We have all seen some dreadful slides of awarded
plants and flowers - untidy backgrounds, careless under- or over
- exposure, bad lighting, blurred images, and distracting elements,
such as labels, pot rims and stakes with bright green ties. I
cannot guarantee that after reading this you will always take
perfect pictures of orchids, but I hope it will give some pointers
that will help you take acceptable slides of the awarded orchids.
I will attempt to stay within the parameters of shooting slides
of orchid blooms at the time and place of orchid judging, using
equipment that can readily be transported and easily set up at
almost any judging site. Assuming readers have some knowledge
of photographic jargon, I have made an effort to avoid unneccessarily
technical language. I can report only what works for me and my
In 1980 the American Orchid Society published
a booklet, Handbook on Orchid Photography by Grenville
Seibels II, which covers very well all the things I have to say,
and a lot more. This booklet is now out of print; however, I
have used this source rather freely in putting these notes together.
Equipment needed for photographing awarded
orchids is simple and straightforward: camera, film, lens, tripod,
lights and background cloth.
camera and lens should be the best you can possibly afford. Any
of the major brand 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) cameras will
give you excellent results. Some of the well-known names are:
Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax, and Olympus. Stick to the big
names; they gained popularity by being good. And always remember
that you get what you pay for.
The camera bodies I have been using for many
years are the Canon A-1, with a power winder. This model has
been out of production for some years, but I was lucky enough
to acquire three of them while they were still available. This
may seem like "overkill", but the value of having a
second camera on hand when the one you are using has some unexplainable
affliction at 10 o'clock at night 40 miles from home is obvious.
The use of a power winder and cable release facilitates the shooting
of the required number of slides of an awarded plant, while maintaining
LENS: For orchid
photography it is absolutely necessary to have a lens that can
be focused down to extreme closeups; in other words, a macro
lens. There are ways around using a macro lens - bellows, reversing
the lens, adding a close-up accessory lens; however, the no-hassle
way to go is a first-rate lens that is designed for the job.
(Also good in photographing the kids or the landscape.)
Again, beware of incredible bargains. Macro
lenses come in various focal lengths, usually 50mm or 100mm.
My choice has been the Canon Macro FD 100mm f/4 which
comes with extension tube FD50. With the extension tube, a subject-image
ration of 1:1 (life size) can be achieved. The 100mm lens enables
the camera to be set up farther away from the subject, which
allows greater latitude in composing and lighting.
make your life more difficult by trying to use a little, spindly,
wobbly, telescoping tripod. Find yourself a real hunk of a tripod
constructed of heavy gauge aluminum with outer leg castings at
least a full inch in diameter. Staying in critical focus throughout
the shooting of the required number of slides is certainly made
easier when the camera and subject are absolutely stationary.
Standard operating procedures should be the use of a heavy tripod
and a cable release, ALL OF THE TIME.
with the inconvenience of carrying reflectors and stands, I prefer
using incandescent lights rather than strobes (electric flash).
Incandescents have two important advantages over strobes: exposures
can be adjusted by normal metering methods, and lighting and
shadow effects can be balanced by eye instead of by guessing.
I use two simple floodlight reflectors with collapsible stands.
Photoflood bulbs come in two color temperatures, 3200 degrees
K (Kelvin) and 3400 degrees K - your choice will depend on the
color balance of the film you are using. Most of the color emulsions
are balanced for 3200 degrees K, but there are a few that require
3400 degrees K. A note of caution: because of the fierce heat
generated, all photoflood lights should be handled with extreme
caution during and after use.
The background is second only to the flower itself. Award photographs
are used for plant identification and comparison and publication
and a busy background or one of a distracting color defeats the
purpose of these slides. The backgrounds should be discreet,
muted and unobtrusive and self-effacing. The simplest method
is to use an artificial backdrop of flat material large enough
to cover the entire field of view and positioned far enough behind
the plant to be out of focus and free of shadows cast by the
plant (4 or 5 feet is a good rule of thumb). For AOS award photography
the orchid MUST dominate the picture. DO NOT use gaudy,
dazzling or heavily patterned backgrounds. My preference is a
piece of olive-drab (gray-green) cloth, 2 1/2 yards long by 60
inches wide, which is light weight with a matte (dull) finish.
