FLASH! ... Orchids at the NYBG

May 04, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018 I am a member at the New York Botanical Garden and saw this opportunity to attend one of their workshops: 

Orchid flash photography workshop. Get an exclusive opportunity to photograph The Orchid Show using your DSLR 100–300mm telephoto lens and dedicated speedlights. Master techniques to achieve the best lighting and exposure for these vibrant flowers without the use of tripods or monopods. Required Equipment: DSLR, zoom telephoto lens (100–300mm focal length), lens hood, dedicated speedlight, brackets, hotshoe cable or remote.

Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018 Sure, since I recently got my Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT and have always enjoyed the world of flowers and have not done much flash photography. So I registered. The issue with a lot of botanical gardens is that they will not allow anyone to bring a tripod or monopod in the conservatory to use for taking photographs. I do bring my tripod with me to these places but can’t open it up for use indoors. I did use a mini tripod in strategic places at a few botanical gardens but you get the idea. As soon as a staffer sees you with the camera on the tripod they pounce on you. And rightfully so. The conservatories are usually crowded, not very bright and space is limited to begin with. So the alternative is to use a quality DSLR at a higher ISO and perhaps a slower shutter speed. The problem is the depth of field when getting really close as when shooting macro. It is very shallow. And once you get to a wider lens opening and slower shutter you’ll want the tripod. But you can’t. The other option is to use a flash.

The instructor was Jeffrey Falk. Jeffrey has 45 years of experience in floral photography. He has led numerous workshops throughout the city teaching digital photography and exploring the uses of photographic imaging and equipment. Class was to take place between 9 and 3 pm. Turned out about 10 people showed up. The direction in the class add was for using a DSLR with flash and a 100-300 zoom lens. Also the use of flash brackets and diffusers was suggested. A lot of people came in with equipment they just bought and were not familiar with it at all. I only brought my flash, a small folding diffuser, Vello Mini Softbox, my Canon 7D II, 5D III and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II zoom and the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS macro.

Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018 As it turned out the ‘using your DSLR 100–300mm telephoto lens’ was not exactly correct. Any lens/camera combination was just fine. Jeffrey was very good and knowledgeable. He had to accommodate folks of very wide experience levels.

After an hour and a half of classroom instruction we walked to the conservatory. It was a cold day. Once in the conservatory I realized the issue with the blurry images I was getting. The lens fogged up a lot. And rightfully so. Coming in from the cold and entering a semitropical environment condensation on the lens was severe. Luckily my other camera was in my bag and did not suffer from the condensation issue. 

The big zoom or primary lenses can work very well as a macro lens. The main reason I wanted to use the 400mm focal length was to get more depth of field as I would be shooting from a much greater distance than I would be shooting with a macro lens. And it worked well. The flash I was using could reach the distance. Using the flash for the first time in shooting flowers during daylight is a bit tricky. I am a beginner with flash. I found that I needed to bring down the strength of the flash quite a bit to avoid blowing out the lighter colors. Since we didn’t have a lot of time to experiment many mistakes were made. Lightroom saved some of the files. Also another issue I had was the shutter speed. All may bad. I always think I can push down the exposure time. I had many shots with way too low a shutter speed. Without the tripod that becomes very critical for getting sharp Images. 

Back to the classroom for image critique. Again we had a diverse group that took some poor images while others had great shots.

Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018 I also went to the orchid show a few more times and improved on the mistakes I made in the first try. I also attended the orchid show at night. Now that’s a whole different ballgame. Must shoot with flash almost all the time. And now flash is not to just to fill in. While shooting orchids the danger of blowing out the flower is much greater. Bringing down the flash output will save the image of the flower but the background will be much on the dark side. Like I said I am beginner in flash photography. There are many expert websites that give good instruction of flower flash photography. I will be checking them out. Practice and more practice. 

My final take from the workshop and for flower flash photography without a tripod:

Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018 ◊ Absolutely use a diffuser on top of the flash to soften the light. And hold the flash away from the lens with a bracket ..  or if you have more than two hands. Even better get yourself an assistant or good friend to hold the flash away from the camera. That way you’re not killing the flower with the straight on light and some interesting effects  can be achieved with side lighting.

◊ Watch your f/stop. Watch your shutter speed. Without a tripod it’s going to be impossible to get a lot sharp. Make your choice and have that part of the flower tack sharp. Don’t be too concerned with high ISO. If you don’t crop it’s OK. 

◊ Your depth of field will be shallow. Since you are not using a tripod you’re either standing up, on your knee or crouching. That translates into movement. With the shallow DOF that’s going to get you a bunch of blurry shot. One suggestion. Don’t shoot just one shot. Set your camera to continuous shooting and take 2, 3 or 4 shots fast. Since you moved slightly, one of those shots will probably be sharp.

◊ Focusing is another critical part. Auto focus or manual? I shot auto focus but on both cameras I had complete control of which focus point I wanted. Without a tripod manual focus is going to be a tough task. Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018

◊ I shoot on manual mode. That can be good and bad. The bad was me choosing a slow shutter setting a lot.

◊ I used regular AA alkaline batteries for my flash. Not good. You want to use AA high capacity Ni-MH  batteries. And have a second set ready and charged. If you plan on doing a lot of flash photography get the rechargeable type.

◊ Watch your composition and try to isolate the flower from the background if you’re doing portraits.

◊ The more gear you bring with you the more things you’ll have to handle and more problems you’re going too have. I had two cameras with two or three lenses and of course the flash and diffuser. Also, over 4-6 hours of shooting that’s a lot of weight to carry. One DSLR with lens and flash plus one other lens will be my Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018Orchid Show, New York Botanical Garden, April 2018 gear next time since I don’t have an assistant or a friend who is willing to hang around with me me for half a day taking a few hundred shots of flowers. Or just concentrate on one thing at the time. Shots with a zoom lens for better depth of field and another day just work with the macro lens. Don’t dismiss the wide angle lens for close up also. You can get really close with good DOF and still have everything sharp. And if using a full frame DSLR cropping can get you in very close. And don’t forget the wide angle shots for bringing context to the gallery. 

Link to my NYBG's Orchid Show gallery here.


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