Spring is when the wildflowers bloom along the roadside, so it's a good idea to keep your camera handy for those breath-taking sudden bursts of color. The view may be a flowering orchard or a commercial nursery, as well as the natural flora in meadows and deserts.
There are several ways to capture these displays, and the most obvious shot -- the straight-on, hop-out-of-the-car or roll-down-the-window snap -- doesn't usually do the scene justice, giving you a thin strip of color on an overall landscape.
A better way is to shoot from an elevation. If possible, drive a little farther, or turn up a side road and stop on a hill, or climb to a higher viewpoint.
If there is no high point nearby, then simply walk up to the flower display -- so at least you'll have your own height as an advantage. Regardless of how you get up there, the added elevation will fill your frame with color instead of that Band-Aid strip of hue.
The direction of the light can make or break your flower scenics. The best light angle is with the sun shining from one side of your camera, so the flowers have form and color. Backlight will dull the tint, and straight front light will accent the color but wipe out detail.
Focusing is no problem for distant flower views, but if you walk up to the field, focus about a third of the way into the display for a sharp picture. For close-ups pick a particular clump and move in, or even a single flower. For these close-ups, a macro lens or an over-the-lens close-up filter is the most effective. Don't rely on extreme enlargements for the same effect; a lot of detail will be lost and the enlargement will look mushy.
Backgrounds are the biggest bugaboo in close-up flower portraits. Usually the area behind the flower is a confusing mass of light and shade. To simplify it, try for a camera position that puts the flower in sun and the background in complete shadow. (You can cheat a little by casting a shadow with a piece of paper, a jacket or another person.)
Another problem you may have when moving in is the wind. The best way to eliminate this is to speed up your shutter and open up the lens to compensate. (Remember, each time you speed up to the next-faster shutter setting, like 1/60th to 1/125th, you can open up to the next f-stop, such as from f/8 to f/5.6, and get the same exposure.)
If you want to get fancy, take along some sheets of colored cardboard to use as backgrounds -- a contrasting color in back can bring out the foreground color. And if you want to go a step further, try a piece of black velvet, which will show the flower up as a cutout.
And of course, don't forget to use that flowery field for model shooting -- it's a naturally ideal background. But don't just have your model standing there grinning into the camera. Use some imagination and create a mood. He or she could be running through the field, picking the posies or just communing with nature. Whichever you choose, make the model a part of the scene.
If you get a really good shot, consider having a big blowup made that can be used as wall decoration in your home or given as a gift to a friend. Through photos you can keep your spring flowers fresh all year round. Q -- A while ago you wrote about shooting sunsets; I clipped the article but lost it. Would you please repeat? A -- Yes, it's worth a repeat, since sunsets are one of the most popular color subjects.
The most common fault with sunset pictures is overexposure. This is because in-camera meters are usually the averaging type and take into account not only the sky but the foreground as well. As a result, the sky color is weak. To compensate for this, turn the camera right up into the sky, take a meter reading and then use that setting for the scene with foreground. This method will underexpose the ground, but who's going to look at the ground? What you really want is the sky colors, and these will show up best slightly underexposed.
If you really want have fun, stop down even more to a full stop below the sky reading.
There's even a solution for those grayish sunsets that you wish were flaming red: Try a red or orange filter over the lens and you'll be able to fake it. Q -- Next summer I plan to visit the Orkney Islands, where I'll be making slides of archaeological sites using a Nikkormat EL 35-mm camera. I anticipate a good deal of rain and a severe problem with poor contrast.
I would appreciate any suggestions you could offer as to the best film to use and the best selection of exposures. A -- The slide film I would use for such a project would be Kodachrome 64. The reason is that this is a relatively high-contrast film with a warm cast. (I would suggest Kodachrome 25, but that would be too slow under poor lighting conditions.)
For the best exposures, meter your scene carefully (the Nikkormat has a good averaging meter system) and, if in doubt, move in close and take a reading of a middle-toned area, then move back and use that setting for your view.
One of the problems with archaeological sites is that the subject matter is not colorful and lacks contrast. The only way to counteract this is to try for cross lighting. Even on rainy days, shoot with the light at an angle to your scene for maximum form. And try to take your scenes in the early morning or late afternoon, so the light hits the stones from a low angle. Q -- I have a couple of snapshots I'd like to have blown up as wall posters. Is this possible, and where can I have it done? A -- There are labs that make blowups from slides and negatives. Look in the Yellow Pages for local ones. Others are advertised in magazines, such as Popular Photography. One that advertises there is Aardvark & Son Photographic Laboratories, P.O. Box 8600, Salt Lake City, Utah 84108.
Be prepared to pay for these outsize enlargements. A 20-by-30 color print is advertised as $23 for the print plus an inter-negative charge. Other labs enlarge on type R paper, which doesn't require an interneg. A word of caution -- be sure you know what the charges will be for a large blowup before you order, because prices vary widely depending on quality.