Even if it’s grey and cold, you can hone your close-up skills by taking advantage of indoor locations – greenhouses, hothouses, orangeries or even indoor rainforests!
Whether you choose to shoot in a large botanical garden or your own back yard, creative plant and wildlife photography needn’t be difficult. You don’t need expensive kit and amazing locations to capture eye-catching images, just good technique and a little imagination. Kit yourself out with an SLR, a couple of lenses, a flashgun and a simple black or white backdrop made of card and you’ll be amazed by the unusual images you can capture.This month, we took Digital Camera reader Richard Suiters to The Living Rainforest in Berkshire to show him how to do just that – sharing some tips and techniques he could use to take impressive images of everything from tropical flowers to mischievous monkeys.
Shooting in a humid environment, such as an indoor rainforest, means overcoming a few obstacles. By far the most common problem is condensation appearing as mist on the front of your lens, especially if you’re coming into a warm environment when it’s cold outside. The best way to avoid this is to bring your kit down to the right temperature before you start shooting. We left our cameras and lenses on a table for 15 minutes or so while we planned our shoot – and got a guided tour from Hannah McVey, The Living Rainforest’s education development officer, who pointed out some cracking photographic opportunities we might otherwise have missed.
Even though we were shooting in a giant glasshouse, the canopy of trees overhead reduced the available light. Rather than bumping up his camera’s ISO (light sensitivity) and risking visible noise and lack of detail in his photos, we advised Richard to mount his camera on a tripod and use a cable release to fire the shutter without risking camera shake. This allowed him to shoot with a smaller aperture of f/11 for maximum sharpness and use a relatively slow shutter speed of 1/10 sec. This would have been impossible if he’d been shooting handheld.
Richard hadn’t really used a Speedlite flashgun for indoor photography, so after running through the basics, we showed him how to use it more creatively. By firing flash directly at a subject, the camera captured shots with obvious shine and over-exposed areas. Instead, we showed Richard a simple way to create stunning results, by using an off-camera flash (attached to the camera with a cable) to light a leaf from behind. This instantly boosted the colours and revealed maximum detail and clarity. Richard experimented with different camera settings and flash positions to get the exposure spot-on.
Off-camera flash can also be used to bag eye-catching shots with a dramatic contrast between light and shadow. Using the techniques he’d learned earlier in the day, Richard used a white background, flashgun and 60mm macro lens to create a shot with such depth and drama, it looked as if it had been taken in a studio – proving you don’t need an expensive set-up to get superb still-life shots. By setting the flash to Manual and experimenting with different flash strengths, he could take control of the light for creative effect.