Thursday, September 1, 2011

Botanical eye candy

We encountered this mammoth cardinal-flower, Lobelia cardinalis, yesterday. It was growing in the rich alluvium of a remote Hocking County stream, and the tall spikes of scarlet flowers glowed luminescent in the dim light of this heavily forested stream valley. The plant was well over six feet in height, and the central spire seemed to shoot skyward  from a fireworks display of lesser flowers.

Needless to say, this robust plant was worthy of some clicks of the camera, and I delayed long enough to make some images. Cardinal-flower can be surprisingly hard to shoot well. The brilliant flowers often appear washed out and lifeless in photos.

One trick is to make sure that the backdrop will adequately showcase the plant's colors. Plenty of green in the background seems to do the trick. It also helps to use a larger aperture to reduce depth of field and fuzz out all but the flowers.

Finally, my efforts are better if I intentionally underexpose the image, and allow a very soft flash to compensate.

It's a shame to see such a work of art as this cardinal-flower, and return home with less than satisfactory images.


Scott said...

Take a close look at the histograms on your camera's viewfinder especially when shooting an image where one of the subjects have a dominant primary color. I bet if you check the red channel on those flowers the red if blowing out the right hand side. By under exposing you are pushing the red channel back to the center.

Heather said...

Jim, I appreciate your frustration with shooting red beauties such as the cardinal flower. I also have trouble with purple and sometimes yellow flowers. I think a camera's "eye" has a hard time handling those super-saturated, vibrant colors. Do you ever experiment with the white balance on your camera? When you have time, you should try taking a photo of something like this on each white balance setting and seeing which one comes out looking the most life-like.

Ian Adams said...

Jim: Nice photos. I agree with Scott; the red channel tends to overexpose, which can be seen by checking the individual red, green, and blue channel histograms on your camera. Be sure to shoot in "raw" mode, then use your image editor to adjust (usually lower) the saturation of the red channel to bring back the detail in the red flowers. In Photoshop, use the Hue/Saturation command. Per Heather's comment, you can also adjust the white balance in your image editor, but only if you shoot in "raw" mode.

Jim McCormac said...

Thank you all for your advice! It's nice to get input from three excellent photogs, and I'll investigate these tips and see if I can incorporate them to improve my effforts.

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