Slip. Slosh. Lay right down in the muck. If you’re not getting dirty, you aren’t having fun. This is wet belly photography. It is getting down and dirty and up close with flowers. We enjoy the vast variety of tulips that pop their heads out in the spring of Washington State during the Skagit Valley International Tulip Festival each April in Mt. Vernon, Washington. Look close to the ground and you will find other photographers slopping around in the mud with their camera gear. Hundreds of acres are filled with reds, yellows, purples and pinks, rows upon rows of color. It’s overwhelming. Many gardens are open to visitors from all over the world during the three week festival.
Almost no matter where you live, flower season explodes in the spring. Wildflowers and domestics in the lowlands break into full bloom. Rhododendrons are making a bright appearance in the forests. Higher, in the alpine meadows, as the snow releases its hold on the mountains, rainbow colored fields chase its departure.
A great tip for photographing wildlife is to get down to your subject’s eye level. The same applies to flowers. Don’t shoot down, get down. Get low, get your camera level with the flower, or even get under it and shoot up. This is wet belly photography and the results are worth it. Next to sunsets, flowers are one of the most photographed nature subjects. Here are some tips for successful flower photography.
- Filtered sun
- Overcast skies are favorites for nature photographers. Bright sunlight casts shadows and bright highlights, creating distracting elements in your photograph. Clouds filter the brightness of the sun, eliminating harsh shadows and producing an even light. If an overcast sky isn’t in the plan, you can use a diffusion screen, found at professional photography stores, or make one from white ripstop nylon fabric. Make a frame to hold the fabric in place or have an assistant hold it between your subject and the sun, and instantly you have an overcast sky.
- Wind ruins a lot of flower shots. It requires plenty of patience to wait for a lull between wind gusts. Try creating your own wind block. Using plastic sheeting from a local gardening shop, you can create a “wall” of plastic held in place with wood stakes. Or bring a white or clear umbrella and place it to block the wind. Carry baggy ties or string to carefully tie grasses and other distracting branches out of the way or to tie the flower to a small stake to hold it still. Be careful not to get your wind block or support in your photograph. If you want to experiment with the wind, photograph the blowing flowers at slow shutter speeds and let the colors just pan across your film for colorful and fun pattern shots.
- More Weather
- Weather in general offers all kinds of possibilities, not just wind and water droplets. Fog, mist, even a rain storm can offer dramatic compositions. Fog and mist creates a mysterious quality to your images. Expose for the flowers themselves and let the lighting take care of itself, or over- or underexpose by a third to a half to create a brighter or darker effect. Photograph the rain coming down at a medium to slow shutter speed to capture the rain as texture. Experiment and bracket to get the best results.
- Dew drops
- Early morning, just before the sun comes up to warm the earth and the wind begins to blow, you will often find flowers dressed in dewy jewels. Water droplets cling to the petals and sparkle in the early light. You can add your own dew drops by spraying your subject with a fine mist of water.
- Depth of field
- Some flower images require a lot of depth of field, having every millimeter in focus from front to back. Others become beautiful with only a shallow depth of field, creating a soft romantic look with the background and foreground out of focus. Play with your depth of field on different subjects to create a variety of images of the different flowers you photograph.
- Get Down – Get Under
- There is a whole new world to explore down and under the flowers. Check out the interesting backlit perspectives, highlighting textures and veins in the leaves and petals. Look for spiders, spider webs, and other insects making their homes, hunting for food, or just hanging out. It is a world of texture, pattern, color, and magic.
- Successful flower photography requires a sturdy tripod. For good wet belly photography, get a tripod that will go all the way down to the ground, allowing you to get down to the flower’s level. Some tripods allow for the center post to invert, which works, but it’s often a challenge to get your eye to the viewfinder through the tripod legs. A Bogen Super Clamp will allow you to put your tripod head on the clamp attached to your tripod leg, getting you lower with ease.
For more information on wildflowers and the native plants of North America, contact the National Wildlife Research Center in Austin, Texas.