Framing Home Plants

These flowering Barrel Cactii show a strange, poetic combination of thorny toughness and vivacious delicacy. There is a story of a full life cycle in this photograph. Photograph/Dr C R Suvarna

These flowering Barrel Cactii show a strange, poetic combination of thorny toughness and vivacious delicacy. There is a story of a full life cycle in this photograph. Photograph/Dr C R Suvarna

Plants can be the easiest subjects to shoot, especially if you are new to photography. Sneha Ullal shares simple tips on how to capture them in their own space.

Plant photography is arguably the easiest type of photography, for two main reasons. Firstly, you can practise it anywhere you see greenery—be it in your society park, in your balcony with your potted plants, or even near your window, where a lone money plant grows beautifully in a vintage whisky bottle.

Secondly, you will not have to go through the trouble of explaining the poses that you want to your subject. All you have to do to get it right is observe, examine the light, find the right angle, and then shoot! Here are some simple pointers on how you can be a plant photography expert yourself…

See, Before You Shoot
The first main technique that you need to master is observation. Take time to understand the plant’s features—its shape, texture and colours. Make notes on the way the sunlight falls on the plant. This is very important, because sometimes the quality of light is all that makes a difference to a photograph. It can not only enhance the colours of a subject, but it can also create or set a mood.

So how does the sunlight fall on your subject? Is it an oblique ray of light that is creating an interesting shadow? Or does a flower have a ‘halo’ due to backlighting? Once you identify the light’s path, position the camera accordingly. This will also help you understand what your exposure, ISO and/or white balance settings need to be. For instance, set the ISO to the lowest value for better sharpness, or use Cloudy or Shade setting to add warmth to bold colours like reds.

If you would like to attempt a unique shot, look for backlighting that will either silhouette your subject or give it an interesting halo. If light falls from one corner to a side of the subject, then you can get enhanced details on texture, form and/or shape. With such tricky light conditions, you can use spot metering to achieve the right exposure.

Shoot Early in the Morning
The best time to shoot is always early in the morning—an hour after sunrise after the early morning dew. At this time, plants feel the freshest and flowers are in full bloom. The soft and warm sunlight too, is just about perfect, and will add warmth to the greens and floral colours.

Do keep in mind that plants too, have a metabolism cycle. So avoid shooting in the afternoons when the sunlight is too harsh, or after sunset when there is no sunlight—which is also the time plants need their rest.

When shooting indoors, daylight is the best source to work with. Even if there is harsh light, you can try to diffuse it with white cotton curtains, or by placing muslin or tracing paper over the window.

Think About Your Composition
Now that you are aware of the plant’s features and the quality of sunlight, you can now think about what you would like to capture. Would you like to emphasise on the entire plant or just a leaf? Or does a flower petal interest you more? In other words, think about how you would like to frame your composition.

Sometimes it is best to keep it simple, by focusing on one particular unique feature of your subject. The less complicated the frame, the cleaner and more visually pleasing the final result will be. Following are three specific features of plants you can focus on.

  • COLOURS: Too many colours in one shot might make the picture look too busy and unattractive. Instead, try to focus on one colour on the plant. You can also try capturing shades of the same colour, for instance different kinds of plants in different shades of green. Stark contrasts can work in a good composition too; for example focus on one red rose against a completely green backdrop. If the available background is too cluttered, you can either blur it completely with a shallow aperture, or place a black or any dark coloured cloth behind the subject.
  • FORM: Some leaves and petals have unique shapes, which can give you a lot of room to experiment with your composition. With backlighting too, you can try to achieve beautiful silhouette shots of these shapes. Apart from this, you can also look for simple symmetries like two leaves coming out of either side of a stalk, or equal number of petals on a flower. Subjects like these are perfect for visually strong compositions.
  • TEXTURE: Look for leaves with intricate veins or tiny thorns on the surface. You can also photograph the texture on a dead leaf—with its two-tone dull colours and translucent exterior. These kinds of subjects are great for practising extreme close up shots; so do not hesitate to make good use of your camera’s macro mode. In terms of light, sidelighting or an oblique ray of sunlight is the best you can work with, as it can create interesting shadows that can bring the texture to life.

You can either focus on any of these features, or try to use them in combinations. The aim, in the end, is to discover a million ways you can experiment, and also to have fun while you shoot.

Some Useful Tips to Remember

  • Use the macro mode of your compact camera for extreme close ups.
  • A tripod can be extremely useful, if you are shooting at longer exposures.
  • You can use a water-spray, in order to produce dewdrops that give a fresh feel to the plant.
  • On windy days, it is best to shoot with higher shutterspeeds, so that you can get your shot without any blurs.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Better Photography. 

Tags: Shooting Technique, Composition, Nature, shutterspeed, aperture, framing, plants, green