Home Photography Ideas: Make Stunning Art Plant Portraits in Your Garden

One of the advantages of studio shooting is that the photographer has complete control over the intensity, direction and spread of the light, allowing easy management of background detail.

Additionally, in a studio environment, seamless backgrounds can be used to produce a clean, distraction-free environment ideal for portraits or still life subjects.

However, natural light has great advantages – it is soft, directional and freely available. It is therefore advantageous to be able to bring studio-like effects outdoors. The technique discussed here is a simple method of shaping light, controlling where it travels in the frame.

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Before: Distracting detail
In this image, the background is getting too much light, because the frame lacks contrast – it looks too “busy” and detracts from the intended subject
(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

A dark, clean background draws attention to the textures and colors of the flower
(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

This is done by shooting in direct sunlight (slightly diffused by cloud cover when possible) and using exposure controls to eliminate ambient light as much as possible. This generates a high contrast underexposed look, which approximates the look produced using strobe lights and a black background. Direct sunlight is best because the intensity will widen the differences in exposure between lighted and shaded areas of the scene.

Try to take photos in the middle of the afternoon as this will put the sun high in the sky, but with some direction in the lighting. Accurate metering ensures that no highlight detail is lost and the subject itself does not appear underexposed – only shadowed areas will be noticeably darkened.

1. Choose a topic

(Image credit: future)

You must first select a specimen well lit by natural daylight. Ideally, the background will be more shaded, so that there is already some contrast – for example, patches of light in the woods are perfect for this style of shot.

2. Select aperture and ISO

(Image credit: future)

Choose an appropriate initial aperture for your subject, starting around f11. Be sure to use the lowest ISO setting available to minimize ambient light capture, resulting in increased background contrast.

3. Meter Highlights

(Image credit: future)

Use spot metering mode and place your AF point on the brightest part of your subject to calculate exposure from highlights. Take note of the exposure settings suggested by one of the P, A, or S modes.

4. Switch to manual mode

(Image credit: future)

Set your camera to Manual and dial in the settings calculated in Step 3. This will ensure you have full control over the brightness of your photo and that the exposure will not change unexpectedly while you compose.

5. Increase shutter speed

(Image credit: future)

Next, shorten your exposure by about one stop to underexpose the background and make it solid black – if your measured exposure was 1/125s, increase it to 1/250s, etc. Leave f-stop and ISO fixed for now.

6. Customize settings

(Image credit: future)

Film and examine your image. If you need a darker background, increase the exposure further in half-stop increments until you get a seamless background effect, or alternatively select a higher f-number raised.

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Tracey L. Sweeney