CAPTURING STUNNING FLOWERS & SUMMER PLANTS
By Marcus Clackson
Every week you’ll find new bursts of colour created by different plants and flowers coming into season – so it’s worth doing a bit of homework to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time, and ready to capture the best photography possible. Here’s my advice for getting ahead of the pack and making the most of the summer season.
Search and check locations
Near me there are several gardens and horticultural locations – and I often check their calendars and websites to see what is going on and when it’s best to visit. Wherever you’re located in the country, there will always be some special public and private locations where different seasonal displays are about to bloom. Even if you draw a blank when you first look, it’s worth checking back regularly so as to capture the plants etc at their very best.
For instance: I visit Kew Gardens regularly, and from week to week there’s always something new coming into season. This could be magnolias back at the start of April, to amazing Azaleas right now in May – then you’ve got sunflowers in August, leading into autumnal colours in October and November – there’s always something!
Even though you’ve got a date in mind, a few days can make all the difference as the blooms might start to fall and turn past their best. This is where social media such as Twitter or Instagram comes in handy – keep an eye on the location’s accounts and associated hashtags and monitor other people’s shots of the subject you’re after, especially if there’s a certain display that you’d like to capture and you can’t easily get to the location.
Another tip is to follow the accounts of individuals who work at your preferred location – they might post on Instagram or Twitter, giving you a heads up on what’s about to bloom.
Picking the right light – or make your own
There’s no right or wrong time of day to go to your chosen location but with a little planning, you might just get that special, once-in-a-lifetime shot you’ve been thinking about.
You might be lucky enough to have a bluebell wood near you – but it could be lit with the morning sunrise bursting through the trees, rather than being in shade at the end of the day.
As well as the time of day, consider the weather: a vibrant flower display might look beautiful with the sun flaring through the petals, rather than being shot on a dull overcast day where the light is flat. Sometimes in the height of summer the sun’s light might be too extreme and burn out details, so if you can’t avoid a bright sunny day, look for subjects in the shade.
If you find yourself stuck in the rain, don’t lose heart – try shooting in it and see what exciting results you get! Of course, a weatherproof camera is going to help you cope with these conditions – such as the new, robust OM-D E-M1 MKII and lenses which I shoot on.
If you just don’t get the light you want from the weather, it’s always good to have a few ways of improving your subject’s lighting by less natural means. I always carry a small fold-up reflector for bouncing light about – usually one which is silver on one side and white on the other. It’s perfect for directing a ray of sunlight into a shadowy area. And of course, the joy of working with OLYMPUS cameras and lenses is that they are light enough to be able to hold the camera with one hand, freeing the other up to move a reflector into place.
I usually have at least one flash unit to hand as well. If I’m shooting on a wider lens, then I’ll use a simple, synced-up camera flash, usually with a diffuser for a more subtle result, which can help make the photo work. I like to balance any flash with the ambient daylight so a more natural result can be achieved.
I’ve also started using the dedicated STF-8 macro flash unit which is a great weatherproof piece of kit. This gives great subtle results every time, and is perfect for situations where you don’t want to kill the mood of a shot by adding too much flash.
Whatever the light or conditions you’re faced with, there’s always a way to get the best shots and use the given lighting or weather to your advantage.
What kit to take on location
I think the most important lesson to learn is not to take too much kit with you – especially if you’re carrying it around. Obviously you must have everything you need for the subject you’re shooting, but I’ve been on many workshops where photographers have such a large kit bag, with every lens under the sun – including multiple tripods – that it all becomes too cumbersome to easily work with.
Also, if you’re out all day taking photos, a big heavy kit bag means you’re going to get physically tired by the end – which is definitely not going to help your creativity.
I tend to think about what I’m going to shoot on each visit and limit the kit to two Olympus bodies, two or three lenses and a flash and reflector. This not only makes for a more comfortable day of shooting, but also allows me to be more mobile – so if the shot I want requires me to get right down on the ground or dangle from a tree (!), I can easily get in the position. And of course, the movable screen on the OM-D E-M1 MKII is also fantastic for helping achieve these unusual positions.
If you’re visiting a large flower show like Chelsea or Hampton Court etc, they are likely to be very busy with little room to manoeuver, so a compact and lightweight camera system like the OM-D range is perfect to capture swiftly and sharp every time.
Tripods are, of course, very important for extreme depth of field, stacking and long exposure landscape photography – but you’re probably not going to be allowed to use them at these busy public events. You probably couldn’t use one even if you were allowed!
For a flower show like Chelsea, I would always ensure I’ve covered the macro, wide and long lengths with my go to nature, landscape and macro kit which consists of two or three of the following – 12-40mm f/2.8 lens. 7-14mm f/2.8 lens. 40-150mm f/2.8 and the new 30mm Macro f/3.5.
So – now you’re set up to get out and visit some stunning locations and events throughout the coming year. One final piece of advice which I always try to give to photographers: don’t get too caught up in the technicalities of everything. Experiment and shoot different subjects, using different lenses and unusual viewpoints. Look for a different angle on things and you’re sure to be surprised with results. And don’t forget – there are no rules…