I wrote a post here a couple years ago “Photos on the Road” about a trip to Norfolk Botanic Garden when the light was “horribly wrong”.
However, when you want to photograph a flower by itself, you can create your own soft light and the best time is when you do have bright sun. Let me explain how to create soft light.
I think we can all agree hot, contrasty light is hard on garden photography. Here is a photo, shot in bright light, of Lilium humboldtii, great with flower, in the wonderful California native plant garden at East Bay Regional Parks Botanic Garden .
I picked this angle seeing the dark shadows of some pine trees, and knowing I could soften the light on the flowers. I always carry a small flexible scrim when I shoot, a thin fabric disc that I can put between the sun and the subject.
The scrim creates soft light, equal to the best studio light. Gone are the hard, nearly metallic oranges, and burned out, bright white highlights. In the sweet spot of soft light, the quality of light is far better than shooting in shade, and the color of the light coming through the scrim is perfect, exactly white balanced for daylight sun.
Coming in closer with my medium telephoto lens I can compose a photo within the softened area that fills the frame with the lilies.
Note to all of you who sometimes wonder why I always use a tripod, this would be impossible to do without the camera being locked down so that, a> I get a tight composition, and b> I can hold the scrim with one hand and the shutter cable with the other.
Coming in even tighter for a macro shot, I get even closer to one lily.
I used this same technique in another part of the garden for another Humboldt lily. The lilies were at their peak, I couldn’t resist and couldn’t wait for soft light.
Hard light with very distracting shadows and highlights. Add the scrim, careful to not touch the towering stalk:
My very own studio light box. Note how a couple brighter highlights, way in the distance have not changed much, only the area I could control. Small scrim, small area of control.
Sometimes on big commercial shoot, to control a larger are, I bring huge pieces of scrim, like parachute cloth – as I did here for a photo shoot for Star Roses when they introduced Pink Eden:
Light is everything.