Tuesday, May 25, 2010
PHOTOGRAPHING PLANTS AND PERFUMES
One of the tasks I have to do as a purveyor of orchid plants and a soon-to-be purveyor of perfumes is photograph the subjects so that the buyer has a realistic visual impression of what he or she is getting. Over the years I’ve developed a set of techniques for photographing flowers and plants using an inexpensive automatic camera (Canon Powershot A520). Although many of the same principles apply, photographing perfumes and other inanimate products presents some different challenges, which I’m in the process of working through.
The first thing I quickly learned about both types of photography is that flash is the ultimate evil. I prefer to have the subject in natural light in my sunroom, preferably on a very cloudy day (the great gel in the sky, as one film person I know calls clouds). Often the clouds produce the perfect lighting conditions - medium strong uniform light, no visible shadows. Sometimes it’s too bright, so I create a “light tent” using a white drape above the subject or wait until the sun is low in the sky, behind the trees. I suppose I could go out and buy a lot of fancy lighting equipment, but so far nature and a white sheet has worked well in this respect.
My camera has a “flower” setting that I use for both orchids and perfumes. It’s a cheap and dirty substitute for a closeup lens. It works fairly well for most things except tiny flowers against a deep background.
The second thing I learned the hard way was that I need a background that isn’t shiny. Velvet would seem like the best possible drape, but if there are any folds at all they catch the light and shine. The top photo was taken against velvet, and you can see light reflecting from a small fold at the left side of the picture. The lower photo was taken against black fleece. I like black fleece for the orchids, since it isn’t reflective. The downside is that it tends to collect bits of debris, but Photoshop is a wonderful cleanup tool for this sort of thing. Nearly all flowers look wonderful against a black background, perfumes not so much. I’m currently trying a couple of different white backgrounds, a gauzy white curtain and a plain white sheet. I think the white sheet is going to be the winner.
There’s not too much I can say about composition, except that it’s something that you achieve through trial and error and trusting your eye. I often prop the orchid plants up in bizarre positions to show off the flowers to the best advantage and get the right mug shot. I drape their ugly plastic pots with black fleece. Perfumes are a little easier, since they’re not odd-shaped, sprawling about, or jiggling in the slightest breeze. I usually take a dozen shots of everything, in slightly different positions and from slightly different angles, in order to get the best possible shot. Cropping is my friend.
Photography, like everything else, is a continual learning process. As I work to get my perfumes documented for the website, I’m sure I’ll learn more about photographing that sort of still life composition and will share any interesting insights that I have.