It’s easy to get carried away when confronted by a dazzle of flowers and to snap away wildly, only to be disappointed when you look at your images later. Passionate flower-holic and photojournalist Marion Whitehead, who is also a member of the SA Botanical Society, looks for contrasting colours, texture, shapes, different angles and interesting objects to lead the eye and help it digest the sensory overload that a blooming marvellous spring brings.
1. Get a gogga’s eye view
Put your camera on the ground under the flowers and play with compositions of petals against a cobalt-blue sky, using your widest angle. Some digital cameras have a viewing screen that pivots out at various angles, so you don’t have to push your chin into the ground to do this. Capturing sunbursts can be a bonus – remember to use a high f-stop so the aperture is small enough to create the sunburst effect.
2. Lie in bed late
The hidden beauty of those carpets of daisies in the Skilpad section of Namaqua National Park is that you don’t need to get up at the crack of dawn to snap them. They unfurl their petals and are open for business from about 10h00 when the sun warms things up to around 17°C. To emphasise the massed effect, take pictures from a low angle.
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3. Shape your world
Play with contrasting shapes and textures. The mass of soft, magenta daisies in this field counterpoints the tall Kamieskroon Dutch Reformed Church with its hard, sandstone lines reaching for the heavens. Use a polarising filter to avoid the sky becoming washed out.
4. Be weather-wise
No sunshine, no flowers, no fun? Not quite. There are plenty of flowers still open on a cool, cloudy day. Look out for bold bulbs, fabulous fynbos and tiny, timid flowers, like these yellow cotula in the Tankwa Karoo National Park. The reflections offered by puddles after a downpour help put a different spin on a composition.
5. Don’t be shy to get sexy
Flowers offer food to pollinators in exchange for reproductive services, and bees, beetles and flies flit from one blossom to the next, performing interesting acts. Play with the macro setting on your camera to capture some of the action. Use a tripod to avoid blur from movement – and cramps after you’ve held your position for a long time.
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6. Know your lines
Use diagonals and strong lines such as this waterlogged path to lead the eye into the picture. This was shot in Cape Town after winter rains drenched the Cape Peninsula, and reveals a secret few passing motorists realise: Rondebosch Common, a popular public open space, becomes a floral wonderland in spring and practically every path turns into a froggy nursery for young tadpoles. This young girl on a walk with Friends of Rondebosch Common was entranced.
7. Use people
Your subject may be flowers, but don’t forget the people factor. Human figures in a landscape lend scale and, if you place them in the right spot, add depth and balance to a composition. I caught these Botanical Society of South Africa members in the hills above Simon’s Town, on a spring ramble, admiring a profusion of cone bushes.
8. Context is king
Add a layer of meaning to your shots by showing where your subject lives. Plants are part of a biome and interact with their surroundings, from the soil to pollinators. These king proteas in the Harold Porter Botanical Garden in Betty’s Bay thrive on the rains dumped by clouds pushed upwards against the mountains of the Kogelberg. Use a low ISO rating for best image quality and, if the resulting shutter speed is slow, use the self-timer with the camera on a tripod, or a cable release, to keep the image sharp.
Words and photography Marion Whitehead
A journalist by trade, features writer on occasion and now the digital editor of SA Country Life. The first chance she gets, Leigh will tell you about a podcast she was recently listening to and how you simply have to make the move from radio. In a previous life, she once taught English on Jeju which left her with an insatiable craving for kimchi.