Tips for making better plant pictures

When one looks at the many plant pictures that can be found on the internet, it quickly becomes clear that there is a lot of room for improvement.

The two most common problems by far are:
–clutter (too many competing elements in the picture). The photographer seems to be saying: “Look, there is so much of interest here that I cannot choose. Please help yourself”
— a disturbing background (too dark or too light, too much in focus, wrong colour etc.)

Once you have become aware of these 2 problems you can take your first steps to better plant pictures.
Other problems one often sees, such as too much or too little contrast, may sometimes be (partly) remedied in post production. For the two main problems, that often is not possible  unfortunately.

Modern cameras can take most decisions on their own. In itself that is a wonderful thing, but we have now reached a stage where it may become counterproductive. In other words, the photographer is lured into thinking that he/she only has to point the camera at the subject and press the button to get a nice picture.
When you decide that maybe your pictures are not as good as you would like them to be, you have to take back some of the decision making into your own hands.
Once you have found a suitable subject, it is a good idea to first take a picture of the plant as a whole. After this you should try to describe to yourself what the subject is and what is so interesting about it. Then include in the picture only what fits this description. Doing all this will force you to slow down and that may sound like a bad thing. The opposite is true however, as a lot of less-than-perfect pictures come about because the photographer is in a hurry.

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Both the pink blotches at the bottom and the bright spot on the right draw attention away from the subject.

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Simply by changing the camera position slightly, I was able to get this result. Well worth the extra bit of trouble, don;t you agree?

Each time you make a picture you make decisions even if one is not aware of it.
Mentally working through a check-list will make this decision making process easier. In the beginning it will seem like overkill and it may make you feel a bit silly (especially when others are around). But so what? Following these simple steps is bound to result in better pictures and that is what it is all about, isn’t it?

Your check-list could be something like this:
*Is the subject matter at hand the best I can find, or is there something better nearby?
*Will one picture be enough or do I need more to tell the story, maybe one of the whole plant in its environment and some of details?
*Is this a good time of the day/year to take the picture? Should I try to return later, when the flowers are open, the fruits are ripe, the leaves have unfolded etc.?
*Is the light all right or should I rather wait a while or come back later?
*Should the background be in focus, so that it adds information to the picture or out of focus so that the subject stands out more? Are there any unwanted objects/shadows/ highlights in the background? Do I need a different background or foreground?
*Will moving the camera give better results (forward or backward, tilted, raised or lowered)? What if I step or turn left or right?
*Will a different focal length (if available) or focus point create a better picture?
*What will happen if I change the aperture or the shutter speed?
*Are the contrasts in the picture space not too high? Should I use a diffuser or reflector?

After taking the picture, look at the display at the back of your camera to see how the picture has turned out: is the lighting even; is the exposure correct; is the depth of field enough (and in the right place)?

Of course there is much more to making good palnt pictures than this, but it may be a good start.
If you want more information on the subject, have a look at my Ebook “Plant and flower photography”

An interesting site

A short while ago I stumbled upon a website that turned out to be very interesting.
Here is the link:  http://www.ispot.org.za,
and here is what they themselves say about the site:

“So what’s it all about?

iSpot is a website aimed at helping anyone identify anything in nature.

Once you’ve registered, you can add an observation to the website and suggest an identification yourself or see if anyone else can identify it for you.

You can also help others by adding an identification to an existing observation, which you may like to do as your knowledge grows. Your reputation on the site will grow as people agree with your identifications.

You may also like to visit our forums which offer lively debate around observations and other more general topics.”

Excerpt from my e-book on plant photography

A short picture story no 1

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This is the type of picture that many people would take. One can see how the plants grow in their natural environment and how many flowers they produce, what shape and colour the flowers are etc.

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This picture tells us that the same species may also grow in a different situation and it shows the leaves and the back of the flowers.

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Here we see the relatively enormous size of the flower and the beautiful markings on it.

So between them, these three pictures are quite informative, and with some cropping their message would become even stronger.
But whatever you do to them, they will still be run-of-the-mill pictures and visually there is not much to return to once you have seen themNow look at the next picture!

