16 August 2018

Question 1. Are there any particular flowers you like photographing the most?

Yes. My favourite is the obvious choice, tulips. Firstly, because they are so heart-warming. After the long Winter months in Canberra colourful tulips herald the promise of warmer weather, sunshine and all things outdoors. Secondly, because they are so beautiful to photograph  – they are definitely the star of the show. With over 100 species of tulips planted at Floriade, the array of shapes and colours is endless. And lastly, because they are so sculptural. Long stems and bulbous petals standing proudly above lush leafed bases make for interesting compositions as singular flowers, groupings and on mass. What’s not to love about this flower!

Question 2: What’s the best time of day to capture photos?

I see myself mostly as a landscape photographer. I usually shoot at sunrise or sunset to capture spectacular skies over beautiful landscapes or play with long light to accentuate parts of a scene.

However, after attending Floriade many times last year,  I came to realise you can take good flower photos any time of day. Many different photographic effects can be achieved depending on the weather, time of day and amount of ambient light. Some of the effects that are fun to try for are:

  1. Close ups of translucent petals framing their colourful stamen. This is achieved by photographing backlit flowers when the sun is still fairly low in the morning before 11ish.
  2. Close ups of sun rays flaring on the edges of petals or leaves. This is achieved shooting backlit flowers and moving the camera slightly to allow the sun to peak around the edges creating sun rays or flares. This can be done any time of day.
  3. Brightly coloured blooms against vivid blues skies is best achieved on cloudless days from mid-morning to mid-afternoon shooting from below the flowers upwards.
  4. Colourful blooms cocooned in textured foliage. This is achieved by shooting from above the blooms into the foliage without any sky in the background. This works particularly well on cloudy days where the tones and textures of the foliage are not blown out by strong sunlight.

Another opportunity for great flower photos is at NightFest between 6.30 and 10.30pm in Floriade’s second week. The everchanging lights illuminating the garden beds makes for beautiful close ups and long-distance shots. The garden beds truly come to life at night when photographed in compositions with other park features including the Ferris Wheel, roving entertainers and stages. The cacophony of light and colour is spectacular.

Question 3. What strategies do you have for taking a close up of flowers?

The ideal situation for getting sharp flower close ups is using a tripod set at flower height. However, this is often difficult or dangerous to do when there are lots of people on the paths around the garden beds. For close ups I lie down alongside garden beds holding my camera propped up by my elbows to keep it steady. This way I’m not causing accidents with people falling over me or being trod on myself. Fortunately, many of the garden beds are now raised so you can kneel and shoot into the bed at a more comfortable height.

Question 4. Do you prefer taking photos of the whole scene or close ups?

As a landscape photographer I usually like shooting the big picture. The drama of long swathes of colour is certainly the hero shot at Floriade. However, I’ve come to appreciate the micro landscapes within the flower beds can be equally riveting. The drama of pops of colour against deep dark foliage, the textures, tones and variegated colour combinations all make for amazing compositions. Delicate pollen coated stamens cocooned in translucent petals, frilly petals, fury stems and unopened buds straining for the sun make for exquisite macro photography. Floriade is a grand event. To capture the big and the small is to see it in its entirety.

Question 5. What are the ‘must-do’ photo opportunities of Floriade?

The obvious ‘must-do’ flower photo opportunities are:

  • Shooting beautiful compositions that play with leading lines of sweeping garden beds and paths anchored by ponds or the Ferris Wheel
  • Shooting unique/rare/beautiful flowers at close range in different stages of maturity over several weeks in different lighting conditions, groupings and backgrounds

The ‘must-do’ photo location opportunities are:

  • The top of the Ferris Wheel with beautiful views of the stunning planting schemes difficult to capture at ground level
  • Narang Pool, which has many vantage points easily discovered by walking around it. Photos through flowerbeds in the foreground across the pool look fabulous. Also shooting across the pool with flower beds in the distance can make for beautiful garden and sky reflections

The ‘must-do’ event opportunities are:

  • Unfortunately, it’s hard to shoot (because it’s night time) but worth the effort. Night photography requires an understanding of camera settings and a tripod. Long exposures with a stable camera can capture the kaleidoscope of lights and colours cleverly orchestrated to create a visual feast
  • Dogs’ Day Out is my all-time favourite Floriade event to shoot. Thousands of wagging tails and smiling owners create the friendliest event I’ve ever attended. With everyone on their best behaviour and happy to have their photo taken, eager to share dog stories and enjoying the day out the photo opportunities are priceless. The best shots are at dog height with flowerbeds in the background. Lots of people and their pooches don fancy dress and are pleased to have their photo taken. Shooting at dog level upwards to the owner make for fun and interesting shots

The NOT so obvious ‘must-do’ photo opportunities but SO worth are:

  • Photos of yourself enjoying the beautiful flowers. To get this shot you have to go there. This event is too good to miss. It will bring you joy, it will get you outside, it will make you walk, and it will give you happy memories. Take photos of that.
  • Photos of your children (if you have them). They do the cutest things around flowers and they will be smiling all day.
  • And lastly if you have a dog take them to Dogs’ Day Out. They will love it and so will you.

Question 6. How do you take photos looking into the sun?

Shooting into the sun with your subject in the foreground is a really creative way of capturing photos. Shooting into the sun produces lens flare and instead of damaging your photos, you can use this for spectacular results.

Shooting into the sun usually creates silhouettes of your subject. Silhouettes are caused by your camera trying to expose the whole photo rather than just your subject. Seeing as it’s common to see a lot of sun and sky in these photos, you’re likely to get a silhouette.

To avoid silhouettes, change your metering mode to ‘Spot’. Spot metering means that your camera will expose whatever is in the centre of the shot, rather than the whole photo. This is likely to lead to blown out, overexposed backgrounds. But that’s part of the effect of shooting into the sun.

The best times of day to get great lens flare is early in the morning or later in the day. At those times you don’t have to lie on the ground to get the sun behind your subjects. The sun also seems to have a softness about it as it moves up from or down to the horizon.

Question 7.  What are three tips every ‘budding’ photographer should abide by?

  1. For me lighting is the biggest consideration when out shooting. You can plan on getting a particular shot anticipating certain lighting conditions but more often than not, the lighting is not what you hoped for. Being able to adapt what and how you’re shooting to maximise the ambient lighting conditions is a way of avoiding coming home empty handed. Many times, I’ve had to abandon a plan and just go with the flow and grabbed a shot better than the one I was after.
  2. Try to take photos that tell stories – pictures say a thousand words. A photo that creates an emotional response will stand out with your audience. Planning is the secret to success. Decide in advance what story you want to tell, how to tell it and where and when to get it. As your skills improve you can often do this on the fly. Being able to look through the lens and see a great composition, manipulate your camera settings to optimise the lighting and instinctively know how you are going to edit and crop the image later is the ultimate photography skill.

Practice, practice, practice. Decide what skill you want to improve and go and practice it for ages. Taking photos randomly doesn’t do much to improve your skills. If you love sunrise and sunset shots go out at those times of day and find how best to shoot them. You will discover they can be quite boring without something in the foreground to give them context and make them interesting. Practicing photography skills makes them automatic so you can grab great shots on the fly and in rapidly changing conditions. Once you have achieved a competent skill set you will never want to put your camera down.

Follow Carol’s take on all things Canberra at @carolelvin.