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Photographing Australian Plants

Lighting - things to think about


Overcaste or full sun ?

Taking flower photos in overcaste light or in full sunlight can make a big difference.

Full sun usually provides more light, so a smaller aperture can be used giving greater depth-of-field.
Overcaste light, or sun behind a cloud, gives a 'softer' image, less contrast, one flower does not cast a shadow on another.

Oxylobium huegelii
Gompholobium huegelii – sun behind a cloud, diffuse light

Oxylobium huegelii
Gompholobium huegelii – full sun, more contrasty lighting


Back-lighting, where the sun is behind the subject being photographed, is very handy for emphasising small details like the 'hairiness' of a plant.

Grevillea saccata
Grevillea saccata, back-lit to show hairs.   (click to enlarge)

Back-lighting to show hairs or glands

Grevillea saccata

Most grevillea flowers are not hairy, so it is important that this feature show up in the photograph.

This photo is taken using sunlight, coming from behind and to the left of the flowers.
A piece of black velvet was held behind the flowers to show off the hairiness.

The photo has the appearance of a ring-flash photo, but it is not.

The four images below all illustrate back-lighting. The flowers or leaves all have fine structures that are enhanced by light from behind.

Acacia 'Scarlet Blaze'
Acacia leprosa 'Scarlet Blaize'
Ptilotus roei
Ptilotus roei
Drosera peltata
Drosera peltata, the back-lighting highlights the drops of sticky liquid on leaves
Allocasuarina lehmanniana
Allocasuarina lehmanniana subsp. ecarinata,  female flowers

Using natural light or flash

Melaleuca armillaris
Melaleuca armilaris, overcaste lighting (click to enlarge)
Natural light, either sun or diffuse (as above) gives a more natural look.
Often there is less depth-of-field because a larger apperture is used.

Melaleuca armilaris
Melaleuca armillaris, flash lighting, (click to enlarge)
Flash lighting allows a very small apperture to be used, this results in greater depth-of-field, giving the photo a 'sharper' though less natural look.
Light coloured flowers stand out against the darker background.
(this flash set-up is explained here, general flash discussion here)

Velleia paradoxa
Natural sunlight, with its highlights and shadows, clearly shows the texture of the petals of this Velleia paradoxa flower. This is especially the case with the 'frilly' edge to the petals

Velleia paradoxa
The same Velleia paradoxa flower photographed using a ring-flash. The photo has a sharper look, but much of the texture of the petals has been lost, especially the clear distinction between the centre of the petal and the 'frilly' edge. Yellow flowers are difficult to capture with ring-flash.

Flowers look different with different lighting

Pandorea doratoxylon Pandorea doratoxylon
Pandorea doratoxylon

The Desert Wonga Vine, Pandorea doratoxylon, had some flowers high up against the sky, and some low down with the desert sand in the background.

Photographing them against the blue sky shows the sun coming through the petals (top left).

Photgraphing them with flash gives the petals a much more 'solid' appearance, a different yellow colour, and an unnatural dark blue sky.
(top right).

Photographing them against the red sand gives yet another yellow colour, and the natural lighting allows the shape of the flower to be more clearly seen (bottom left).



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