Learning DSLR Photography: The Orchid Show

Orchid 8I bought by first DSLR camera in January and I'm slowly learning how to use it. I'd like to do a regular series where I talk about what I'm learning and share some of my photos. If there are any seasoned photographers out there it would be great to know what you think!

The Orchid Show

An annual event put on by a group of orchid enthusiasts, this year the show was held in a beautiful greenhouse outside the city - a big improvement from last year's school gymnasium. Since this was my second time attending I had an idea of what to expect, but was still blown away by the incredible variety of colours and shapes that these plants manage to create. There's so much to look at it can be overwhelming, and hard to decide what to take pictures of. I decided to jump right in, shooting anything that caught my eye - and there was a lot! It took some patience since the place was pretty crowded and everyone had a camera of some kind (most people were using their phones). I gave myself permission to take my time, fiddling with settings and trying different angles, often taking a dozen shots of the same flower. My patience paid off - I was really happy with how a lot of the shots turned out. I've shared some of my favourites, as well as some tips that I learned along the way.

Orchid 2

Playing with Depth of Field

Back in University I took a photography class and, though we used film cameras (I'm not that old, we were already well into the digital age, but the instructors thought we would get a better grasp of the medium if we used film and developed it ourselves), the basic concepts are still the same. Working with a shallow depth of field was always my favourite thing to do. This is when the subject of the photo is sharply in focus and the rest of the picture is blurred away. It's fun to play around with isolating a very specific part of the image, especially when working with something as intricate as an orchid. It really makes them pop out of the busy background of flowers and people. For most of these I used the Aperture Priority setting on my camera, which lets me choose the f-stop and depth of field, while the camera chooses all the other settings. I used the biggest aperture that I could to really zoom in on the delicate details.

Orchid 3

What Deleting Taught Me

While shooting the pictures was a great experience, I definitely learned more when I loaded them up on my computer and went through them all, deleting the ones I didn't like. It was really interesting to see which ones grabbed my attention and which fell flat. Here are a few of the things I noticed:

1) Though I won't pretend that I did it on purpose, I love how some of the flowers are crisply in focus, while others gradually fade away, like the one above. This is something I would like to play with more intentionally.

Orchid 4

2) I definitely could have played more with angles. On the few that I did have multiple angles, it was easier to choose a great picture. Next time I'll try to remember to get below the subject, above it, and look at it from all sides. The best part of digital is that I can take as many pictures as my memory card can hold and I intend to take advantage of that.

Orchid 5

3) I need to pay more attention to overall composition, and especially what's in the background. This kind of thing is really easy for me to see after I've taken the shot, but I don't see as clearly when I'm actually composing it. The only thing I was really thinking about was using the rule of thirds (imagining lines breaking the canvas into thirds horizontally and vertically and lining the subject up with those imaginary lines). This definitely helped, but there was more to consider. Like whether a piece of the flower was cut off, whether there were people in the background or more flowers (even when they're supper blurry, flowers look better than people in the case, and both look better than black display fabric). In the future I would also like to play more with lines, using stems and leaves to guide the eye through the picture.

Orchid 6

4) While I definitely got some shots with good contrasting colours, this will be fun to play with some more. Again this comes down to more carefully composing the shot, and training my eye to see things in the real world that would stand out in a photo.

Orchid 7

A lot of the photos looked overexposed on the screen so I was breaking out the manual mode to try and correct that. Turns out they were just fine and my adjustments meant some of them ended up being too dark. Oh well! Overall I had a really great time and am surprised at how well some of these turned out. I was able to edit some of the ones that didn't turn out so well - but I'll save that for another post about editing once I've had more practice. I can't wait for my next photo shoot!

Orchid 1

I'd love to hear about your experiences with DSLR photography. What are some of your favourite subjects to shoot? What are some common challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments below.