Troubleshooting common mistakes and problems in plant photography

One of the first things I usually do after starting up my computer in the morning, is checking which new observations there are on the site of iSpot Southern Africa. If you are interested in the flora and fauna of this part of the world, it is well worth having a look at this site (  http://www.ispot.org.za/ ). The quality of the pictures people upload to it is quite diverse, sometimes to a point where it is difficult to even recognize the subject.  This is not to say that this site is worse than many others in this respect, it is just that I am so often confronted with the results here.
Judging from the way most people photograph, I strongly believe they do not spend enough time on taking their pictures. Maybe I’m just getting a miserable old git, but I think that it is a waste of time to take pictures when the results become a kind of hit-and-miss thing.  Believe me, I’ve been there, done that. Nowadays I’d rather spend 5 minutes on taking one or two worthwhile pictures than 1 minute on taking a whole lot of useless ones. Your mileage may vary of course and I would be interested to hear from you if you have  another opinion.
For a bit of more specific advice I refer you to the following text, which is a slightly adapted paragraph from my book on plant photography.

Too many elements in the picture, so that the viewer has to guess what you want to convey.
This cannot usually be remedied afterwards; in some cases cropping the picture help.
For future shots try the following :
1 Get closer.
2 Change angle of view to get different background.
3 Use  greater focal length.
Subject not standing out
If there is too little contrast (in colour and/or light) between subject and background, the problem can sometimes be solved in post-production.
If the background is too much in focus there is no way you can improve this picture.
In the future pay extra attention to the background and squint your eyes at the scene to judge the light conditions, before you press the shutter.
Distracting elements in background
This probably means that the Depth of Field (see definition below) is too much.
In certain cases post- production may solve (part of) the problem.
In the future use a shallower DoF (check the scene with the DoF preview button) and/or block distracting elements (esp. bright patches).
Spend more time studying what is in the picture frame.
Depth of field (DoF)
This is the distance over which objects remain acceptably sharp in front of and behind the point on which the lens is focused.
In simple terms: DoF is the part of the scene that appears acceptably sharp in a photograph.
DoF is determined by 3 factors: the focal length, the aperture and the distance between camera and subject.
It decreases as the focal length of the lens becomes greater, the aperture is made bigger and the distance between camera and subject is diminished.
Subject too small in picture space
The picture is taken from too far away or with too short a focal length.
Cropping the picture may offer a solution.
For future shots move in closer or use a longer lens.
Wrong DoF
This means that there is either too much or too little of it, or that it is in the wrong place.
None of these issues can be remedied in an existing picture.
For future shots you should pay more attention to using the right aperture and/or spend more time on focussing properly.
Wrong background (too light or too dark; wrong colour; too cluttered)
Like with so many other problems, the scene was not screened well enough.
Only the first two issues may be improved in post-production (if you are lucky).
Next time spend more time studying the subject before pressing the shutter.
Flare
Light hitting the lens or a filter in front of it is the cause here.
There is no remedy for an existing picture.
For future shots use a lens cap or something else (such as a hand or a hat) to shade the lens.
In some cases flare may add a certain quality to the picture, so instead of avoiding it you may also try to put it to good use.
Main subject too dark or too bright
This occurs when the contrast in brightness between subject and background is too big.
It may be corrected (partly) in post- production.
To avoid this problem next time, use a smaller aperture for a light subject against a dark background and vice versa.
Picture blurred
Unfortunately there is no remedy for this issue.
When the whole picture looks fuzzy, this is caused by camera movement. Avoid this next time by using a tripod and possibly also a cable release or a self-timer delay.
When only part of the shot is blurred, the probable cause is wind. This can be prevented by using a shorter shutter speed.
Contrast in picture too high
When the difference between light and dark elements is too big for the sensor to cope with, this will be the result.
It may be corrected (partly) in post- production.
With smallish subjects, use of a diffuser and/or reflector may avoid this problem. Flash might also help.
Parts of subject damaged, discoloured etc
This happens amazingly often when not enough attention is paid to the subject matter.
In some cases the offending parts may be cropped out, but it is much better to look for unblemished subject matter next time. Continue reading Troubleshooting common mistakes and problems in plant photography

Haworthia decipiens var. decipiens

Today’s post is the first in what is intended to become a daily posting of one or more interesting and beautiful pictures (mainly) of succulent plants. The text will be kept to a minimum, so as not to distract from the images. These post will be an addition to, not a replacement for, the usual ones.
You may also notice that I have added a photo gallery to the blog. Enjoy!
We kick off with two pictures that are identical, except for the fact that one was taken with a diffusor. That one seemingly little difference produces quite a different result. One can not really say that one picture is better than the other, but they give different information and also evoke a different feeling. When the light is harsh like in this case, it is worth taking a couple of pictures with and without a diffusor or reflector.

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Some Poellnitzia pictures

It keeps amazing me how sometimes you decide to do something and you end up with a totally different thing from what you had in mind. This post is a case in point.
I thought it would be a good idea to write a post on a certain aspect of plant photography that is often neglected (paralleling the subject) and went out into the garden to take some pictures to illustrate the principle. As it happened, there was a nice specimen of Poellnitzia in flower that seemed to fit the bill. Because the inflorescence in these plants is rather long and thin, even the gentle breeze that was blowing made it almost impossible to make a sharp picture. Quite a while ago I bought a gadget especially for occasions like this, where you have to stabilise something that is moving in the wind. It is called a Plamp (plant clamp) and  has a couple of other uses as well.  Although I rarely (have to) use it, it may make the difference between a good picture and a bad one (or none at all).  Have a look at http://www.tripodhead.com/products/plamp-main.cfm for more info.
Even after the inflorescence as such had now been stabilised, the individual flowers were slightly moving in the wind. This defeated the object of showing the differences in depth of field as a result of different camera angles. After the rigmarole of setting up camera, tripod and Plamp, combined with the fact that a flowering plant of this species is not a common sight, I was rather reluctant to just pack up and leave. So I decided to have another look at what was there. As usual, I started with a couple of what my friend Neil Curry, a retired filmmaker, uses to call establishing shots, showing the subject in its environment.

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The background was nice and dark but because I did not compensate for its darkness this is how the picture turned out.

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This is what it looked like after taking a second picture with one stop underexposure and some fiddling in post production. You will notice that I also removed some of the nasty light blotches in the background.

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After this, I went somewhat closer up and photographed only the middle part of the inflorescence.

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Because the tips of the flowers have a unique shape I decided to make a picture of those at natural size. The flowers are so special in fact, that a whole genus (Poellnitzia) was established to accommodate just one species (rubriflora).

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The plant itself is similar in shape to species in related genera (Aloe, Astroloba, Haworthia) but the colour is rather special.