Despite the fact that I specialize in shooting landscapes, I’ve just discovered that I really enjoy taking pictures of plants, both in zoos and in the wild. Since the technique frequently involves slowing down, looking for details, and taking time to build shots of sometimes tiny things, shooting pictures of these kinds of smaller situations is more meditative than taking pictures of landscapes. Finding these kinds of subjects is also advantageous because they are common. Since practically any landscape or garden contains plants similar to those in this essay, it might be simple to locate interesting subjects close to home. Additionally, you have plenty of opportunities to take distinctive, imaginative pictures because many photographers pass by these kinds of scenarios without giving them a second consideration.
All of the images presented here were taken with a 100mm macro lens, a useful but not necessary piece of equipment. In my instance, I use the Canon 100mm L f/2.8 lens, but any manufacturer’s basic macro or modest telephoto lens would do the trick (the shorter the minimum focusing distance, the better). I chose a lower aperture, such as f/16 or f/22, for the pictures that have crispness throughout to bring the major subjects in focus (whereas smaller apertures on other lenses can degrade image quality, I have found that my particular lens still performs well at its limits). I used a wider aperture, such as f/2.8 or f/4, for those images where low depth-of-field is a significant approach in order to help delightfully blur some of the details.
I positioned my lens very close to the subject for each picture, frequently just a few inches away. When taking these kinds of pictures, little adjustments may sometimes make a great impact, so in certain instances, like the one above, I set up a tripod and experiment with several compositions until I discover the one I like the most. For some photographs, such as the ones with the shallow depth of field seen below, I hand-hold my camera so that I can freely sway back and forth while experimenting with slight positioning adjustments. Below are six more suggestions for taking these kinds of plant photos in addition to these fundamental methods.
Look for Year-Round Opportunities
Photographing plants can be done year-round in both natural settings and well-kept gardens. Opportunities can still abound if you have an open mind, even if winter and early spring frequently call for greater diligence while looking for subjects. The weight of the snow in this shot, which was taken in the middle of winter in the Denver Botanic Gardens, flattened the plants and made them a better subject than their more vivacious summer counterparts. As these plants are often brilliant green, yellow, and orange, the cold of winter also provided some stunning pastel colors that I had not seen at any other time of year. On the same cold day, I also came across grasses, cacti, succulents, and coniferous trees, all of which provided fantastic but unexpected photographic opportunities.
Look for Patterns and Textures
The diligent observer can find all kinds of patterns and textures in nature. Photographers might find a variety of little scenarios that are interesting to capture by taking the time to explore and observe the minutiae of a location. Above, you can see the two main components I used to build this picture: the recurring patterns and the constant hue in this patch of wood sorrel. This plant is widespread along trails in the Pacific Northwest, but it took some searching to locate a patch with healthy plants growing at a comparable height, which makes it much simpler to get all of the important details in focus in a single exposure. Spend some time the next time you are outside with your camera searching for patterns in nature. Once you start searching, you can find amazing patterns and textures in groundcovers, bark, cacti, and all other kinds of plants.
Embrace Low Depth-of-Field
Accepting low depth of field and the out of focus features that go along with it can require a significant mental change, at least for landscape photographers. Low depth of field is frequently used when photographing little objects like flowers or plants to change the subject from the literal to the abstract. As seen in the photographs above, you are photographing lines and shapes rather than petals, stems, or leaves. Low depth of focus is a fantastic creative tool for photographing plants because of the abstract images that might result from it.
By getting near, using a large aperture like f/2.8, and playing with various focus points, I was able to accentuate the radiating character of the plant’s center in the top image of a seed pod (approximately two inches in diameter). With a little altered focus point and varied viewpoint in the second image, the same plant appears radically different, with the seeds appearing to be upside-down umbrellas. These two photos of the same topic shot a short while apart show how working up close to a subject while using a wide aperture may result in subtle differences in focus, depth of field, and perspective.
Experiment with Light
Backlighting, which occurs when the source of light is behind your subject, can frequently add interest and mood to a shot even though it is one of the more challenging types of light to capture. I used a shallow depth of field to make some of the light and the shrubs out of focus while laying on the ground at eye level with these barren winter plants. Fuzzy things, such as cacti, numerous flowers, and these pussy willows, catch backlighting well, giving a subject a natural glow that can transfer beautifully into an image. Be ready to try again if your initial attempt does not turn out as you had intended because creating these photos can require a lot of trial, tenacity, and honing your skill.
I get quite close to my subject when photographing plants virtually always, frequently just at the minimum focusing distance of my lens. Getting close can help you reduce background noise, isolate your subject for a better composition, and accentuate your subject’s abstract features. Each tiny rosette on the aforementioned specimen is about the size of a pencil eraser, and the fist-sized plant was encircled by pebbles and mud. All of those potential distractions are lessened with a closer vantage point, allowing the photograph’s main subject—the repeating rosettes—to take up the entire frame. This image emphasizes the value of paying attention to small things. Without making an effort to look for them, most visitors to Zion National Park will stroll right by these plants that are found in small patches on canyon walls and slickrock.
Don’t Be Afraid to Look a Tiny Bit Foolish
The Denver Botanic Gardens held a glass display last summer, which greatly improved the gardens’ appeal. Due of the heavy foot traffic, it was impossible to set up a tripod and take unhurried photos of the display. But on one specific trip to the garden, I spotted this stunning succulent rosette plant and felt compelled to take a photo of it before I left. The plant was growing in a potted planter at an awkward angle directly in front of the entryway that all guests entered through. I had to kneel down and twist my body to get the appropriate angle because the plant was close to the ground and at an awkward angle. People walking by made a few snickers as they pondered what I might possibly be photographing. This general experience has happened quite a few times, and although I never want to obstruct other guests, I’m happy to act foolishly in front of others for a picture. So, disregard what people will think and feel free to make a fool of yourself for a better picture as long as it does not negatively affect their experience!
Please offer any advice you may have in the comments section below if you have any for photographing plants.
Learn more: How Many Good Photos from a Trip Is a Success?