Diana Louis dlouis@dynamicro.on.ca


These instructions are oriented towards those in Iris-L who are not used to taking pictures of irises, or flowers and are not for people who are more experienced photographers. A good book on the subject of taking pictures of flowers is "Photographing Wildflowers" by Craig and Nadine Blacklock published 1987 by Voyageur Press, 123 North Second Street, Stillwater, Minnesota, 55082. Or check in your local library to see what there is.

A quick overview

For a quick overview here are photo instructions from the Iris-L, from John I Jones Date: Fri, 27 Sep 1996:Picture Taking - compliments of Schreiner's 1996 catalog page 7 right hand side:

  1. - Use a standard single lens reflex 35mm camera with a macro lens for close-ups.
  2. - Load your camera with film that has a low film speed (lOOASA or lower).
  3. - Fill the frame as much as possible with the Iris, exclude nonessentials.
  4. - View the Iris stooping, as well as standing, and from different angles to display it to its best natural advantage.
  5. - Keep the background simple and uncluttered. Remove spent bloom buds and stems that have finished flowering.
  6. - Shoot your pictures using natural soft daylight, not harsh full midday sun. Early morning, late evening or cloudy days soften shadows.
  7. - Use a solid object to support your arm or camera for sharper pictures (tripod, doorway, table or rock).
  8. - Take three shots of the Iris, bracketing the recommended exposure. One shot a half stop above, and another one half stop below.
  9. - For correct color reproduction of a blue Iris choose an overcast day and use color correcting filters such as Nikon B4 or its equivalent. John Jones, jijones@ix.netcom.com

Depth of field

Irises are very three dimensional flowers so use an fstop between f8 and f16 (preferably closer to f8) to get a good depth of field around the iris. It is best to get the background out of focus. So keep opening the fstop until the iris is well focussed and the background is as out of focus as you can get it. This will be easier if the iris is standing by itself ie the background plants are not too close. A very good example of how your iris picture should turn out is the picture of I. versicolor in this web page.

Processing trial photos

You could do the first set of pictures on any iris. Try to keep a notebook with details. It's very easy to forget which order you did things in.

Check in with your local photo store and see whether there is a quick way to get films processed. Up here in Newmarket slides can be processed in 2 days and prints take a week. If there is a shorter time for one type of film use that kind to take the first film and maybe the second if you are not used to photographing irises. The first film is to practice getting the correct angles for the various petals etc. I'd suggest a 12 exposure film to start with. For a slide film you will need a viewer. If you don't have one, the photostore probably has a lighted panel that you can inspect your slides on. However, the final pictures to be sent to Rodney, should be prints.

Capturing colors

If you can, do the photography on an overcast day so the blues & purples look better. If you can't do that then you might try an umbrella. Use an electronic flash if you have one. The bulb flashes give too much red colour bias to the photos.

Blue filters make yellow, orange, red and chartreuse look awful. I haven't quite worked this out. I have a polarizing filter but it takes a lot of extra light and it's difficult to exclude red colouring.

Camera supports

Camera support, either a tripod or a monopod, will reduce trouble with blurring of pictures because of camera shake.

Photographing the flower

Look at the iris and find the imaginary line which divides the falls from the standards. Position your lens maybe 2 feet or 3 feet from this line and with the lens horizontal to the line. You may have to kneel or crouch to be at the right angle with this line. What you are trying to do is find out what is the best distance and the best angle from the iris to take the pictures at. It depends on what kind of a lens you've got. A 28 mm lens (that's the focal length) will require the least distance. Take 2-3 pictures at different distances from the iris on the same line. If you have a macro lens try that first. When you are taking pictures of objects which are longer than wide turn the camera so the long axis of the frame on the film is parallel with the long axis of the plant or flower.

Next, still holding the camera level with this line, take a picture or two of a single fall and standard together. If the spathe is coloured try to include this in the picture. If you can't get the coloured spathe showing, take it showing between 2 falls. What you want in the picture is any markings on the fall &/or the standard that show that the iris is different ie a species. Then take a picture of the whole flower, just the flower not the plant. Try to get the flower filling up the picture as much as possible. If you're doubtful about whether you got a particular detail, take more picture(s). Always take more pictures rather than fewer. If you miss something you may have to wait until next year. (That's experience talking.) You need to work out what is the best angle to photograph that particular iris. Take at least 2 pictures of each thing even if you did them perfectly. You may have to stand up to get the falls at the correct angle if they flare outwards. Take a picture of the centre of the flower to show the style arms etc. Always carry a spare film or 2 in your pocket in case you run out or you see something else to photograph after you finish with the iris(es).

There's another aspect too. The iris may be facing the light so that you can't get the falls &/or standards showing well so see if you can find another one.

Photograph the plant

Then stand back and take a picture (or 2) of the whole plant to show the base of the leaves. This will show if there is PBF or not. Either determination will help. Please stand as close to the plant as allows you to keep it in focus. If you can't get the whole plant take a picture of the fan to show its shape,the shapes of the leaves and whether it has purple or red or blue at the base of the foliage. Pictures of the seed pods can help with identifying some of the irises, since some seed pods have particular shapes, or the seeds do. You will have to wait to do this until the seed pods are ready, ie are brown and about to split open. Then take the pictures, and send them to Rodney, carefully labelled.

Watch your step

Be careful what you're stepping on when you're trying to find the best angle. That caution comes from a botanist experienced in field work and identifying wildflowers. I guess that includes watching out for creatures too.

Processing at the photo store.

Get them to number the pictures even if they are prints. This is important if you've got more than one iris on the film. If you want to get the purple or blue emphasized ask them to do this although with prints you can always get them reprinted. Picture size should be 3-1/2 X 5" for Rodney's Native N Am spec Iris web page.

Sending prints of NANI for posting on this web site

Please send Rodney pictures of North American Native irises, preferably the ones in their natural colours. There is or will be a section for unknowns so If you have an iris which you think is NANI take the best pictures you can and send them to Rodney and he will post them in the web page. We hope people who know Native irises will be looking at this page and let us know what they are. [Web master's note: I will post photos other species as space allows, but the emphasis is on natives.]

FWIW (A few more thoughts):

If you can do so, please take your pictures of native species in your back yard. The irises will be better taken care of there and will be in better condition. Wild irises mostly grow in damp/wet areas which are more fragile especially when people are wearing hiking boots.

If you have a chance to buy film 10-paks do so. You can always store the unused films in your frosty freezer until next year. The expiry date can be extended at least that long or longer. I have successfully kept films in the freezer until 2 years past the nominal expiry date. Only take out a few of the films at once & keep them in the refrigerator during the summer. Once the film is out of the 'fridge, let it warm up before you open it; then try to take the whole film in 2 months or less.

My preferred film is Agfa. I tried every -chrome there was, Ektachrome, Fujichrome, Konicachrome and Agfachrome gave the best colours. Next best is Fuji. ASA 200 works well for me.

If anyone has suggestions/questions please contact me at Diana Louis dlouis@dynamicro.on.ca. Also if you want a copy of this file let me know and I will e-mail it to you and you can print it out with print screen or your print button. (Please be sure you've set the "reply to" in your mail program to your own address or include your e-mail address in the message.)

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