Some photographers may prefer a muted brown or dove-gray material.
When this cloth is tacked or taped to the wall approximately
5 feet or so behind the subject, quite often you will find the
background in the slide will appear almost black with perhaps
a hint of color. This blackness may be controlled by the postion
of the lights and the distance the subject is placed from the
Many photographers are familiar with the 'Pantone
matching System of Printing Inks" (PMS) color system used
by the printing industry. Most printers will have the same booklet
of PMS colors. the color numbers I would suggest to be matched
by the cloth would be
PMS 385 or 378 - gray-green
424 or 431 - dove-gray
PMS 464 or 471 - brown
Using black as a background occasionally presents
problems because some dark flowers tend to get lost against the
inky black. The exact shape of sepals or petals fades into the
blackness and becomes difficult or impossible to define. The
use of middle value colors as a background seems to resolve these
situations. Accurate shape is very important because these slides
are used for identification and to compare with other blooms
during a judging session.
FILM: When using
photoflood lights, the film must be balanced for tungsten light.
Using standard daylight film under these lights will result in
the slides having an orange, or orange-red tint. Conversely,
using tungsten-balanced film outdoors produces a blue cast. Filters
can more or less correct these color distortions, but they sharply
reduce the ASA rating of the film.
During the past few years many advances have
been made in the quality of color film. Most veteran photographers
will agree that Kodachrome 25 was the number one film of years
ago; however, with the sale of Kodak's film processing operation
along with today's advancements in the chemistry and physics
of film manufacturing, other films have made great improvements.
I use Ektachrome 64T (tungsten) film which is balanced for use
with 3200 degree K lights. Fuji has a similar 64T film which
uses 3400 degree K lights. Once you find an emulsion that satisfies
you as to color fidelity and saturation, stick with it.
POSING: It is
important to stress that the chief purpose of awards photography
is to provide future judging teams with a graphic, explicit basis
for comparisons. The AOS prefers its record slides to be typical
"mug shots" - a straight-on, centered view. However,
a subtle shift of camera postion so that the viewing angle
is jst a few degrees off dead center will sometimes give the
flowers a more dynamic, three-dimensional appearence. The flower
should fill the frame but not to the very edge. In mounting the
individual 35 mm frames, the processor necessarily must mask
a tiny strip along the edges of each frame. So when composing,
allow a little space all around to avoid any undesireable cropping
by the slide mount.
Points to remember when posing the flower:
get rid of all tags, wire supports, ties etc., that will appear
in the frame of the picture. Use tape to pull unwanted flowers,
stakes or leaves aside. These distractions can destroy the impact
of an otherwise fine photograph.
the lights at least 4 feet or more away from the flower. These
lights are HOT! Don't return a fried or baked plant
to the exhibitor! The second light should be a foot or so farther
away from the subject to give a more three dimensional look to
the flowers. Move the lights around and up and down until the
shadow pattern defines the edges of overlapping petals and gives
a bit of shadow under curled segments. White and pale pastel
flowers present a special problem. Using the lights as close
and in the same fashion as with the darker-colored flowers usually
results in a white blob for a picture. Simply back the lights
farther away and even aim them a bit to the side for these flowers.
FOCUS: Of course,
this is critical. I look for a weak shadow or pattern on the
flower and bring it into as clear focus as possible, checking
it from time to time while shooting the required mnumber of shots.
use aperature priority. In other words, I decide what aperature
will give the depth of field the flower requires, or will throw
the background out of focus, set to this f-stop and let
the camera decide what speed to use. Most of my shots are taken
between f5.6 and f16. This procedure, of course,
will depend on what kind of camrea is being used.
I realize that these notes certainly do not
solve all the problems encountered by the awards photographers.
However, these few suggestions can contribute to better quality
of awards photographs far beyond their ease of implementation.
Hopefully, they will also spark more interest in improvement
of awards photography in general.