Each year Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens grows ponds full of lotus plants. These plants bloom during the typically hot, humid summer. If you happen to be there on the right type of day, especially early in the morning when the sun is low and the light is soft, you can create some very nice images. When the lotus flowers are open and the sun back lights the flowers they glow a beautiful pink color.
This particular morning I had found a nice looking flower with a large green leaf behind it. The leaf almost perfectly framed the pink flower, providing a striking contrast between the green and red/pink. The sun was behind the lotus and the sky was cloudy giving off a soft light that provided the glow I was after. After lining up the flower with the leaf in the background I waited. Bumble bees were flying from flower to flower, and my goal was to capture a bumble bee in flight above the lotus. Depth of field was a challenge. I was shooting wide open with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and a 2x teleconverter giving me an aperture of f/5.6. This was to assure the background was just a soft out of focus area of green tones. There wasn’t a lot of light and I kept the ISO at 200 giving me a shutter speed of 1/250 second. I probably should have raised the ISO for a faster shutter speed to increase my odds of capturing a flying bumble bee in focus.
Strangely enough, the very first image I made was my favorite of that session. It captured a mostly in focus bumble bee with a nice orange batch of pollen, wings in motion, just over the core of the lotus flower and between two pink petals. I kept shooting, trying to improve on the first image, but none of the following images captured to me, what the first image had. Below is a selection of some of the other unprocessed images. In several cases I only captured part of the bee. In some it was more out of focus. In a couple the bee was above the flower with green background. I much preferred the bee against the soft pink/white background. It helped the bee pop out just as the pink of the flower against the green background helped the flower pop.
Sometimes you get lucky, as I did this time, and you capture your favorite image the first time. But more often than not the best image doesn’t come until later, after you’ve made a number of shots, perhaps tried different perspectives, changed angle, tried different focal lengths, apertures, shutter speeds. So even if you think you’ve captured a great image it almost always pays to keep shooting, keep experimenting, keep practicing. And always be aware of the light. Without the right light this image would not have worked.
To process the final image I darkened the background a bit, adding a vignette to help focus the eye on the glowing lotus flower. I increased the vibrance just a touch to accentuate the pinks and yellows, and added a slight tone curve to provide a bit more contrast. I felt this image was nice enough out of camera it didn’t require much processing. Below is the final image.
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Resources from my library
Tim Fitzharris' National Audubon Society Guide to Nature Photography is one of my favorite guides to nature photography. He covers a wide range of topics, from the usual discussions of gear to how to approach wildlife. Of particular relevance to this post is Part Five: The Close-up World, where he discusses working at close range to subjects, often using macro techniques, but also as I did in my lotus photos, using a telephoto lens with teleconverters. Also included is an entire chapter about photographing wild flora.
Tony Sweet has a very artistic, painterly style to much of his photography. In Fine Art Flower Photography, he presents a beautiful sampling of his work. He has created closeups, artistic multiple exposure images, soft focus impressionistic images, and a wide range of others. Each photograph is accompanied by a short description of the technique(s) he used in creating the image. There is some very beautiful imagery within this book, and in fact, the cover photograph is of a pair of lotus flowers.
Alan L. Detrick has written an entire book devoted to macro and closeup photography: Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers. Having an entire book devoted to a single topic gives him the opportunity to really delve into the topics. He covers the gear, as most books do, then moves on to looking at images and how to develop your own photographic style. He explores the different potential subject material, then goes on to walk you through various digital workflow topics.
If you prefer audio and video over books then consider the following CreativeLive classes. If you're unfamiliar with CreativeLive, click any of the links and check them out. They stream live and re-broadcast classes on a large range of topics, including photography & video, arts & design, music & audio, craft & maker, and money & life. The classes are free to watch during the live stream and re-broadcasts. Create a free account and RSVP for upcoming classes. They'll send you reminders about the class and you'll get access to some content only available when you RSVP or purchase. If you decide you like the class and would like the opportunity to watch it in HD anytime, or download the video files to watch offline, then purchase the class. Some special bonus content is only available with purchase. I've been a member for years and have purchased dozens of classes, including the two below.
If you'd like some inspiration, if you want a new way of looking at flowers and photography, then I think you'll enjoy this class. Kathleen Clemons is a wonderful photographer who creates beautiful images of flowers, most of them very soft, almost painterly. She often uses Lensbaby lenses, but not always. The class includes just under 4 hours of video, where Kathleen shows examples of photos created with different lenses to help teach their differences, what they can and can't do. She has a way of making images of flowers look ethereal, and very much fine art. I love re-watching this class from time to time.
If you haven't heard of Frans Lanting you owe it to yourself to check him out. He's been at this for a while, and loves sharing what he's learned. He has a great personality, very suited to teaching. In this class he focuses on macro, shooting flowers and plants. The class is almost 5 1/2 hours of video, and includes both in studio discussions and videos of him and his students in the field. He has several classes on CreativeLive, and I can recommend them all.