At a recent shoot, Caroline Oleron (Cherfold Flowers) asked me to explain my settings and why she should get a tripod. It's all useful information, so here goes:
1. Low ISO, 100 or 200.
2. On aperture priority, pick the aperture for the depth of field you want: the photo above was f11.
3. Let the camera choose the shutter speed (in this photo it was 1/2 second), and then use the exposure compensation dial to increase or decrease exposure. This shot was -1.5 stops off the exposure that the camera picked.
4. Manually focus.
5. Use a tripod (or a chair, or a pile of books) and the self timer.
Read on for the detail.
Just a quick aside. If you need a refresher on what shutter speed and depth of field are, I explain it all in a very step by step fashion in my free beginner's photography workshop. Register here and get started today:
1. Low ISO
ISO is a measure of the sensitivity of your camera's sensor. High ISOs cope with low light better, but the quality of your photo drops off dramatically. If you don't need it, stick to as low an ISO as you manage.
There is an adjustable hole in the lens of your camera. The size of the hole affects how much of the image is sharply focussed. If you want only a small section of the image in focus, you would choose a large aperture, and the opposite for a large section of the image. In this image a large aperture was used, and only a few of the ranunculus are sharply focussed:
When you want to show off an arrangement with crystal clear detail and front to back focus, you need a larger depth of field, and therefore a smaller aperture:
Photos from Large Scale Floral Design course students at The Sussex Flower School
3. Shutter speed & Exposure compensation
You'll need a longer shutter speed to compensate for the small hole - you need some way of getting more light onto the sensor. On aperture priority mode your camera will simply pick whatever shutter speed it needs. Let it do its thing. But then check how the photo looks, and if it's too dark or too bright, just use the exposure compensation dial to make the image brighter or darker.
It's worth looking exposure compensation up in your manual (download your manual here if you've lost it) - it'll blow your mind if you haven't come across it before.
4. Manual focus
Unless you know how to change your focus points, it's easiest just to switch to manual focus when you need precise depths of field like this (look for an "AF/MF" slider on your lens).
Once you start getting shutter speeds of 1/60th second or slower, you will start to notice camera shake creeping in and ruining your photos. You might previously have let the ISO go higher to help, but you really want to keep ISO as low as you can for your showstopper images.
The solution is just to take your hands entirely off the camera when it is taking the photograph. Stabilise the camera on a tripod if you have one, or a pile of books if you don't, and then use the self timer to fire the shutter. Even the act of pushing the shutter button will cause the camera to wobble a bit, so using the self timer gives you a couple of seconds between pushing the button and firing the shutter.
That's all there is to it. As long as there isn't a breeze in your studio, or your flowers aren't slowly drooping, you will get pin-sharp images, in focus from front to back. You can use shutter speeds of whole seconds if you need to. Bookmark this page and come back to it in November when the light has gone and you are despairing. All you need to do is set yourself up as described, and then use the exposure compensation dial to put in +1 or 2 stops, and it will feel like it's mid summer:
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