Photographing Orchids
Technical Details

Photographing orchids is not too difficult with the right equipment.

The most important piece of equipment one needs is a camera with the ability to take close-up, or macro shots.

My main camera is a Nikon D70 with a Micro Nikkor 60mm f2.8 macro lens. I use the Nikon Macro Ringflash SB-29s to illuminate the orchids. Nikon currently does not offer a TTL ringflash for their dSLRs, so it takes a little more knowledge of photography to initially get going, but it's not hard.

The nice thing about using a digital SLR is the immediate feedback one gets. I vary the flash output and vary the aperture until I get a good exposure and then move to the next flower. I use the histogram feature during playback to make sure my exposure is good. It's a bit of a change, but the instant feedback helps shorten the learning curve.

To make sure everything is always in focus, I try to use the smallest aperture possible. Most of my shots are between f/22 and f/50. That means if my focus is a smudge off, it won't matter.

I have been handholding all my shots but am starting to utilize a tripod when I have the space/time to make effective use of it. The improvement in picture quality is palpable and I am going to try my best to use the tripod as much as I can. Still have some equipment investment to make before I get to a gear mix I work best with.

I carry a large piece of black velvet with me. There are some places where using the velvet can be impossible, but I try wherever practical. Having a neutral background really brings out the best in a flower photograph.

Using natural light in the greenhouse can give excellent results - Hanging Gardens is particularly good for this type of work. I am also starting to experiment with some bright shop lights in place of expensive studio lighting. Finding easy to implement diffusion methods is a challenge, but I know it can be done. I'm cheap when I am certain a little elbow grease and ingenuity can accomplish similiar results.

Keeping track of the plants is relatively straightforward - it just takes some discipline. Before I had the dSLR, I would use a notebook. Every shot I take was immediately written down in a notebook with plant name and exhibitor. I numbered the shots sequentially, so that I knew plant entry 5 was the fifth plant on that roll, even if I took 4 pictures of each plant. Some people write "frames 1-5, plant name, exhibit" instead. Now I simply photograph the label immediately after the shot. Do what works for you.

In the past I have used a compact little 2 megapixel Canon Powershot camera on occassion. Most of the non-species Pacific Orchid Exposition photos from 2003 and 2004 were taken with this camera, using available light. I am starting to use my new compact 6 megapixel Panasonic Lumix for a different look and feel.

I shoot RAW on the D70 and JPG on the Panasonic. With RAW I can adjust the levels, which can improve the image quality, and I bump the sharpness up ever so slightly. I custom crop each image as well - I didn't frame all these photos so perfectly the first time around! =) I crop them typically at 3:2, either horizontally or vertically. I save them out as JPGs with compression level 12. Disk space is now a commodity.

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Last Modified: 1 January 2006 Eric Hunt

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