I have a digital SLR Nikon D3200 camera, a recently purchased 105mm macro lens and a passion for plants. Although I had been on a basic photography course and learned the fundamentals of photography, I was still not completely happy with the flower photographs I was producing.
Clive Nichols is a well known professional photographer specialising in taking photographs of flowers and gardens. I recently enrolled on his course Flower and Plant Photography Masterclass: How to photograph Plants and Flowers like a Pro on the MyGardenSchool website of online gardening courses:
The course is divided into four, weekly video lessons, each of which comes out on a Saturday. From my point of view, this was ideal since I was able to watch whilst doing the ballet run on a Saturday morning and, for that matter, watch again as many times as I wanted to on whichever device I chose. The lessons are also backed up by well-produced notes with inspirational photos, which can be downloaded as PDFs and/or can be read on an e-reader.
The lesson for week 1 was entitled Lighting for Flower and Plant Photography, in which I was encouraged to think about different types and quality of light when photographing my subjects.
The soft, diffuse light of an overcast day is much better than the bright light of a sunny day, which produces too many highlights and shadows. The colours, textures and details of individual flowers can be captured perfectly on an overcast day. I hadn't taken any photos of flowers indoors, but was stunned by the effects that can be produced using the side light from a window and a coloured background to accentuate or complement the colour of the flower subject. I learned when to use bright sunlight to best advantage, such as taking a photo of spring blossom against a bright blue sky. Backlighting and side lighting were also covered and there was a useful section on underexposing and overexposing using the camera's exposure compensation button.
Each weekly video lecture is followed by an assignment and the first one was to experiment with the different lighting techniques discussed and then to upload three photographs with a short paragraph explaining what I was trying to achieve, whether I thought that I had achieved it and what I could have done better! These are my three photos from week one:-
I have a tendency to snap beautiful flowers whatever the conditions and am often disappointed with the results. I found that considering the light conditions before snapping made me think more about my subjects and also made me much more critical of my own efforts, resulting in less photos of a higher quality.
There is a virtual classroom in which you can chat to other course attendees and into which your assignments are uploaded for comment by the course tutor. Clive's feedback on my photographs was promptly delivered and always encouraging, with suggestions on how to further improve my shots.
The lesson for week 2 was Composition for Flower and Plant Photography which covered a number of techniques for making more effective images. It's really important to study the flower you are photographing to capture it from the best angle, whether that is singly, in a group, mirrored by similar flowers in the background or really close-up to capture the repeating patterns within the flower structure.
These are some photos from week two:-
I found that one of the most difficult skills to learn was the ability to crop an image to produce the most pleasing result, whether whilst taking the photograph or during post-processing.
The lesson for week 3 was entitled Working Indoors and Outdoors in which photographic still lifes were covered in more detail, the indoors being a perfect controllable environment with no wind to deal with and a number of opportunities for shooting flowers from different angles and using carefully chosen props such as jugs, vases, different backgrounds etc. Taking photographs outdoors in different weather conditions and at different times of the day was also covered. These are my photographs from week three:-
The final lesson in week 4 was Developing Vision & Technique. It dealt with taking photographs from different viewpoints such as low down for smaller flowers or with a complementary colour as a background - this might involve considering the subject from different angles in order to get the best backdrop. I also learned more about experimenting with different depths of field for the best results and a few effects for post-processing photographs in a photo editing programme such as Photoshop.
These are my photographs from week four:
Since doing this course I have approached my flower photography in a completely different way, with more thought about exactly how I want to photograph my flower subjects, not only to show off their best characteristics but also to create the most pleasing image. Although I need to use many of the techniques learned on the course for a single photograph, it was really useful to break down all the considerations into separate lessons in order to explore each one in depth.
I would thoroughly recommend this course if you want to take your flower photography to the next level. It is not a course for beginners since it assumes a knowledge of apertures, depth of field and shutter speed. The examples provided of Clive's work throughout the course and his personal feedback were invaluable.