Tips from some of the group on photographing your orchids

Roger Grier:

Hi Rudolph,

Your Paphs are as excellent as always. And your photography is even better.

Maybe we could all tell of how we take photographs of our orchids and give a few tips.

I will ask you to start with:-

1. What do you use as a background?

2. Do you use flash?

3. Do you always use a tripod..........because a tripod should always be used, or a similar device to keep the camera rock steady.

Kind regards, Rocky. [The sun is out and it is a nice day]

Rudolf Günnel:

Hi Rocky,

Nice to hear you enjoyed my photos. Needless to say I will answer your queries but don't expect too much from me, I'm only an average photographer. Most of the job does my automatically camera − I'm just looking through the view finder!! :-) :-) I chose my camera by the aspect of having good macro features beside a good optical zoom. The camera enables me to photograph blooms in the super macro setting which are placed in a distance of say 2 or 3 cm directly in front of the lens.

> 1. What do you use as a background?

The background in these three photos is the painted wall in our dining room. But every other background is possible in my eyes as long as it restful and the colour doesn't compete with the colour(s) of the bloom. The bloom must be the most important thing not the background (I saw already terrible photos in the net where the bloom disappears in the background).

> 2. Do you use flash?

I try to avoid flash. The flash light of the camera lightens the bloom only partially in the super macro modus and produces shadow in the rest of the bloom. I use a portable lamp/spotlight like it is in use on construction sites (It's left over from times we built our house ten years ago)

> 3. Do you always use a tripod...

Yes, I use always a tripod when I'm taking photos of blooms in the super macro modus. Only a tripod guarantees you to keep the camera in a steady position.

Another advantage of the digital photography is the fact you can take as much pictures as you like and then you sort out only the best and save them. So the pictures I sent to the list were the best in my eyes.

Best regards from Germany, rudolf


I thought I should add my thoughts as a voice for the much-less-than-average photographers of the world. My camera is a humble but usable Sony Cybershot − I'm always amazed that one can take almost decent pictures with this. The one feature I like about it is that it has an 'ISO mode', which basically means that there is no flash, no matter what; I use that for all photos. One of the things that fascinate me with digital photgraphy is the way you can do things to them on the computer − I once found a plugin called 'edgefinder'. I have attached a couple picture as an example, the original is one that I believe breaks all the 'rules' − it's underexposed and directly towards the sun, but see what edgefinder has made out it; I think it is very fascinating.

Now, ideally, if I were to spend the money on a proper camera − what should I buy? The only thing I feel strongly about is that I want an SLR camera where I can turn off all automatic functions; autofocus, flash, everything. I think the fact that it is so cheap and easy to take lots of pictures and experiment means that it is brilliant opportunity for learning how to judge what will make a good effect (which is one reason why I keep taking under- or over exposed pictures; the other reason is that I'm very clever).

Back to the questions − I don't use a particular background (although perhaps I should, at least when I try to document my plants), but I try to always include objects of a known size when I take pictures of my plants to give a feel for how big the plant is. I always avoid flash − I find that flash tends to make pictures look artificial, as if I had taken the background from another photograph and pasted the foreground on to it. And I don't own a tripod; I follow 'the dogma school of photography' (like the film instructor Lars von Trier), or rather, I don't have a good camera, so it would seem a bit presumptious to spend money on a tripod.


John Stanley:

Jan, Don't knock your 'consumer' cybershot for orchid photography. The biggest advantage of buying an SLR is that you see through a real optical viewfinder and the shutter response time is close to an old-fashioned film-SLR (to we ordinary mortals).

There is a downside for close-up work with an SLR; macro-lenses don't come cheap if they're good and I think close-focus consumer cams have the edge unless your are going to spend a lot more than your C-shot cost you! Because the electronic 'film' frame size is smaller than a 35mm frame, lenses become about 1.5 times the focal length in terms of angle of vision and truly wide angle lenses are expensive too. I still use an old Nikon Coolpix for very closeup work because the camera is physically small, will focus to about 25mm and I can twist the viewing screen to a convenient visible position when I couldn't possibly see through the SLR viewfinder without a periscope adapter (£££££). Then there's muck on the electronic sensor that gets in when you change lenses . . .!

I am surprised that you can't override auto functions on that camera − certainly, you can on the little Nikons and many others. Of course, you may get more pixels for your money but many small cameras now boast more than older professional digital SLRs. My Nikon D100 only has six and a bit (6.2?) megapixels yet many small cams have 7 or ten! In any case, who'd notice until you want to crop out a very small portion?.

You'll probably need to spend more on lenses than on a very versatile complete 'prosumer' or 'consumer' cam. I am sure others in O-T will advise too but, unless you have the ready money burning your pocket lining for an SLR, research your needs and the advantages/disadvantages carefully. Don't get me wrong; I wouldn't part with my digital SLR but that isn't because the photos are much better so much as the response time and clear viewfinder for moving subjects (birds etc) and it is heavier and therefore has steadying inertia. It is also more economical on battery power because the electronic screen isn't on so much and the battery is bigger. (certainly all day and up to 400 images)

Most orchids aren't too quick off the starting grid except in high wind and I suspect your greenhouse or house isn't that draughty! A cybershot on a cheap tripod (or a bean bag − free!!!) should give excellent results . . .and you don't need a rucksac to carry it!

