Improvisation in the Studio

Recently I needed to photograph flowers with a very specific look for an ongoing project for a client. These were controlled, studio images. While it may seem unusual to photograph flowers in a studio mode, in my experience it’s not that different from studio product photography of small objects such as watches and jewellery. Except that, in my opinion, flowers are more beautiful, fun, and difficult to photograph.

All the flowers in the series needed to be brightly lit to bring out colors on a black background. I like the way the sunflower (immediately below) came out. In this photo, the flower looks like some kind of beast about to come alive!


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To achieve the simple look of the sunflower image, I improvised a studio in a sunny room in the house and used a black velvet background. I then manipulated the shades to light just the flower.

To photograph the paper-white narcissus (below), we used the same black velvet background as I’d used with the sunflower. We used a pin to stick this tiny flower, upright into a piece of foam core beneath the velvet.

I started with the ambient room light much dimmer than with the sunflower. Then I lit the flower from beneath using an angled LED lamp, to make the core of the flower glow brightly. I used someone from Apple’s business card, picked up at MacWorld, to shade the LED light so that the petals weren’t too blown out.

Finally, I angled the tripod in place (the whole setup was nestled on an old, stuffed armchair), and photographed straight down on the tiny Paper White with a macro telephoto plus extension tube.

Moral of the story: always pick up business cards, you never know when they’ll come in handy. Also, as I make a point of stating in Light and Exposure for Digital Photographers (now available for pre-order!), you don’t need fancy real estate or equipment to make a studio of your own, just the ability to see light and to improvise.

Paper White on Black

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[Sunflower: Nikon D300, approximately 100mm in 35mm terms, 4/5 of a second at f/32 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]
[Paper-White Narcissus: Nikon D300, 200mm f/4 macro lens (300mm in 35mm equivalent terms), 36mm extension tube, 5 seconds at f/36 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

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