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Cornucopia - Digital Photography in the Garden

Digital Photography in the Garden
Karin Proudfoot

Our speaker John McCormack quickly established our level of expertise: virtually all of us already owned a digital camera but few of us had studied the handbook after the initial perusal, an omission which he set out to put right.

He gave some guidelines on choosing a camera, and surprised us by saying that it is not the number of megapixels that is important, but the size of the sensor (information that can often only be found on the manufacturer’s website); for instance, an average compact film camera has an 864 sq mm sensor, while a top digital SLR might only have one of 384 sq mm. Features to look for include a traditional viewfinder (for times when bright sun makes the monitor screen impossible to see), manual focussing, aperture priority and shutter priority (the last more relevant to sports than garden photography). Other useful kit could include a tripod, a card reader, CDs or a removable hard drive for storing images and, for the more ambitious, Adobe Photoshop Elements for that all-important final tweaking.

The great thing about digital photography is the ability to take hundreds of pictures, see the results immediately and delete the failures, but by making use of the advanced features of our cameras and following some simple guidelines we could avoid many disasters. The basics are: keep the camera still; make the subject fill the frame; squeeze the shutter release slowly; don’t shoot into the sun.

To emphasise the importance of keeping the camera steady, he showed close-ups taken with a tripod and without one - the difference was enough to convince me, and a lightweight tripod is now on my 'wants list'. However, while the camera may be stationary, plants are often waving about, and John showed various ingenious ways of restraining stems with knitting needles, canes and a device called a 'flexible worm'.

We then got on to the technical stuff: depth of field and how to adjust it by changing the aperture, using different focussing modes according to the position of the subject in the frame, ensuring the correct exposure for a dark subject against a light background or taking a series of shots at different exposures then selecting the best, and adjusting the ISO (film speed) to suit the subject (for instance dark or windy conditions might need ISO 400 to avoid an over-long exposure). The mystery of 'white balance' was also explained. This is the way in which the colour of light reflected from an object varies according to the colour of the light source (sunlight, shade, sunset, artificial light and so on). In order for the camera to record colours as we see them, most digital cameras allow different settings to be used. Also on the subject of lighting, a common fault with pictures taken against the light is that small blobs of light appear in the photograph; this is caused by internal reflection in the lens, and the solution is to point the camera down slightly.

John also told us how to use the information in a histogram, which most cameras can display for each image, and which shows the distribution of light and dark in the form of a graph. This should have its peak in the centre. (I had no idea my camera even had such a thing, but I’m afraid that to my mind it comes into the 'life-isn’t-long-enough' category.)

Finally, we learnt about some of the exciting makeovers that can be achieved in Photoshop, after a warning that only duplicate copies of the photographs should be worked on, so that all is not lost in the event of total disaster. Images can be cropped, sharpened, made brighter or darker, and elements from them can even be cut and pasted. It is all worlds away from 35mm film!

I am sure we all felt inspired by the lecture and by John’s stunning photographs, and will try to experiment with the different settings offered by our cameras instead of relying on 'Automatic' mode to take the decisions for us.

First published in the Kent Group Newsletter, Spring 2007
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 24
© Copyright for this article: Karin Proudfoot

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2009. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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