Get on down – for the sake of clarity

There are signs of spring here in Southern England.  The snowdrops are almost over, the birds are nesting like mad, and all of those lovely spring flowers are getting ready to pop out.  What with the days getting longer as well, the winter hibernation of many photographers will soon be over too. So how do you get great photographs of the new season’s growth?  Well, here are some photo tips.  

It pays to get yourself down to the level of the plants themselves.  What you are trying to produce with outdoor plant and flower pictures is something that sums up the plant/flower and its environment.  If you stay at normal human height relative to the plant you’ll just get a shot of it from above.  Drop down and you can simplify the image. 

"Snowdrops" by Gale Photography

"Snowdrops" by Gale Photography

Here the snowdrops were in a raised bed which meant that I didn’t have to drop down so far.  Here I’ve gone for three clumps of snowdrops, rather than isolating a single flower.  Snowdrops look their best as drifts of flowers, with each clump of flowers relying on the others for the best effect, so I’ve tried to record that here. 

If you can’t bend down or lie down on the ground to get a low viewpoint, it can be hard to see the viewing screen on the back of your camera.  The Panasonic Lumix FX-500 compact digital camera that I used for the snowdrops picture, has a rear screen viewing angle option for where you hold the camera above your head.  If you set it to that, and then turn the camera upside down, you can hold it closer to the ground and still see the screen clearly. 

As another example of the simplifying effect of getting down to where the flowers are, here’s a shot of a cowslip (primula). 

"Cowslip" by Gale Photography

"Cowslip" by Gale Photography

I’ve been able to make the flower the simple main subject.  You can tell that the plant is growing in a grassy area, yet the background is not distracting whilst still having enough detail to give you an idea of the plant’s environment. 

You can do this with other plant types as well.  Here’s a shot of some catkins on a weeping silver birch tree. 

"Silver birch catkins" by Gale Photography

"Silver birch catkins" by Gale Photography

I chose a low viewpoint that was level with the catkins (lovely word!), and made an image that had just two of the catkins and some newly emerged leaves.  The leaves have that fabulous acid green colour that only spring can produce.  By using a long focal length lens, I’ve thrown the background well out of focus.  We cover how to achieve this sort of image on our outdoor photography training – the Gale Photography Photo Treks. 

Finally, one of the classic flowers of Southern England is the snakeshead fritillary.  They love damp areas, and I’m lucky enough to have them growing in my garden, by the pond.  They are one of the few plants in nature to have a regular checkerboard pattern. 

"Snakeshead fritillary" by Gale Photography

"Snakeshead fritillary" by Gale Photography

The ground was pretty wet, so I put a waterproof sheet on the ground and laid on that.  You do need to be careful that you won’t damage any plants when you do this.  The foreground plant was fully out, and the two others; one white, one normal, were still to flower fully.  This gave a good contrast with the flower that was out. 

I hope that you’ll try some of these techniques for yourself this spring, and perhaps I’ll see you on a Photo Trek soon. 

Cheers, 

Derek.

www.galephotography.co.uk

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