SIMPLY DIGITAL - To get the perfect shot, it helps to have a plan


As I was walking into the Vineyard Photography classroom, I noticed several students huddled together talking, and I overheard one say, "I really wanted to photograph some awesome flowers in the vineyard last weekend, but everything kept blurring."

I knew this student had just purchased a new point-and-shoot camera for this class and now was almost to tears, because she was unable to get the picture she wanted to show her classmates.

Feeling the tension I set down my notes and camera gear and walked over to the student and asked her, "So what do you think went wrong that you did not get the photograph of the flowers in the vineyard?"

The answer was almost predictable: "I set my camera up on the tripod and tried to focus on the flowers but everything kept blurring."

Since the students will see many flowers on the vineyard field trips I thought for today's exercise it would be best to focus their attention on one of my favorite subjects -- photographing wildflowers.

We drove over to the college vineyard and quickly found a number of wildflowers to serve as our models for the evening.

As we gathered together with our cameras, I reassured the 15 members of the class that photographing wildflowers is not an easy assignment, and to ease the apprehension of the students I took the lead.

First, we focused on the camera settings needed to accomplish this task. Most of the students in the class used a software application to edit their pictures so we set the format to "Raw" to capture a larger picture.

For those students not using software for editing I recommended a JPEG fine setting.

Since it was only 6 p.m., I knew we would still have plenty of daylight to capture the flower colors and recommended setting the ISO to 200.

Watching the students carefully, I then asked them to go to the white balance mode on their cameras. Even though we were in sunlight I asked them to switch to the "cloudy" setting on their cameras.

At this point I took a picture of a wildflower using a tripod on the cloudy setting, and the students followed. The results produced a warmer picture than the "sun" setting, especially when photographing flowers with white petals.

While we were focused on the flowers I challenged the students to change the white balance setting to fluorescent and then tungsten, and the colors of the flowers changed dramatically, to their surprise!

Next I asked the students to check to see if they had a macro setting on their camera to focus up close to the flowers.

One of the secrets of photographing flowers is to get as close as possible to the flower and still keep the petals in focus. This comes with practice and just looking through the lens and squeezing the shutter at that moment.

Adjusting the camera setting to aperture mode and rotating the F-Stop to 5.6 should keep the flower in sharp focus and blur the background giving a shallow depth of field.

While looking through the lens I asked the students to check the background (behind the flowers), and try to get the green leaves in order to produce a soft green blur behind the flower petals.

I always conclude our field trips with a reminder to the students that, "unless the photographer has a mental checklist when he sees a great scene, the story is always the same -- I missed a great shot!"

Don Fleming will begin teaching the next Vineyard Photography class at Walla Walla Community College for 10 weeks starting Aug. 17. The class is limited to 15 students to provide individual instruction while on field trips. He can be reached at and is also on Facebook and Twitter.

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