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Photographing Trees, Flowers, Ferns, Leaves, And Grasses

( Originally Published 1902 )

Outfit required.—Long-focus camera with swing-back and back focus. Fairly long-focus lens which need not of necessity be very rapid. Shutter, focal plane by preference. Focussing-cloth. Plate-holder. Tripod, one of ordinary height and one that will allow of the camera being placed within twelve inches of the ground. Isochromatic plates, slow and instantaneous. Ray-filter. Cloth screen to shield plant from wind. Pair of pruners.

IN the foregoing chapters on photographing fish, birds, and other animal life, it will have been noticed that one of the things most necessary for the complete outfit is a plentiful supply of patience. Now, strange as it may seem, photographing growing flowers also requires a fair share of patience — far more than one would imagine. On an ordinary calm day, when to the casual observer the trees and flowers are absolutely motionless, it will be noticed that there is almost always a faint breeze which is sufficient to cause all flowers, especially those with long stems and heavy flower-heads, to keep up a constant movement. Seldom, except in the early morning and late evening, does one find a day so quiet that the flowers stand motionless. Were it not for that fact the photo-graphing of flowers would be a comparatively easy task, requiring only the ordinary technical photo-graphic skill.

One of the principal objects in photographing a growing flower is to show its environment as well as its form ; therefore the individual flower chosen should be one that is growing under normal conditions in surroundings common to its kind. For instance, the blue-flag, which grows commonly in fields and swampy places, may occasionally be found in perfectly dry woods, quite away from water or swamps; it would be obviously absurd to photograph the plant in such a place, unless to show its eccentricity. In the same way the pink lady's-slipper is almost always found in woods, but once in a great while a single individual is found growing in a comparatively open place, such as a field on the edge of the woods. So it is with all flowers: they occasion-ally stray away from their natural locations and live a short life in surroundings utterly foreign to them.

It is well to select a plant that shows the flower in full bloom and the buds in various stages of development. The same may be said of leaves when certain plants are under consideration. In this way the picture is a complete portrait of the plant, showing everything except the roots and seed-pods; and as these latter are so very seldom to be found on the plant while it is in bloom, they have to be photo-graphed separately. With low plants whose flowers are near the ground, such as trailing arbutus, it is almost always necessary to accentuate the fact by placing a chestnut bur or an acorn, or some such object which would naturally be found on the ground, somewhere near the flower. This makes the fact that the flower is near or on the ground patent to anybody who sees the picture; otherwise they might think the flower was growing on a wall or even on a bush. Another good plan is to show a flower of another species growing near the one you are photographing, making it, of course, incidental and therefore less conspicuous. Its object is to show the season when these two plants are in flower. This, though by no means necessary, is frequently of interest.

Still another interesting idea is to photograph the plant at different times from the same point of view, showing its gradual development, being careful to keep notes of the dates. Pictures of this description taken in series are both interesting and instructive as illustrating, in the case of the wild flowers, how rapidly they come and go. It seems no time between the bursting of the blossom and the drying of the seed that will be sown for the next year's supply. How quickly this takes place is frequently realised with almost painful acuteness by the photographer. To-day the woods may be full of a certain plant in all the glory of its gorgeous blossoms; then tomorrow perhaps it rains, and the next day we go to the woods to photograph the flower, and find its day is gone; instead of the fine, sturdy flowers, there are nothing but withered re-mains, shrivelled up and lacking all beauty, while here and there a single small flower hangs on as though unwilling to die. Search as you may through-out the woods, not a full-blossomed spray will you find, for the flowering period is past. It is as though an order had been given for the lowering of the colours of that particular plant.

