It’s a lovely summer’s day here at Gale Photography HQ, and looking through the office window at the plants outside, I couldn’t help noticing just how much difference the angle of the light makes to their appearance.
If we just look at one leaf to see what I mean..
This Kolomikta leaf has direct sunlight on it, coming from over my shoulder. This direct lighting is great for showing what the leaf looks like, and would be good for a plant recognition book. The leaf does look a bit flat however.
In this image I’ve turned the leaf so that the light is now glancing across its surface at an angle. Shadows have appeared, and the leaf looks much more 3-dimensional. There’s much more of an idea of its structure than the previous image.
In this image, still of the same leaf, I’ve shot through the leaf with the sun directly behind it. There’s now a lovely luminosity to the leaf, the structure is clear to see, and it’s much more than a simple record of how it looks. The “contre-jour” lighting has really lifted the image. We’re now seeing the leaf by transmitted light instead of reflected light.
If we look at some leaves on a Japanese maple tree, there’s even more of a difference. For those who want to know such things it’s an acer palmatum dissectum “Red Dragon”.
Here the leaves all look much the same, with little image contrast, and once again it would be a useful shot for a text book. Where the leaves cross you just see more of the same colour. It was easier to take than the next shot, as I had to lie on the ground to get the sun at the right angle.
The sun shining through the leaves gives a much greater contrast, because where the leaves cross gives areas of darker red. You can now see why the plant is called “Red Dragon”; the red leaf colour is much more fiery.
Finally, here’s a studio image creatively using transmitted light, and shadow.
I set up an Nikon SB-800 remote flash behind the flower; a Peace Lily. The shadow of the spadix is clearly picked out against the white spathe. There’s great texture and structure as the light shines through the spathe. Because the only light source is the flash behind the flower, there’s no light on the background, so it has come out black, giving excellent image contrast.
So, next time you’re out photographing plants on a sunny day, think about where you want the light to be coming from, and you’ll get better images.
Looking for the best angle for the light is covered on my Photo Treks. Why not come along to one?