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By ronaldhanko at 2008-11-17 22:29
ave you seen a photo of an orchid that made you say, "I wish I'd taken that"? Have you ever wished for photos of your own orchids that were not just average, but showed these exquisite flowers to their best advantage, photos that would remind you of your orchids when they were not blooming? Perhaps you've had such thoughts but have you somehow gotten the idea that really good photos are beyond your capabilities or financial resources? In this article I want to dispel some myths about orchid photography by way of showing that good pictures can be taken by anyone with a minimum of expense and expertise.
Good photographs of the orchids we grow are a record of the blooms and plants that provides a memory of their loveliness and of our success as growers. Good photographs give the grower and photographer an opportunity to show his or her success far beyond the local orchid society and visiting friends, and can even give the additional thrill of being published. I can remember the thrill of having my first photo published and remember as well the owners of orchids that had just been awarded hanging breathlessly over my shoulder to make sure that their plant was properly photographed, hoping that “their photo” would be published in color in one of the American Orchid Society (AOS) publications or the AOS annual calender. A good photograph can even be the only memory of a plant that has departed to orchid heaven.

f you are interested in taking good photos there are especially two myths about orchid photography that need to be shown for what they are, myths and not fact. The first myth says that a lot of expensive equipment is needed to make good photographs and that more expensive equipment will produce better photos. I have only ever had a minimum of equipment and much of that homemade, but have served with that equipment as photographer for the AOS Southwest Judging Center in Houston and have had photos published in Orchids, the magazine of the AOS, in the AOS annual calender and in the AOS Awards Quarterly magazine and have won a photography contest with this photo of Masdevallia veitchiana. The person who is using the equipment and who is behind the camera is far more important than the equipment. Good photos can be taken with cheaper cameras and expensive cameras do not automatically produce award quality photos.

The second myth says that there is a set of unbreakable rules for producing good photos. There are no ten commandments for good photography. I'll be giving some tips in this article but that is all they are. Good photographs are often the result of the photographer doing the unexpected, shooting from an unusual angle, using a different lighting source or a background that is very different but enhances the flowers being photographed. The AOS prefers straight-on shots of awarded flowers for its records, but when doing photography for the AOS, I often took additional photos for my own records or for the owners of awarded plants that were more unusual and made for more attractive pictures. This photo of Lycaste cruenta, for example, is taken from a lower vantage point making the flowers appear as though they are flying.

began growing orchids nearly thirty years ago and started photographing them at the same time. At that time I was using a Minolta 201 35mm SLR (single lens reflex) film camera that was completely manual. Even though I eventually purchased a more expensive camera, I continued to use the Minolta for photographing very small flowers with the help of a bellows. In the beginning I used no other equipment and took most of my photos outdoors or in a well-lighted room of the house. Even this produced very satisfactory photos as the picture of Cattleya forbesii demonstrates.
Eventually I added other equipment, which is still today the only equipment I use. This equipment includes a decent tripod, various large pieces of velvet cloth, black, green,
and blue, purchased from a fabric shop, which I use for backgrounds, a three foot by four foot frame made of molding filled with half inch wire mesh and a prop on the back over which different backgrounds can be draped and which is also used to display small hanging plants at local orchid society meetings, and a stand with holds two 100 watt incandescent bulbs and their reflectors. The stand and reflectors are very old and were given me by someone who no longer wanted them. This set-up sometimes made me the butt of jokes at the meetings of the Southwest Regional Judging Center, but it has cost me less than $100 and has done good service, jokes notwithstanding.
There are three things besides a camera that I would consider to be indispensable or nearly so, a good background, a tripod and some supplementary lighting. A good background makes an enormous difference in the final photograph. There are no rules except that the color of the background should enhance the color of the flowers and not clash with them and should be plain so as not to distract from the flowers. Nor should the background be shiny, since a shiny background will reflect the light and make a good photo very difficult. Even so I do not always use the different colored cloth backgrounds, but sometimes use a plain light-colored wall, a pastel bedsheet or a bookcase full of antiquarian books as a background. I even use the outdoors, but try to keep the background simple and shoot at a faster speed and wider aperture in order to blur the background. The photos above and this photo of Odontioda Picasso ‘Rubis’ show what can be done with different backgrounds.
Supplementary light is not absolutely necessary; a well-lighted greenhouse, sunroom or sunny window will do. Direct sunlight can be too harsh, however, and can cast dark shadows. Even in good natural light some supplementary lighting can soften shadows and illuminate parts of the flower that would otherwise be too much shadowed. A couple of clamp-on utility lights will make a huge difference. A tripod is also a necessity, if nothing more than the cheap table-top variety, in order to make sure that a good sharp picture is obtained from the right angle.

s to the subject itself, single flowers are easier to photograph because the subject is simpler and easier to arrange. Pictures of both plants and flowers together are the most difficult, both because of the size of the subject and its complexity, but are well worth trying. The plant at right is a massive specimen plant of Dendrobium primulinum, awarded a Certificate of Cultural Merit by the AOS. Do not limit yourself to photos of individual flowers or even of whole plants, however. Take pictures of flower details or parts of flowers. These can be very effective and show what makes a flower unique. The accompanying photo of Masdevallia glandulosa shows the glands on the inside of the flower for which the plant is named. Photos of parts of flowers can also be very decorative. Large pictures of orchids that are used to decorate a wall are often of flower details, perhaps a close-up of the lip and column of a Phalaenopsis.

Very small flowers do present a challenge and require some additional equipment. Without a bellows, an assembly that fits between the camera body and lens, it is very difficult to get good photos of tiny flowers. Even with a bellows it is hard to get good focus because of the long focal length, the length between shutter and lens. Without a bellows the best thing to do is to take pictures at the highest possible resolution and crop them, so that the flowers are not lost in the picture. The accompanying photo, taken with a bellows, is of a single flower of Lepanthopsis astrophora ‘Stalky’. These flowers are only slightly larger than the head of a pin, but a good photo allows us to see how breathtakingly lovely they are.

here are a few other rules or tips. A good number of photos should be taken from different camera angles, different lighting angles and different backgrounds and it is a good idea to take photos both in the landscape and in the portrait format as well as at different exposures. With the advent of digital photography there is no excuse for taking just one or two photos and trusting that they will be right. Perhaps the most important rule, however, is: look carefully at all of what you are photographing and try to imagine what the final photo will look like. Most of us look only at the flower and do not see the background as part of the picture until we’ve taken the photo and printed it. Don’t let the background dominate. Don’t leave the flower a tiny colored blob lost in the middle of a huge background. Fill the frame and keep the pot, the mount and other clutter out of the picture as much as possible (unless it is worth photographing and adds to the final result).
Other than that, the only rule is: be imaginative and creative. Don’t take every picture from the same angle and with the same background. Don’t center every picture. Think about what you're photographing and about the things you love most about your flowers. You will soon be producing photos that you will bring the same gasps of admiration from the uninitiated as do your blooming plants. A good photograph is certainly not as satisfying as a well-grown plant, but then the plant doesn't bloom year around and the photo does.

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