Reducing the Glare in Your Summer Garden Photos
Midday summer sunlight is too much of a good thing, however. At other times of the year, the rays come in at a slant, which helps soften them somewhat. During the summer, they beat down from directly overhead.
Granted, that brighter light will give us amateurs, who use our cameras' automatic settings, faster shutter speeds for sharper and more noise-free photos. But, as aging "flowers" like me can tell you, sharper is not always better if it is less flattering! Midday sun will wash out the color of blooms, throw harsh shadows across or behind them, and relentlessly expose every flaw and tiny bug-hole on their petals and leaves.
So we should try to photograph those blooms on days which are slightly overcast instead, when there is a thin layer of clouds between them and the sun. Shooting just after a rain frequently works well too, as all those water droplets will make some blooms look fresh and dewy. (Others just turn into a sodden mass! )
Its sometimes best to wait for the more golden light of late afternoon or early morning instead. Those are usually the best times of day to take photos, especially so for artistic lighting effects. In such cases--as with the dahlia photo above--it is really the light we are capturing rather than the flower. So the fact that the shadows partially obscure the bloom doesn't matter as much.
Sometimes, however, it's impossible to put off photo-taking until a better time. The picture of the white hibiscus above and to the right here is a good example of that. It was among some over-bright photos I took during an afternoon visit to a friend's house several years back. As I couldn't wait for a dimmer time of day and there wasn't a cloud in sight, I just went ahead and snapped away anyhow. That shot has plenty of no-no's, including glaring light and harsh and distracting shadows across the face of the flower. The red-centered white hibiscus below, whose photo I took on an overcast day, looks much more vividly colored.
If I'd known then what I know now, I probably could have tried positioning myself between the white hibiscus and the sun. This works best, of course, on shorter flowers that I can hunch over. I've learned to make sure that I am shadowing the whole area visible in my viewfinder, however, or my camera is sure to pick up on the brighter bits and adjust its exposure according to them.
I've always meant to buy one of those diffusers made out of sheer material, which can be held over the flower's head to modify the glare. I could probably make my own with a sheer curtain attached to some kind of hoop. Since we amateurs don't have assistants, however, using a diffuser would require us to hold the camera in one hand. That could render our photos more blurry. Although I haven't yet gotten around to purchasing a tripod and shutter release either, I would highly recommend them, as clutching a shutter release in one hand has to be easier than doing the same with a SLR!
It is possible to alleviate the effects of overexposure somewhat with a photo editor. Adding fill light will soften the shadows. Deepening the washed-out colors may require increasing the contrast, though--which will just darken those shadows again. Believe it or not, the "bad" photos here looked much worse before I worked on them a little!
Speaking of which, the orange coneflower photo above and to the right was taken on the same afternoon as that white hibiscus shot, and is also too bright. Although the zinnia below is a somewhat "hot" color as well, its more mellow lighting renders it much easier to contemplate. Just to prove blind persistence is rewarded, I should add that I did get at least one shot I liked on the aforementioned blazing afternoon--of my friend's St. Francis statue crowned with a dappling of sun while hydrangeas billowed around his feet. So I learned that, even if the rest of the garden is too bright, I can always take pictures in the shady part instead.
I try to keep in mind the the other "rules" of photography too. Closer is almost always better. Focus on the center of the flower, just as you would focus on a person's eyes. Look for unusual angles. And take lots of photos to get a few good ones. In our day of digital cameras we no longer have the excuse of not being able to afford the film and developing!
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