Doing nature photography obviously means being outside. Thus, our photography can be highly influenced by the weather. If we are photographing flowers, perhaps surprisingly, what we like most is a dull overcast day. And, definitely no wind. Wind is our greatest handicap. So, always check out whether it’s going to be a windy day or not. If it’s not, get out there, and, if it is nice and cloudy, you won’t have to worry about the sun’s light coming in and wreaking havoc with your highlights and shadows. Best of all is if you can get outside taking shots, just after it’s rained. Spring and summer rain, that tend to be finer, are wonderful and you can great shots of water droplets on your plants or flower. It adds a dimension and interest. That said, don’t be afraid to take photos of flowers in harsh light, i.e., with the sun full on, as it can also be interesting.
Most of us take a photo of a flower head on. That’s great and you can create wonderful moments. But also consider taking shots from different angles. A flower from the side or the back can be as equally or more compelling as from just straight. Also be prepared to go down low. If you are worried about getting dirty take a mat or something with you, so you can kneel or lie to be face to face with your plant. The results can be striking. Also think about the back ground. Most of the time we are focussing upon one particular flower or group of flowers or petal. Have a check on the background in your shot that there is nothing very disturbing – a slight flash of light in the wrong place, some thing that you really don’t want to be there and takes away from the final photo as a whole.
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Flower and nature photography really demands the largest aperture you can get. This will allow you to get a flower or part of it that you want beautifully focussed, with everything else blurred, with, hopefully lovely bokeh. So try and shoot if your camera allows at least to F5.6/F4.0. Quite often when you are out shooting flowers and plants, there are likely to be bees and butterflies. One little bit of advice that I read and turns out to be completely true, is that by late afternoon, early evening, all such become much drowsier, and thus, much easier to shoot. If you can, dial in to the memory of your camera and save a setting with a higher speed something above 500, if necessary push the ISO up a bit, so that your ready if a butterfly or bee suddenly lands or overs nearby. Finally, in terms of taking the photos, while some say everything should be done in camera, I would recommend taking a number of shots of the same shot. When you get back home, you can always sort out which photos worked, and which didn’t. Better to have a number to work with and review than only one, that didn’t work out quite as you wanted. Oh and absolutely finally shoot in RAW. If you don’t you’ll be very constrained in what your image will look like after processing.
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I am a huge fan of Serge Ramelli. So, first off, check out his website for lots of tips and training advice, www.photoserge.com. He doesn’t do a lot of nature, per se, but much of what I’ve learned in processing is from him. Most of us use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. The main aspect that Serge taught me and that I always remember from his courses is that every photo is different. So when you start processing your image always think of this. And from that, think what do I want to create? The software that we have to process and manipulate images is so powerful nowadays that we go down and change an individual pixel in our image. But take time to have a thought, I took this photo, and what image am I trying to get at the end – can you visualise it? It’s not about creating the perfect image, because that’s a matter of philosophic and aesthetic debate, but more, what do I want my final photo to look like? Once you have that in your mind, then you can fuse your RAW file with what’s in your mind. Probably, it is what you are happiest with that makes the greatest photo – for you and hopefully for others. The rest is just learning and getting training of how to get the best of the programmes or apps. If you do use Lightroom, it’s a basic, but whatever you do, when you get to sharpen, always, always, press the alt key and mask out the black. Otherwise, you’ll have a horrible grainy image with lots of noise.
Apart from composition, the most crucial part of photography, I would argue that is next or equal, but not quite , is light. If you have a great composition, but poor light, the composition fails. If you have great light, but the image is very boring, then perhaps the light doesn’t matter. Fortunately with Lightroom we can do a lot with light to improve a good composition. We can do more in Photoshop. I guess what we can’t do is resurrect a poor composition. When you are happy with your basic image after processing, go and do something else. Then come back after a few minutes and think about light. Use dodge and burn tools with brushes, gradients and so on, to bring out parts of your image. Don’t go crazy, though, as subtle light changes provide better tone and texture to your photo.
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If, like me, you use 500px to share your photos, be really careful with cropping. With 500px, others will only see a thumbnail of your image. So, as far as possible, make sure the main aspect of your photo is at the centre of the image. Otherwise people may not view your wonderful photo. For flower photos, I use the square 1:1 cropping tool in Lightroom and make any adjustments from there.
I’ve always loved photography. In the past year or so I’ve taken it more seriously, started out on 500px, set up my own website and so on. I love, with nature photography, you can just go out for a walk with your camera, and you never know what great shot might be there. Yes, you can plan and try and get everything right, but the unexpected is more exciting. Like anyone, it would be great to, as they say, go pro, but that’s very unlikely at the moment. I also love the post-production. It can take along time and quite often you get along way through processing an image in Lightroom and Photoshop and then forget it, because it isn’t quite what you wanted. It’s good though to persevere with both improving shooting technique and post-processing. If you like to see more of my works, do check me out on 500px, Facebook and my own website.