“A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth. ” Richard Avedon
We're at the beginning or middle of Flower Show season depending on how you look at things.
Last weekend I was at RHS Malvern, this weekend I'll be up at RHS Chelsea. It's always an exciting time. Designers, nursery owners, suppliers, builders, sculptors etc etc all decsend on a smallish patch of land just north of the River Thames in London to build gardens and exhibit their wears.
RHS Chelsea is gardening's London Fashion Week.
This year I have been commissioned to photograph one of the gardens on Main Avenue, The Beauty of Islam. I'm really looking forward to it. It involves photographing the garden for the clients but also photographing the glamour and glitz associated with RHS Chelsea and to photograph the designer Kamelia bin Zaal with the various famous visitors to the show.
Photographing people is great fun, but can be challenging especially if they are not used to the camera. Most visitors on Monday's press day at RHS Chelsea are veterans at looking good for the camera but most of us aren't.
So here are my top tips on photographing people to make them look natural and relaxed.
1 Always talk to them, about them; what they do, things that interest them, this will put them at ease.
2 Smile. A smile will always break the tension.
3 Explain what you want them to do. Try to work this out before hand.
4 Ask them to stand side on to the camera and look into the lens this often works better than facing the camera.
5 Give them direction; suggest what they should do with their hands, hold something relevant, slip them into their pockets, rest them on the seat they are sitting on etc.
6 If their hair or clothing isn't looking right let them know so that they can fix it.
7 Don't tell them to relax. If they are very tense ask them to shake out, shake their heads and arms to relax their body. Or get them to blow a raspberry-anything crazy like this will usually end up in a giggle and be ready to take that shot.
8 If they don't look comfortable looking into the lens ask them to look away and back, the second they look at the lens snap the shot. You may have to do this several times.
9 Politely ask them not to talk too much. Nervous people always talk, you will not get a good shot if their mouth is always moving.
10 If they are struggling, stop and take a break.
11 Photograph them in a situation that they are familiar with.
12 Shoot them with the sun directly behind them to throw them into silhouette.
13 Photograph them in shade, not direct sunlight it is very unflattering.
14 Use props. Chairs can be sat on or leaned on, walls are good to lean against, steps, tools, flowers the list goes on.
15 Ask them to walk away from you and on your command get them to look back at you.
16 Don't just photograph faces, how about hands, feet, close-ups of eyes.
17 Stand on a chair and shoot them from a higher angle.
19 Ask them to lie on the ground and get down to their level or stand over them.
20 Look for interesting backdrops such as long straight roads.
21 Photograph them going about their daily business.
I hope that gives you the confidence to go out and shoot more portraits. Oh, one more thing, always ask permission to take someone's photo-it's polite and it keeps things friendly!
I asked Michael Caine if I could photograph him one Chelsea, he wasn't courting attention but I smiled and he just smiled back - he was charming. It doesn't work every time. There was a moment with Mary Berry, but that would be telling!
And here are a few from over the years...
I photographed the photo above of a farmhouse with a wide=angle lens, holding the camera portrait style.
It's important to find an interesting foreground that leads the viewers eye to the main subject, in this case a sprinkling of daisies.
Let the camera work out the shutter speed by setting your camera to aperture priority.
Use a wide depth of field, a high f number.
Several elements have to come together to make a photograph; the subject, the light and of course the composition. Here I'll show you how using perspective in your composition can improve your photography.
I used a similar technique with the photograph of the path and gate above, but this time I used a narrow depth of field, focusing on the gate to throw the background out of focus. This give the photograph a dreamy feel.
Andrew is a woodsman, so I used some branches to lead your eye towards him and his son in the wood he manages. Again a wide angle lens makes the shot.
When I photograph flowers I like to get down to their level.
In the shot below-a group of alliums made the perfect backdrop to the main flower.
This time I used a long lens, a Canon 70-200mm and set the aperture so that the main flower is sharp and the rest are slightly blurred.
I positioned the camera so that all you can see are the colours purple and green.
Uncluttered and simple.
At Chelsea flower show a few years ago this vertical garden by Diarmuid Gavin was displayed with lots of Chelsea Pensioners.
Complimentary colours red and green look great together.
I wanted to show the height of the garden and also highlight the pensioners - I crouched down low to get this shot.
I photographed Jake (below) who is an expert at cloud pruning.
He carried interesting tools and was thoroughly absorbed in showing some gardeners the skills involved.
Everyone was concentrating on what he was doing and no-one paid any attention to me.
This time I used the wide-angle close-up to my main subject.
And finally, have some fun.
Using perspective in composition is a great tool.
Play with your lenses, move around focus on different parts of the shot.
Once you understand how powerful they are you can start to plan what story you want to tell.
As with everything the more you practice the better photos you will take.
Getting your image in focus is a bit of a given. But I see lots of shots that are out-of-focus. Millions of images are created every second and shared all round the world; you want to take the best photos. Here's how.
