How to create soft light for photos

– Posted in: Garden Photography

holt_430_1033_1920(c)The best time for garden photography is the soft light of early morning after dawn, or late afternoon at dusk.  However that is not always possible, especially if you are visiting a public garden.

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”.

holt_NorfolkBotanical_3

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 .

Harsh sun light on Lilium humboldtii in East Bay Regional Botanical Garden;

Harsh sun light on Lilium humboldtii in East Bay Regional Botanical 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.

Sunlight scrim for harsh light for photographing Lilium humboldtii

Sunlight scrim for harsh light for photographing Lilium humboldtii

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.

Lilium humboldtii ssp. ocellatum, Humboldt lily, orange flowering California native bulb

Lilium humboldtii, Humboldt lily, orange flowering California native bulb

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.

Lilium humboldtii ssp. ocellatum, Humboldt lily, orange flowering California native bulb

Lilium humboldtii ssp. ocellatum, Humboldt 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.

Lilium humboldtii ssp. ocellatum, Humboldt lily, orange flowering California native bulb

Hard sun light on Humboldt lily.

Hard light with very distracting shadows and highlights.  Add the scrim, careful to not touch the towering stalk:

Lilium humboldtii ssp. ocellatum, Humboldt lily, orange flowering California native bulb

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.

holt_1078_19.CR2

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Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic.com, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at www.photobotanic.com. https://photobotanic.com
Saxon Holt

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