Procrastination is a thing to be carefully guarded against in flower photography. Take advantage of every opportunity if you would succeed in making a good collection of pictures of growing plants; and such pictures are extremely interesting and well worth the trouble of making. Not only do the single plants show to their full advantage, but clusters or colonies of them growing together are depicted by the camera as they can be by no other means. What more beautiful picture can be wanted than an early summer swamp filled with blue-flag, or a late summer tangle of iron-weed, joe-pye-weed, purple asters, and golden-rod ? We cannot show the exquisite colour, but by using slow isochromatic plates the values of the colours are well preserved, so that the feeling of colour is in the picture. In securing such photographs a good deal of technical skill is necessary, for the negative must have the rare quality after which we are all striving, that is, the peculiar combination of softness and vigour. Practice alone will give you this, and even the most expert photographer must count real successes as things that do not often happen unless he has complete control of the conditions under which his pictures are made, and of course, in working out of doors, with the ever-varying quality of light and diversity of subject, the conditions are so changeable that it requires great skill to produce much evenness in the quality of the photograph.

In picturing flowers it is usually necessary to use a fairly small diaphragm, as the camera is often quite near the plant, and, with few exceptions, the leaves will protrude toward the camera. 'Having to work with so small an aperture, with an object as unsteady as a flower, it is obvious that there is every advantage to be gained by employing a lens of great rapidity, though, of course, much good work is done with ordinary lenses.

Isochromatic plates are nearly always necessary, and at times a colour-screen may be used with advantage. It is in the use of this colour-screen or ray-filter that the beginner usually fails. He uses it when it is unnecessary and neglects to use it where it should be used. In photographing a blue flower with even fairly dark leaves, the ordinary plate, being highly sensitive to the blue and very slightly sensitive to the green, does not give the colour values correctly : the blue is too light and the green too dark. The colour-screen or ray-filter will correct this. The common fault is in using the deep-coloured screen when photographing a red or orange flower. The ordinary plate, being only slightly sensitive to the red, orange, and green, requires a longer exposure than when other colours predominate, but gives the values of these colours fairly accurately; the deep-coloured ray-filter only tends to increase the exposure necessary. For most flower-work the medium isochromatic plate is the most satisfactory. If the flower is very shaky the quickest plates are best, and if white flowers with dark green leaves are to be rendered accurately, then use the slow plate or the ray-filter; this will hold back the white and give the green better value.

When photographing very delicate flowers, it is a good plan to place around them a screen of white or light-coloured cloth that will protect them from the wind and at the same time reflect more light. This cloth should be stretched tightly on upright sticks, which should be firmly planted in the ground, not too near the plant. For outside work a background may ,frequently be used with advantage. It should be without wrinkles and of a soft gray colour for most flowers ; by placing it in strong sunlight or tilting it so that it will be in shadow, or by putting it at different distances from the flower, it will give many gradations of tone, from dark to very light. When photographing flowers on branches, be sure to secure the branch ; otherwise the slight swaying caused by the least motion of the air will bring it nearer to or farther from the lens, with the result that it will not be in focus.

Pictures of trees are made more interesting if separate plates are made of the leaves, flowers, fruits (which should be all the same scale), and bark, as well as the entire tree. Nonhalation isochromatic plates are most satisfactory for tree pictures; they insure the necessary sharpness of outline, free from the disagreeable defect known as halation.

The lighting for all flower- or tree-work is very important. For trees the most satisfactory results are to be obtained when the sun is low and the shadows long. For flowers the lighting must be such as will best show the form of the flower. The entire shape of flowers may be wrongly depicted if the lighting is wrong. White flowers should never have strong light streaming directly into them; not only does it flatten them, but it makes them too white and chalky. When the leaves are very highly pol ished, so that they reflect white light, it is best either to choose a gray day, or else intercept the sunlight by means of a cloth of some kind. Most ferns are easy subjects for the camera ; they are usually fairly steady, and their strong outlines and beautiful forms are most satisfactory as photographs. Some of the grasses also make beautiful pictures, whether shown singly or in masses. In fact, there are few things in the vegetable world that do not lend themselves more or less to camera work. The commonest things that we pass by every day, such as the lacelike wild carrot, the much-despised yarrow, the timothy or the redtop in flower, are fitter subjects for pictures than many of the less common and therefore more appreciated flowers.

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