The basic focus settings
It does just that. Focuses for you. Most cameras and some smart phones have focusing points that you can set.
You have more creative control when you use the following settings.
Single shot mode
Point at the part of the subject you want in focus and half press the shutter to focus. Recompose the shot while keeping your original focus point by continuing to hold down the shutter. When you have composed the shot press the shutter fully. This it is a good all rounder.
Canon One Shot
Continuous focus modes
When you photograph objects that are constantly moving.
Set to shutter priority, 500s or more.
Check your aperture (the camera will set this according to light conditions, shutter speed and ISO setting.
By increasing the ISO you will allow a smaller aperture (higher f-number) and therefore a wider depth-of-field which will render more of your shot in focus.
It's always worth experimenting with different settings.
Canon AI Servo
The camera does all the work, slightly different from Auto. According to the situation it will choose which of the 2 modes to use. Perfect? I never use this, I prefer to have more control over the outcome.
Canon AI Focus
Finally, and not to be missed.
You do need good eyesight or glasses to use this successfully. It is really useful for close-ups particularly where a narrow-depth-of-field is necessary. You can choose exactly where you want to focus. I usually combine this with several different apertures and choose the most satisfying image when I can see it at 100% on a computer screen. Using a very narrow depth of field can render your shot too 'soft'. A tripod is pretty much essential for this.
OK, I've done all that by my shot is still blurred.
Here are some possible reasons:
Your shutter speed is not fast enough
Increase the shutter speed or ISO, or
Use a tripod
Use mirror lock-up and a tripod (if your camera has this function)
With SLR's a mirror flips up when you press the shutter. Light hits the sensor and the image is made. This action can cause camera shake even if you are using a tripod and the shutter speed is slow.
When I shoot close-ups I like to use a low ISO setting to get the best quality images, which means fixing the camera to a tripod and using mirror-lock-up (which is not available on all cameras.)
A way round this is to set your camera to timer, focus manually, press the shutter, the mirror goes up a few seconds later the image is captured by which time the camera should be perfectly still.
It isn't rocket science but it is vital.
Poorly focused photos are just not saleable or good to look at and you want to be the best!
Cherry Blossom is one of my favourite images. It heralds the real beginning of Spring.
So grab your photography gear and get out to photograph some blossom.
I took these photographs at Batsford Arboretum this time last year for Gardens Illustrated. It took a couple of visits to capture the blooms as they flower over a few weeks.
I photographed most of these using a long lens as many blooms on mature trees are fairly high up. My camera was fitted onto a study tripod because you need a lot of patience to get the shots, because the wind catches the dainty flowers and the smallest movement can spoil your composition or blur your image.
Camera Canon mark III DSLR
Lens Canon Zoom - EF 70-200mm
or for lower down a macro, Canon 100mm
Tripod with remote shutter release
Patience (which doesn't come cheap)
Some tips for success:
Here are a small selection of my favourites.
This is the final feature in Gardens Illustrated April 2015
Next week: Focusing know-how.
Whatever the reason it's good to go with a plan
To tell a story
Here are my tips for telling a story
This time last year I decided to visit The London Plant & Design Fair,
it's the first show in the RHS calander.
It isn't widely publicised and I'm not sure why.
Think of the timing, February, yuck.
The end of a long, cold Winter.
This is what greeted me.
The venue is amazing it has a high arched roof and is filled with soft light and the occasional shaft of sunlight.
The stands were filled with colour and lifted my spirits.
What follows is an edited selection of the shots I took that day (and why) to show you how I wanted to tell this story through my lens.
Get the wow factor straight off the bat with your opening shot. I took this portrait and landscape.
Portrait wins hands down, it shows off the venue, which for one of these shows is unusually interesting.
Pick out exhibitor stands to showcase
I photographed several but this one shows how you can make more of a story out of them by shooting over the top and seeing visitors in the background.
Which brings me to another important point,
They always bring these stories to life.
(only photograph children with the written permission of their parents though.)
Once you've captured plenty of wide shots, pick some beautiful, and unusual plants and take
Maybe pick a theme, such as new plants.
Look for more than just a shot sometimes, look for the narrative.
Illustrate the other events going such as lectures or practical demonstrations.
It's not just about plants, show the other products people can buy.
And, the people who make the show happen;
so passionate, so knowledgeable and so hard working!
...and the new kids on the block...
Work fast and pay attention
all the time to what's going on around you.
The light caught these Iris reticulata and made the shot.
So now you know about a rarely publicised RHS show.
This year it's called The London Plant and Potato Fair 20–21 February 2015
Not the sexiest name, but there will be colour, lots of it, oh and potatoes.
So if you have time, pop along and support the exhibitors.
And the next time you pick up your camera make a plan, you'll love the results.
The other day, someone said to me,
A strange comment, I thought, as half the country is under snow. But there is some truth, new shoots are beginning to emerge, the days are getting longer and sprinklings of snowdrops dance across gardens all over the country. So, how do you photograph these little beauties and other tiny Spring flowers, because that's what they all are...tiny and close to the ground. Here are my top tips:
Choose a day when there is no wind or the slightest breeze.
