University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

News Article

Photographing Flowers--The Basics

By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Knowing a few photography basics will help you get flower and garden pictures you'll be pleased with, and eager to show friends.

First, you need a camera. Automatic cameras can be small and easy to carry, inexpensive, quick, easy to use, but less flexible than manual cameras as you can't do much adjusting, add filters, or such. The standard 35mm (millimeter, based on film size) allows you to add special lenses, filters, and do your own adjusting, but cost more than automatics.

The disposable cameras are good for kids, quick shots, or if other cameras are not available or affordable. They can be found in many stores and tourist destinations. Disposables are usually for prints and not slides.

What do I use for a camera? I actually have three cameras--a disposable one I take a few prints with on occasion of family to show friends; a small, automatic one I use for wide shots (it has a wide angle lens) and quick shots (no time to compose a picture, or a general garden view for instance); and a 35mm camera.

The latter has a zoom lens so I can go from close-up (both this and the automatic camera go to 14 inches away from a flower) to zoom in on a flower high in a tree or far off the garden path. The zoom lens I use is a 35mm-105mm, the numbers going from wide to zoom. Of all the lens I've used, I find this one a good compromise for many situations.

The next choice is film. There are many types you can choose, with standard brands giving the best colors and longevity. A good film will produce pictures that may last 25 to 50 years or more, if stored properly once developed.

Do you want prints or slides? The answer depends on your use. For scrapbooks and showing friends, prints are best. If shooting many pictures, slides are cheaper, and they're more useful for presentations. And you always have the option of getting a print made from a slide later.

The new digital cameras take photos on a disk. You get a proof sheet when you have it developed (all the photos on one page in small size). You can then choose which ones you want, and what size.

Of course, for a price, you can have your photo shop convert one format into any other. Many people now have scanners at home with their computers, which can be used to digitize a print or sometimes slides, for use on the computer or e-mailing to friends and family.

One note on size, if taking prints. There are now a couple options--the standard size and the panorama, which is not as high, but wider (Think of it like a movie screen vs. a television screen.). Many new cameras allow you to take both, even on the same roll of film. You just have to specify to your developer that there are both, and how to print them. The panorama prints usually cost more.

What do I use? I use slide film exclusively, getting prints only from my disposable camera. The lower the number on the film (25 is about the lowest speed for slides, 100 for prints), the more contrast. The higher the speed film, the less contrast, but better for use indoors, such as 200 or 400 speed. For prints, 100 or 200 is a good compromise if you shoot mainly outdoors. I use 64 speed slide film, as I get some speed (I don't have to be quite as steady, or the wind doesn't have to be quite as calm), but also lots of contrast.

This is also the film that many publications prefer, if you are thinking about trying to sell your flower and garden slides to magazines.

Storage of film is important, both before and after shooting. Always buy from a reputable supplier, one that keeps film away from hot places such as storerooms and windows. Ideally, (I do this when I buy lots of film at a time--cheaper this way), unexposed film stores best refrigerated or in a freezer. Once developed, you also should keep your print negatives, or slides, from heat as well. And keep all prints, slides, and negatives out of the light, which is perhaps the biggest reason they deteriorate and fade.

What you store the prints or slides in is also important. Cheaper scrapbooks and plastic slide holders ruin your photos over the long term by their toxic plastic fumes. If interested in best long-term storage, invest in "archival quality" scrapbooks, photo books, or slide holders. They're available at all good camera shops.

So you've got the camera and film, and are going on a trip. Beware of the airport x-rays if travelling by plane. In the past, going through the x-ray security machines was only a problem with the higher speed films, generally over 400 speed. It occasionally would "fog" the film, ruining it.

Now some larger airports and higher security ones have new machines, which may ruin even more types of film. The best bet, and what I do, is put my film (minus the packaging--it carries easier and with less room) in a plastic bag and physically hand to the gate security person and ask for hand inspection, so it does not go through the x-ray machine.

In the U.S. you have the right to ask to have your film hand-inspected, and the airline personnel must comply. This is not always the case overseas. You may want to purchase special x-ray film bags (usually lead-lined) that supposedly keep the film from being harmed.

A couple of final tips on films and cameras before you set out, especially on a trip. Mark your camera batteries with the date when you put them in the camera. Mark your calendar to remember to replace them yearly, and always carry extra batteries with you. Chances are if your batteries die, you will be miles or even countries away from a place where you can buy the ones you need.

Take at least 20% more film than you think you'll need; some photographers even suggest 50% more. This is especially true with the newer digital cameras, and when travelling abroad. A lot of the film sold abroad also includes developing, which may or may not be redeemable in this country. It's also usually a lot more expensive to buy.

Finally, take a notepad to keep track of gardens, dates, and specific flowers. I guarantee if you take many pictures, and if it takes you months to get them labeled as it does me, that you will not remember many of the details. And take a pencil and pen--the former in case of rain or no ink, and the latter in case the lead breaks in your pencil! What is almost as bad as a ruined photo, is one of a flower you really like but have no idea what it is--and no way to find out!

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