Photographing Features of Plants

The previous article in the series dealt with photographing whole plants in context.  This one deals with taking pictures of the unusual features plants often display.

Such features could be a stage in the lifecycle or the reaction to parasitic attack or a fungus growing on the surface of wood or a plant disease. Train yourself to keep an eye out for such features – they can be used to great effect, and you can sometimes pick an angle or method of portrayal that has a tinge of humour.

The Middle Distance

Palm Tree with Bent Trunk

The  picture on the right was taken during a guided walk and shows the oddly bent trunk of the palm tree.  Unfortunately, it was not possible to leave the walking party and spend the time to photograph it properly.  Whilst the impact of the bent trunk, most of it growing near horizontally, is effective, its superimposition on the similarly coloured tree behind and the distracting bright area of sky both detract from the impact that the picture makes. 

Nevertheless, given the time and opportunity this could have been a striking picture.  Coming in closer, changing the angle to have the contrasting background of the sky and using exposure compensation (an extra f/stop for taking against the light) to show the texture of the bark would all have made a difference.

Tree Trunk with Burr Wood

Burr wood is always an interesting feature on a tree trunk.  Botanically, it is a slow growing cancer and the uncontrolled growth of the wood this produces gives swirls and a gnarled appearance. 

The example on the left however shows the burr wood taken from a distance. The three points of burr wood (the third towards the back of the trunk following around from the left) give the impression of a human face (two eyes and a nose with a chevron under the “nose”) set into the trunk.  Maybe it or something similar was the prototype for J R R Tolkien’s Ents from his epic Lord of the Rings.

Two Grapefruit Growing on the Tree

For the picture on the right of two grapefruit growing on the tree, a long lens was used.  It was taken horizontally from a first floor window which was the only practical access point.  The long focal length of that lens has allowed a relatively small area to be photographed. 

The leaves provide shade giving an overall impression of shelter from a burning sun, an impression enhanced by the white burned out areas.  The usual response of one f/stop underexposure compensation to reproduce such tones in more detail is not needed here and in fact would have detracted from the effectiveness of the picture as the rest would have appeared too dark. 

This illustrates how each picture needs its individual approach – there is no “one size fits all” set of rules that can be universally applied.  Any more plain white areas would have taken up too much of the picture area and there would be little of interest on the surface of the grapefruit left to show.

Close up

Dandelion Flower in Seed

Finding a flower at just the right part of the lifecycle is another thing which provides good subjects.  The angle for the picture on the left, of a dandelion in seed and the technique required is exactly as for the thistle in the article on close-up photography of flowers. 

 The effectiveness of the picture arises from seeing the geometry of the ball of seeds just before a gust of wind could take some away.  This gives a sense of temporariness – a point captured in a scene of action that could permanently be gone a few seconds later.


Geranium Tendril

Standard close-up techniques were used for the picture on the right.  It is a geranium tendril from geraniums trained to be low hedge on a plastic latticework support.  Most of the tendrils had wound their way into the lattice in the same sort of way that convolvulus (bindweed) is seen winding its way around and into other plants.  Most tendrils were so firmly entwined that they could not be removed without breaking them, but this one had struck out at right-angles, missing the plastic altogether.  Its sharpness and shape, plus the totally out of focus background grab attention and invite study of how nature deals with allowing geraniums to find support wherever they can.

The next article in the series will deal with photographing gardens and formal flower displays.