Making Pictures With Professional Photographer John Enman

Photographing a November garden

For years I have made sure to wander my garden with my camera in every season.

I know most photographers are only interested in the bloom of spring or glorious colours of fall, but to me it’s as much how the yearly changes shape the plants as it is the colourful presentation of spring and fall.

I like to walk around the garden that hides my home from the country road that borders my property. Spring, summer, fall or winter. I enjoy it.

It was on a late afternoon just after 4 p.m., I walked out on my porch to listen to the coyotes serenading the neighbourhood. Or maybe they were complaining loudly that the wet cold weather was making it hard to find food that normally scurries in the meadows. Friends have commented that it must be nice to live away from the noise of the hustling city. However, at that moment it wasn’t only the coyotes that were disturbing my supposedly quiet rural life. Three roosters, fourteen chickens and five ducks were all making sure I knew they were as important as the coyotes in their forest home.

As I lazily kicked some fir tree branches out of my path I thought about how the cold plants looked interesting and decided to get my camera.

I mounted my 200mm macro on my camera and attached the ring flash, and walked along the little pond to take some pictures. After about five not-so-sharp captures I chastised myself for being lazy and returned to my house to grab a tripod.

A photographer I met that worked for a couple of magazines once asked me, “What is the difference between using a tripod and not using a tripod? The shot with the tripod is the one the editor chooses for the cover.” I am not sure if that’s always true, but I am sure using a tripod (and a flash) when photographing plants and gardens gives me more keepers.

The ring-flash creates a smooth direct light that is very different from the flash mounted on top of the camera. There is a sparkle to the subjects.

I always use a flash for plants. I begin by metering the ambient light as if I were about to photograph the flower without a flash. Then I stop the aperture down to under expose the picture. In the low, bright November light I wanted to darken everything but my subject. Sure one could open the aperture to reduce the depth-of-field and soften the background. But the closer the lens is to the subject when doing a macro or close-up photograph, the less the field of focus in front of and behind the subject will be anyway.

I want as much sharpness as I can get around the flower. So instead of relying on the aperture to separate my subject from a busy background, I reduce the light.

My ring-flash is set to manual so all I need to do is experiment with flash distance. I move forward and back to give the plant the light I want.

The ring-flash has a diffuser and I use a 200mm macro lens. The magnification is the same as with a 50mm or 105mm macro. I just get to be further away and that distance is more effective for the ring-flash.

There isn’t much more relaxing photography than garden photography because the subjects usually cooperate.

December is here, and I have no doubt this festive Canadian month will bring me a totally different garden to photograph.

These are my thoughts for this week. Contact me at www.enmanscamera.com or emcam@telus.net. Stop by Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops. I sell an interesting selection of used photographic equipment. Don’t hesitate to call me at 250-371-3069.

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