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Here we are still looking at the same species, but the picture is rather different!
This time we see no open flowers, but the back of an almost mature bud. The dark background makes the petals almost sparkle.

This is a small part of my e-book “Plant and flower photography; from theory to practice”.
For more information have a look at my website www.noltee.com

A matter of colour (Pelargonium tetragonum)

The first time a saw a plant of Pelargonium tetragonum in the wild was in the vicinity of Calitzdorp. Later on I found out that the species was rather plentiful in the area, both north and south of the village.
The plants cannot be confused with any other species, but what surprised me was the colour of the flowers.

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All the many plants I had seen in cultivation had pale pink flowers with deep red stripes on the upper two petals. All the plant I saw in the wild, not just around Calitzdorp but also elsewhere, had cream flowers (with the same red stripes as in the cultivated ones).

The more I thought about this phenomenon, the more I got the idea that the plants in cultivation originated from one or a few ancestors with an aberrant flower colour.
Last months I was in the Eastern Cape looking for plants with my wife and two Belgian plant friends. While trying to find my way into a dense thicket near Uitenhage, I suddenly came across several plants of this species with beautiful pink flowers.

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So clearly the flower colour has to do with the area where the plants grow. According to J.J.A. van der Walt in “Pelargoniums of Southern Africa” (1977) the species occurs ” in a strip parallel with the coast from the Worcester-Caledon districts eastwards to Grahamstown. It has also been collected further inland near Graaff Reinet and Bedford”.
In their natural habitat the plants flower from September to December.

An unexpected pleasure (Drosanthemum striatum)

A few weeks ago my friend George Hattingh, who is about as mad about succulents as I am, told me that he had seen some beautiful succulents in flower which he could not identify. They were growing on top of the Rooiberg, a little mountain range just South of Calitzdorp which you have to cross on the way to Vanwyksdorp. As the road meanders its way up, it takes you through different vegetation zones. At the lower slopes a lot of succulents are found, whereas the plateau with its moister and colder  climate is covered in arid fynbos. In winter and early spring the fynbos is at its best, with many different plant in flower. This type of vegetation harbours only few succulents, but some of the ones that do grow there  are rather interesting. One of the plants George had found is probably an Antimima, but these I often find difficult to name. All suggestions are welcome.
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The other species was clearly a Drosanthemum, but which one? After going through the literature, the only species of which the description fitted was D. striatum.  According to the “Red List of South African Plants” (2009) this is a vulnerable species with only 10 locations remaining after much its habitat has been transformed for wheat and vineyard cultivation. The distribution range is given as: Malmesbury and Worcester to Swellendam and Bredasdorp. This is well outside the Calitzdorp area (even the nearest of these places is at least a 100 kms away). This new find means that the species has a rather wider distribution than assumed; hopefully it also means that it is less vulnerable than thought.
The peculiar thing is that we never found the plants before. The most likely explanation is that -like many other fynbos plants- they only flowers after fire. Or maybe we just missed them because they were too well hidden by all the vegetation that is normally present. Even without flowers they would have been much more visible without all kinds of other plants hiding them. At this moment (about seven months after a big fire on the mountain) large patches are still almost bare, so anything colourful stands out.
Whatever the reason, it just shows that interesting botanical discoveries can still be found in this part of the world.
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First post

This is the beginning of a blog that is focused on two topics. Firstly on anything that has to do with succulent plants, especially those growing in South Africa, because that is were I live.
Secondly on photographing plants, succulent or not, cultivated or in the wild.
These two things have kept me busy for many years and I have written and lectured on them for almost as long. I have the privilege of living in an area where interesting succulents grow almost on my doorstep and as I am retired I have lots of time to study and photograph them
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Haworthia arachnoidea v. nigricans along the road near my home

I hope to provide you regularly with interesting information on these subjects. It would be great to hear from you and learn what you are interested in. Therefore I invite you to share your ideas, questions, comments and opinions with other readers.
If you would like to get some more idea of who I am and what I do, please have a look at my website www.noltee.com.