Working With Afternoon Light


The Art of Seeing: Macro Techniques for Flowers and Plants


Lesson Info

Working With Afternoon Light

All right, Franz, do you wanna set up our next video for us, please? Sure. I think the next one is another example of working with light, but in a different situation. Kate, this is an amazing plant. I know you love succulents as much as I do. This is an agave from the desert of Central America. It looks gorgeous, the pattern is great, but I don't like the light. See how contrasted the light is, and it creates all these harsh shadows? But with a couple of very simple steps, we can turn this into a more beautiful situation to photograph. So we've got two reflectors with us, but we need to determine whether this is the right kind of light. See, this makes the agave more warm green, but, actually, the color's kinda cool green. So maybe we need a cooler surface. This doesn't do much, huh? No. So it's matte white. So we need a little bit more bounce from the light, and I think we can achieve that if we use the other surface. So we'll turn it inside-out. Goes in like this. And now let'...

s see what it does. Bounces more light into the plant. And now we have a softer version of the directional light that we found when we came upon the plant. The harsh shadows have been replaced by soft shadows. If you can hold it like this, then I'm gonna set up my camera on the tripod. I'm gonna see if it actually looks like that when I capture it with my camera. I know this is a photography class, but I do wanna make a pitch for plant conservation, and the important role that botanical gardens play. And just look at this. As I'm watching this video, I'm seeing a plant here from Central America, I'm seeing a wonderful plant from South Africa, and another plant from the Canary Islands, and so on, and so on. And if you're ever wondering where you can photograph plants, go to a botanical garden. No matter whether you're in California, there's quite a few of 'em here. In the Central Coast, we have the UCSC Arboretum. In Southern California, we have the Huntington Gardens. In South Africa, of course, there's Kirstenbosch. No matter which country you're watching this course, Google, and you'll find the nearest botanical garden, and then you can play as well. And when you do that, be mindful of the important role that these botanical gardens play for plant conservation. Let's go back to our class. Actually, Franz, that brings me up to a really great question. One of our students wanted to know, do you make a practice of recording the names of the plants that you photograph? And do you have any special secrets to that? (laughs) That's a really good question, Jim. And I forgot to mention that in my introduction. Yes, of course. When you're wandering through a botanical garden like that, and there are plant labels, with every location, I make sure that I do a picture of the plant label as well. And it doesn't have to be very artistic, as long as it's part of a sequence, then I can create a caption after the fact. So, thanks for that question. Thank you. Yeah, good reminder. Let's roll the video again. (camera clicks) That'll work. So, let me do the first shot without our devices, so we can compare the differences. This is how we found it. Not gonna spend a lot of time on it. It's just a record shot. Now let's add the diffuser. And maybe we need to switch this off, 'cause I think the diffuser is a little bit too small for the subject. So let's use the big panel to diffuse the light, and then the small one to reflect the light. And while Doug is doing that, I'm gonna set up the tripod, 'cause I think this subject is gonna require a little bit more precision, and I also think we're gonna need a little bit more depth of field than I can accomplish if I'm shooting handheld. Legs need to come down a little bit. So I'll do a couple of record shots to show the effect of diffusion alone, and the diffuser is still allowing enough light to come through, so that we can see where the sun is hitting the plant, but now there are no longer harsh shadows. And now, Doug, if you can aim that silver surface back into it, yeah okay. Now we're seeing it in its full glory. (camera clicks) Let me take a quick look through the loop to see if all the technical details are accurately taken care of, and then we can get really artistic. Now you can try to do all these things by yourself, but when you want to add in a diffuser and a reflector, it really becomes teamwork. And I'm really happy that you're helping me here. And once I'm done, I'll give you a chance to play with the agave as well. Yeah, this works. So now I'm gonna zoom in a bit more closely, because I see some wonderful patterns deep inside the plant. But in order to get deep inside the plant, I need another device. This is my 70 to 200 zoom lens, but it can't focus close enough, so I'm adding an extension tube that fits between the camera and the lens. And now I can get much closer. I'm losing a stop of light, but that's okay, 'cause my camera's on a tripod. So let's see what happens now. Now I can come much closer, and then I can focus on the essential pattern in this agave, which is that spiky pattern. (camera clicks) I'm not sure that I'm liking this enough. Let me try to take this off again. I may be able to do it without the extension tube after all. So it goes in. Oh, yeah. Just raising the center column, and then we've got it. (camera clicks) What do you think, Kate? Do you wanna take a look at it too? That looks good. Check it out, Doug. Can I borrow your loop? Yep. Very nice. Even though it's made with a Nikon camera? Even though it's a Nikon camera? You still approve it (laughs)? I still approve it. (everyone laughs) (camera clicks) I want one of these in my yard now. Huh? I want one of these in my yard now. They get big (laughs). Plan for the future, okay? Okay, now take it away one more time. (camera clicks) Okay. At second thought, I decided that we didn't need the reflector, because the reflector bounced light in from the other side than where the sun was coming from. And I realized when I critically examined the image, that it was a little bit of a conflict. I was getting shadows on both sides, and that doesn't look real. So the final shot is just the diffused version of the agave. So even though it's a good thing to think about how you can diffuse the light, and then bounce light back in, it's not always the best solution. Sometimes, less is more. So that's how simple it is. Five minutes, and you can change a situation that is not worth taking a picture of into something that looks glamorous.

Class Description

The beauty of nature runs deep. Every growing thing hides whorls, patterns, and subtle shadings of color that escape the cursory glance. Macro photographers are driven to capture these secret details, but it can be hard to master the techniques that allow them to truly evoke nature at its best.

Join renowned National Geographic photographer and naturalist Frans Lanting for this class as he walks you through the Arboretum at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
You’ll learn:

  • How to take great impressionistic shots freehand
  • How to use combinations of natural light, flash, and light modifiers
  • How to set up beautiful and controlled images
Frans Lanting has documented wildlife from the Amazon to Antarctica, and has made a career of recording the beauty of nature in vivid, transporting imagery. In this class, you’ll learn how he has distilled the quiet joy of discovering hidden beauty, and bring it home with you. Best of all, you'll be able to apply these macro photography approaches and techniques in the field or even at home with a bouquet of flowers on your kitchen table.