Sharp Flowers Using
Natural Light

Want your flower pictures
Here’s how one photographer
does it quite simply.
by K.K. Agarwal

Most flower pictures we see have one plane of sharpness, and the rest of the photo is unsharp. How do you create total sharpness? So, when we first received K.K. Agarwal’s exquisite photographs of cactus flowers, we were delighted but wondered how many of MODERN’S readers had access to cacti? Fortunately, the same techniques were applicable to all small flowers.—ED.

If cacti grow in your region or in your home, you know that they’re often most beautiful when in blossom. Indeed flowers, whether attached to cacti or not, are among photography’s most popular subjects. With care and relatively simple equipment, you can put their xquisite color and fine detail on film. I used to think of cacti as thorny wayward growth. But as I became more familiar with them, my scorn turned to admiration. Their symmetrical forms and geometric patterns, varied shapes and sizes and colors became fascinating. As I explored them with my lens, lines and patterns changed like a kaleidoscope. Their range of color is equally unlimited, varying from subtle shadings to exotic fluorescence. For maximum control in rendering these elements, I use only natural light. White sheets, mirrors, and black cards help direct the light where I want it. With plants, backlighting can often be enhancing, but you must use some amount of bounced or reflected natural fill light to avoid undetailed black shadows. When working at close distances, a tripod is essential to avoid blur from camera movement. If you’re using long exposure times, you may have to compensate for reciprocity failure by giving more exposure than indicated. Consult your film data sheet for details. To further reduce chances of vibration, lock the camera mirror up after focusing if your camera has this feature.

Backlight for translucent detail: These little seedlings were photographed against the sun to show clearly the translucent green dots on their bodies and to highlight
their colorful stems. Backlighting created a pleasing halo of light delineating the edges of the plant. A black cardboard baffle blocked direct light hitting the lens and prevented lens flare. It was positioned as shown in the diagram above. Nikkormat EL, 105mm f/4 Micro Nikkor lens, bellows fully extended (192mm), exposure by through-the-lens meter, 4 sec. at f/32, Kodachrome 25 film. Mirror locked up, camera on tripod, lens
focused at 18.5 in. (.47 m), magnification 2.3X.


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