mm, but the lowest that I would go would be the 105mm as the 60mm you would have to be right on top of your subject and this can make working with lighting a bit difficult.
Since we are talking about lighting, there are a couple of ways to go here. First, there is natural light, which is the easiest, unless you are trying to photograph at midnight! With natural light, find an area that is in the shade. This will create soft light and your subject will almost “glow”. There aren’t any harsh highlights or shadows and your camera will be able to capture the whole dynamic range in the scene. However, what if your subject is out in an open field that there isn’t a cloud as far as the eye can see and it’s noon? Easy. Call B&H and ask for a “12 inch diffuser from Impact”. These are really cheap, I bought mine for $9.95 as of this writing and it works wonders. All you do is hold the diffuser on the side that the sun is coming from as close to the subject as possible while it’s still not in the frame and you will have instant diffused light. OK, this is great for flowers, what about, oh I don’t know….people. Easy. Call B&H back and ask for a “43 inch 5 in 1 reflector”. These are great for upper body shots. If you need something bigger, it’s time to go to Wally World and get a bed sheet. We can save that for another post.
The other piece of equipment that I use often is a reflector. This does the exact opposite of what I mentioned above. This reflects light back on to your subject. These come in all shapes and sizes. Again, I have a 12 inch gold/silver one that I use for smaller objects and my 5 in 1 has gold and silver as part of the 5 in 1, how cool is that? These 12 inch reflectors/diffusers are so small when they are folded up, they will fit in a shirt pocket. In fact, I even have walked into Ringling to shoot roses and had these in my pocket and they were undetected by the red coats.
Another piece of equipment that is pretty much a necessity and you won’t find in any camera store are knee pads. If you are like me and working with flowers, you’re going to be on the ground. In fact, I keep telling myself I need to go purchase a pair and I keep forgetting until I’m on the ground again! Those foam pads will also work really well if you have one or a seat cushion for a baseball stadium as these can be washed with a damp cloth.
There are two other very important pieces of equipment that I use on a daily basis and I recommend using these even if you aren’t shooting macro, a tripod and an electronic release. Those of you whom I have met or taken any of my classes know how I feel about a tripod…when it makes sense. With macro you really don’t have a choice here. Any little movement is going to look like an earthquake through the lens. If you bought a $3,000 camera, do yourself a favor and don’t buy a $30 tripod. Why? I’m not being a snob here, it’s about insurance, a good quality tripod may save your investment from blowing over or if someone kicks it. I use Manfrotto products as they are affordable and will last forever. I’m not getting paid to say this (I WISH!) but I’m telling you what I actually use. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could find good quality tripods at cheap prices? There is, ready for the big secret? Goodwill. No joke, my wife is the savvy shopper in the family and she calls and tells me who has what for sale. Tripods don’t go bad…ugh people do. So when a photographer is “done” with a tripod, the family just wants to get rid of the stuff and this is where garage sales and Goodwill come in to the picture (nice pun, eh?).
On the electronic release, you can buy manufacture ones, but this is one area that I’ll let you slide if you like. I bought my official Nikon release for $70. There is now a company now called Vello (yes, B&H stocks their stuff) and they are much more affordable, like $7 affordable for my $70 release! I would ask what the price is for the “official” one and then see if Vello makes one. Think of all those folks out there whom whished they had subscribed to my blog to save some money! I know many students who have bought Vello products and they have worked well. Yes, they come from the land of rice, but so do the “official” ones. By the way did you notice the little yellow bug in the above photo? I didn’t until I got home and saw the photo on a real monitor. He was the size of the head on a pin. This is why I love manufacture glass.
People sometimes ask me what do you do with all of your photos? Well, it would be nice if I could sell them, but for this past Mother’s Day I made a card. Why pay Hallmark $5 a crack when you can go to Staples get a ream of 80# cardstock and make your own cards for less than $20? Get the envelopes while you are there too. The days of me drawing something in crayon are over so this will have to be the next best thing.
You have all of the equipment, now what? I shoot in manual mode and you’re going to need a really long depth of field. My 105mm goes up to f/40! You might be thinking….f/40!!?? Yes, because you are so close to the subject that your depth of field is in quarter inches. Even at f/40 you may only have a couple of inches of depth of field to work with. I also use ISO 100 as that is the lowest that my camera goes and then I set the shutter speed accordingly.
I have a few more macro projects coming up so if this area of photography interests you, then you’re in luck. No matter what you have for equipment, go out and shoot. This is supposed to be fun at the end of the day. Some folks get enjoyment of having all of the toys and talking about shutter speeds and such and that is great. I rather be out shooting and trying to make some photographs that may inspire or put a smile on someone’s face. A camera is like having a special key that will unlock many doors that otherwise would have been locked. It’s been an amazing ride. Thanks for coming along with me on my journey.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean