It’s offseason in the garden, so I have time to plan. Getting detailed images of red and yellow flowers is at the top of my photography-skills-to-improve list. Shooting red and yellow flowers often returns colorful blobs with little detail. I’ve had some success, but it’s unpredictable. Looking back at my shots, I cannot tell why a shot went wrong or turned out great– there are too many variables.
At first, I thought it was the amount of sunlight because the first year I had a camera, I did all the shots in the middle of the day. Well, that seemed to be a firm rule until my canna image turned out fine, and it was shot mid-afternoon.
Then I noticed that cameras with spot metering fared better than those with just center-weighted metering. I got perfect shots of yellow daisies with an Olympus e300 digital. The Sony a100 captured my bright red crocosmia with no problems, and both those cameras offer spot metering. My Minolta 7000, which has only center-weighted metering, gave worse results for both colors. But then, thinking back, the daisies were shot very late in the afternoon after the sun was behind a group of trees, and my body also shaded them. I shot the crocosmia on a grey, rainy day. So, sunlight intensity is the real culprit!?! I have also noticed that black-eyed Susans, when wet, look better with spot metering than when dry. How does wetness change the equation? I’m looking for consistency and predictability.
These last two years, I have dedicated most of my photography time to testing cameras and emulsions. Since I buy most cameras from eBay, testing is necessary to find duds, and I’ve had a few. I did emulsion tests to see which films produced colors I liked best. The remaining time I spent learning camera features/functions. Happily, I’m done with testing, and it’s time to focus on producing quality images. Fine art, in the full sense of the term, is my goal.
After reading various opinions on the internet from the great unwashed, I came across what seems to be an authoritative post from the Temecula Valley Rose Society—if anybody knows how to shoot flowers, they should. According to their expert, it is a metering problem (everyone but 2019-me apparently knows/knew not to shoot in the middle of the day). He suggested using a middle gray card and underexposing one to two stops to capture detail. That was also the prevailing opinion of the unwashed, at least those who didn’t say “just fix it in post.” Spot metering in the Olympus e300 and Sony a100 seemed good enough to manage without using a gray card. If so, I will need a gray card with center-weighted cameras, which includes my medium format cameras (I just bought a Pentax 645), neither of which has spot metering.
Now I have an experiment to plan. I’ll buy one bouquet each of red and yellow flowers. I will shoot flowers of both colors in the shade with the Sony a100 using spot metering. Assuming those turn out well, next I’ll try shooting with Kodak UltraMax (the most neutral film I have) and a Maxxum 7. The Maxxum 7 is the most sophisticated Minolta film camera and has very accurate metering capability. First, I will shoot with spot metering and no exposure compensation. To finish up, I will switch to center-weighted metering and use a gray card to determine the amount of exposure compensation to use. Hopefully, this will answer the question once and for all.
Since flower portraits are the reason I started doing photography, this experiment is a big deal. If all goes well, I can move on and start preparing for the 2021 flower season. If not, well—I have the number to the Temecula Valley Rose Society, and they will surely hear from me.