I’ve been proud to serve on the staff of Brooklyn Botanic Garden as the Photographer/Video Producer for one year now. To celebrate my one year anniversary of bringing people close to the world of plants through my photography, I thought I’d share my top 5 tips for taking excellent botanical photos.
1. Set a wide aperture for a blurry background and select focus. Setting your aperture to a wide setting (5.6 or wider) will help you achieve the blurred background effect that has become super popular in recent years (think Humans of New York). I find that this technique lends itself splendidly to plant photography. Just be sure to take your time when focusing, part of what makes this effect so dynamic is when your subject in pin-sharp! I recommend using the viewfinder (not the led screen, if you have one) and focusing manually, leave the auto-focus to wider shots or those with a deeper depth of field!
2. Play with saturation. If you use Photoshop, Lightroom, or some other photo editing program, I recommend you play with the saturation levels for different effects. People often add saturation, but one thing I like to do from time to time is de-saturate! You might be thinking: aren’t the vivid colors part of what’s appealing about botanical photographs? And yes that’s true! But I also think desaturating can result in some very striking images as well, as in the example below.
3. Get close. Related to #1, getting up close and personal with your subject can result in some really cool images, especially with botanicals and other natural subjects. Details will really pop and you may notice features you didn’t observe with the naked eye. You’ll need some good glass (lens) to do this. A macro lens would be best, but I get by with a nifty fifty (50mm prime lens).
4. Get wide. The flipside to #3, a wider shot which includes multiple plants (and even insects like in the example below) can help communicate the diversity of plant life in a given environment, whether controlled as the Garden is or in the wild, and give viewers more of a sense of space. Multiple subjects can contribute to a nice and rich image.
5. Remember the leaves! Flowers are gorgeous, but plants have so many interesting and attractive features to notice. Pay attention to leaves, stems, bark, seeds, fruits, and other features as well. Ignoring them would do a great disservice to both your photography and the Plant Kingdom itself!