For some expert and good advice and reviews try:
Steves digicams hardware reviews (http://www.steves-digicams.com/hardware_reviews.html)

Dr Chong-Yee Khoo:

John raises some very good points. There are many advantages of compact digital cameras over SLRs,particularly with macro photoraphy (greater depth of field, less vibration as there is no flapping mirror, etc). Although I use an SLR nowadays, I do miss my old compact camera, a Nikon CoolPix 4500 (hope you're taking good care of it, Tricia!). Some of my best photos were taken with it.

I'm giving a talk on "Digital Photography of Orchids" this Sunday, 15th July, at 2:30 pm at the Sussex Orchid Group Meeting. Venue is The Horticultural Society, Ifield Avenue, Crawley RH11 7AJ. I'll be covering macro photography and other orchid related topics in my talk, as well as giving tips on how to handle various situations.

Stop by if you're in the area!




Hi John,

Thanks for you good advice − perhaps I feel a tiny bit happier about my camera now. Still, the one thing I too find works against me is the autofocus; it always knows better than me. It doesn't matter how much I do to find just the perfect shot, as soon as I press the button it focuses on something in the background, and the details I had in mind are blurred. The only camera type I know (because I have asked) that will allow me to do absolutely everything manually is SLRs, and not even all of them.

One thing I tried to get a good picture of several times is a fine spray of small, hanging flowers against a remote background, which always ends up as a clear picture of the background with something blurry in the foreground. But perhaps I do it the wrong way − is there a trick to ensure that an autofocus will take a clear picture of what I actually intend?


Dr Chong-Yee Khoo:

Jan − make sure that the focus indicator in the viewfinder (usually a small square or square brackets) is positioned directly over the flowers, and not the background.

If necessary, press the shutter button halfway down to focus on the flowers, then move the camera to recompose your shot (while still holding down the shutter button). This is called focus lock − see your camera manual.

If you still find that the focus is not spot on, try focussing on something else that is about the same distance as the flowers. This could be the mount of the plant, or the base on which the plant is standing on, etc. Use the same trick I outlined above for recomposition − that way the thing you focus on doesn't actually need to be in the final photo.

One thing you must remember is that the autofocus mechanisms in modern cameras works by detecting the focus position that gives maximum contrast (and hence sharpness). Therefore, for the focus to work well, the subject must be reasonably well lit. Try placing the plant near a window or shining a desk lamp on the plant for example (this can be turned off it it interferes with the photo, after you manage to lock focus by pressing the shutter button halfway).

You could also try using a white piece of paper which has a grid pattern marked out in black (using a felt tip marker for example). This makes an excellent pattern for the focussing mechanism to lock on. You'd place this near the flowers, lock focus, remove it and make your shot.

The nice thing about digital cameras is of course that you can try all these tricks without wasting film. Eventually you should get a photo that is acceptable. Hope this helps!



John Stanley:

Jan, I have limited experience of Sony Cybershots (limited to getting jam out of the lens assembly of my grandson's camera!) but I suggest you check the menu to see if there is a choice between a C-ontinuous focusing mode and a S-ingle shot mode. In the latter you should be able to get a focus on a subject (finger nail edge) at the appropriate distance and, by keeping the shutter button half pressed, hold that focal position while you frame the orchid. I know you have computer experience/skills so you will be familiar with the old adage − " if all fails, read the 'andbook!" and, if you haven't a handbook, check with Steve's Digicams on the web − he'll have reviewed it however far back in history!

Again, I can't speak for the Cybershot but Nikon Coolpixes have a manual focus of sorts. No twisty ring but and 'advance and retard' button-pressing device that works. Check yours just in case. Best wishes and good luck John

James H:

i cannot get my cybershot to focus on a small object against a busy background, i can only focus on a small object if the background is flat and monotone. I spent hours trying to get a picture of a wild orchid that i found, and there is no way to get a good picture of my endlers livebearers (type of small guppy).

Geoff Hands:

Try using a plain background ? You can make a portable screen from a piece of cloth etc. Grey is the preferred colour . I have used velvet bought from the market. In fact I have a roll with sheets of white, black and red velvet, and can use any of the three ( this is in the house − too big to carry in the field) but if you intend to project a lot of images − as in a talk to a Society , I find it gets very boring to use these and it is better to have the flower or plant in focus and the background out of focus although perhaps recognisably one of leaves etc.

Nowadays I use digital techniques − it is not difficult to select the flowers etc on one layer, deleting everything else on that layer , feather the edges ( so as to avoid the unreality otherwise conveyed) sharpen that layer, then use the whole picture as a second but lower layer, use smart-blur to throw it all just as far out-of-focus as you want ( and I often de-saturate to reduce colour, and change the opacity too , to make it darker or lighter as appropriate), then flatten to make a single minimum volume file. Using photoshop it does not take much longer than it took me to write this, even without using the automate command. I would not think of using actual film − who can possibly afford it ?

If you do go into DSLRs , you can get a very good long macro lens without a second mortgage, e.g. the Sigma 150 , although there may be a more recent 200 also. A longer lens seems to give more natural pictures of larger flowers, say phals, although it can be a little awkward in dealing with really wee ones like some of my tiny Gastrochilus etc. If I don't want to get in too close − like working at 20 inches, or mor, I just use my normal all-purpose lens ( the 18-200 Nikkor) which has VR ( takes the shakes out) and my tripods gather dust , unused .



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