Any other conditions are hopeless. Then:
That's your essential kit part 1. All this is necessary because you have to get down to their level to get good shots, and it is cold, muddy and wet. And if you don't you will be MISERABLE.
So what camera kit do I take? You do need a camera that has interchangeable lenses.
Camera set up:
Here's some I took earlier.
The arrow shows where I focused the lens. Aperture f5 shutter speed 1/1000s using my Canon EF 70-200. There was a long line of crocus behind which I wanted to blur. I probably took around 10-15 shots in all varying the aperture and the point of focus to get the final image.
In the next shot I wanted the group of snowdrops to be in focus, the light was playing on the subject and glistening on the grass, with these conditions you can achieve lovely bokeh effects.
Arrow 1 points to where I focused, 2 and 3 show the bokeh effect by using a shallow depth of field with this lens, again the Canon EF 70-200mm. Aperture f10 shutter speed 1/60s. This is not a very wide aperture, but it shows all the snowdrops in focus the foreground and background blurred.
If you can't face lying on the ground, the alternative is to photograph plants in pots, or pick them. The results are still lovely and if they are in a glass house, you will be much warmer!
Lens: Canon Macro 100mm, shutter speed 1/250 aperture f7.1. This Iris was shot in a greenhouse,
so much warmer.
Winter means short days and not a lot of light.
Bare earth and dying foliage.
Muddy fields and rain.
It also means crisp frosty mornings,
watery winter sunlight, and
Photography in Winter requires a special kind of commitment:
Hot tip: In very cold weather keep your spare battery (you do always carry a spare don't you?) In your trouser pocket to keep warm, that way you can swap your batteries over when they get too cold and stop working properly.
Hot tip two: Carry a hand warmer. In temperatures of -8C I thought that my automatic locking on my car had stopped working, it was actually my fingers!
Wait until conditions are right:
These are some I made earlier...
So wrap up, get out there and have some fun.
1 Stop using auto
Instead dial onto aperture priority or shutter priority and experiment.
2 Understand your lens
If you have more than one lens, choose one and go out for an hour or so, shoot 40 or more shots varying the way you use that lens. Go home, take a long hard look at the results on your computer screen and see what you can learn.
3 Photograph a willing subject
Ask a friend if they will model for you. Say you will need them for about 1 hour and then photograph them. Work out how you will pose before hand. If you are using natural light, make sure you chose somewhere that has interesting light, diffused if possible.
4 Clean your equipment
Keep your kit clean. Use a lint free cloth I like Pec*Pads. Keep your bag dust free and organised. Regularly download images from memory cards then format to erase them. Keep a cloth in your bag to wipe your camera if it gets wet. Always keep a lens hood on your camera.
5 Set up a still life
Place your subject close to a natural light source, frame and shoot. Experiment with different apertures and camera angles. Try fruit, musical instruments, bottles anything really.
6 Move (pan) the camera
While you are shooting a subject either sweep it up or to the side when you press the shutter. Alternatively, zoom the lens in when you shoot, you may need a tripod. Experiment its great fun.
7 Try light painting
In Winter, when there is more darkness than light try this. Set your camera up on a tripod. Set to bulb. Click the shutter and stand with a torch 10 feet in front of the lens. Make a picture with the torch, after say 60s. Depress the shutter again and look at the results. Keep trying adjusting the shutter speed till you get the right effect.
8 Use a tripod
Essential for longer exposures they are a bit cumbersome to begin with, but I wouldn't be without mine.
9 Use a neutral density filter
Useful to darken skies and balancing the light over a whole frame. It doesn't affect the colour.
10 Share your photos
...the list goes on and will probably get longer! Ask for feedback and give feedback to others. It is about sharing after all.
Sign up for my newsletter if you want my HOT 3 tips if you want to take great photos
The basic elements
What is macro photography?
And it is great for art subjects too.
New compacts, bridge cameras or even smart phones are geared up to take great macro shots now.
Pretty impressive stuff, and the file sizes are impressive too.
However, you do need to use equipment that is suitable for your end use:
Mastering the technique
As with most things once you have nailed this, you just have fun getting a good composition and seeing the results.
So here are my tips on how to shoot great macro images:
Once you have mastered the technique it's all about composition, choosing:
Top tip: shoot the same subject several times altering the aperture (f-stop) each time then choose which one has the right amount of the subject in focus and good background blur. Edit on your computer, ideally; blow it up to 100% to see what it really looks like. This takes a bit more time but guarantees you a good result.
Shooting butterflies and insects
Watch out for my blog post on that. It's a whole new technique.
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'Shooting butterflies dead...SHARP!'
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“Nobody sees a flower-
it is so small it takes time-
we haven't time
and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time.”
Do you want to be a garden photographer? Or do you just want to capture the beauty of nature? If you can say yes to either, then you must master the art of taking fantastic plant portraits.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.