Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yearbook Pictures

Pelargonium x hortorum 'Vancouver Centennial.'

I'm having a terrible time keeping up with . . . everything right now. The main reason, or at least one of them, is because I have a very frustrating project going on now which requires me to take pictures of a lot of plants, all at once, and sort through a bunch of other pictures which had already been sitting around. This would be no big deal except that the majority of the pictures I've been taking are crap, usually because the lighting is off, and so I've had to do the same few plants three days in a row, and in most cases I'm still not any closer to a good picture than I was when I started.

The ultimate goal of all this is to be able to put together lists of plants with common characteristics (for example: Ten Plants Native to Mexico; Ten Plants With Fuzzy Leaves; Ten Plants With Purple Flowers), and have pictures there for each one, without having to round up and photograph all the plants involved whenever I decided to put one of these lists together. I get a fair number of hits from people searching for plants that have these sorts of specific qualities, so it seems like this would be helpful to somebody sooner or later. Not to mention that it would be generally handy to have a bank of images from which to draw for all kinds of posts. Prior to this, I was taking pictures of plants as I needed them, which meant a lot more time spent on setting up and tearing down: in theory, in the future, this will save me time.

Euphorbia tortilis.

This impulse is a little frightening, as it follows immediately on a several-day-long compulsion to review the plant difficulty numbers (which have not yet been changed, but will be at some point) and a period before that when I was anxiously trying to make sure all the mentions of, for example, Aglaonema cvv. in the whole blog, all the way back to 2007, were linked to the Aglaonema profile I wrote in March 2008. And then repeat the effort you imagine that to take 84 more times, for each of the profiles I've written so far.

In conclusion, then, my brain is forcing me to do all kinds of stuff that's kind of fussy and OCD, for no discernable reason other than to satisfy my desire to have all the links and posts and pictures just so.

Philodendron gloriosum.

On the up side, by the time this is all done, I may have developed the necessary skills for becoming a high school yearbook photographer. Except for the parts that involve dealing with people, I guess. The plants are by and large pretty calm, compared to teenagers.

On the other hand, teenagers are slightly less likely to be waving their genitals around at the photographer on picture day.


lynn'sgarden said...

This Vancouver Centennial was my favorite geranium in the garden this year. Flowers not very showy but the foliage was spectacular!
Quite a project you've got going on, Mr_Subj...good luck!

LOL on the last sentence!!!!

our friend Ben said...

Ha!!! I think your photos are great, Mr. S.! And I also think all this organizing by common cause will make it much easier for you to do your book, when you finally make the time for it. I have to say that 'Vancouver Centennial' is one of my pelargonium faves as well, but for some reason my specimens never look as photogenic as yours!

Diane said...

How do you set up your photographs? Background, lighting, time of day, etc. My best ones are usually with the plant in the middle of the floor and me at a high angle above. Usually I have trouble with backgrounds - the view out the window, 18 other plants, random dog being nosy - and of course lighting is frustrating.

mr_subjunctive said...


The background is relatively easy: I bought a large piece of black fabric a long time ago, and I just thumbtack it to a handy wall somewhere and go. Or at least that's what I do when I need to take a huge number of pictures in a long period of time. Using something else as the background can work sometimes, but I find it's a lot harder to make out the subject of the picture when there's a lot of stuff going on in the background.

For smaller numbers of pictures, or when I'm more pressed for time, I either dispense with the black background entirely or I use a piece of black foamboard, or a piece of cardboard spray-painted black, which I can hold behind the subject with one hand and take the picture with the other. (This idea was originally Mr. Brown Thumb's; he posted about photography a very long time ago.)

Time of day depends on when I discover that I need a picture; I usually get my best results around noon, but it varies with the picture. Some plants just never give good pictures, no matter when I take the photo. ("Some plants" = Anthuriums.)

Lighting is the part I have trouble with. My camera has several built-in settings, one of which is "Image Stabilization," which I'd been using fairly exclusively on the theory that anything I can do to make up for lacking a tripod is good. The problem is that Image Stabilization also frequently comes out really dark, grainy, and yellow, which I then have to adjust in Irfanview after uploading the picture to the computer. So I've tried to compensate with using actual sunlight indoors, a spotlight with an incandescent bulb, shop lights of warm white and cool white varieties, etc., none of which works particularly consistently either. (The cool white bulbs are probably the best, but then instead of everything being dark, grainy and yellow, everything is too light, grainy and blue.)

So what I did with my afternoon yesterday was, I took 48 pictures apiece for each of six plants, three pictures per camera setting per plant, and compared them with one another to figure out what I should be using instead of Image Stabilization, and the settings that worked best were "Auto," "Indoor," "Self-Portrait," and "Cuisine," depending on the plant in question. They also all required the flash, which I dislike -- the colors come out much truer, and the background winds up much blacker, but I don't like seeing the shadows behind the plants; it messes up the outlines for me.

So in answer to your question: I don't know. I'm still trying to figure it out.

Good to Grow said...

I think you're smart. Even though it's a pain, it's a really great project. Try not to be so hard on yourself, your photos are lovely, and so is your relationship with plants.

Tigerdawn said...

Does you camera have a "fill in flash"? That's supposed to fix the bad shadows thing. Also, setting up lights on either side might help. Or it may just make funkier shadows. I haven't actually tried it.

mr_subjunctive said...

Good to Grow:

You should see the pictures I don't post. But thank you.


My understanding was that fill-in flash was only useful when the subject was backlit: since the part you're taking a picture of is in its own shadow, you use a flash to light up what you're interested in. What I don't like about using a flash is that it creates shadows behind the subject, which makes everything look like a double image, kinda.

That said, I did take a set today where I used flash, because it was too dark not to. They came out . . . so-so. Usable, but only just.

Diane said...

Thanks for the advice! I need to do what you're doing: take a bunch of pics on different settings, compare, and *write down and remember* what worked best (that last part is where I usually fail). Never occurred to me that the image stabilization might be contributing to general graininess. One thing I have found is that the "foliage" setting on my camera makes a big difference in the color quality. My camera pushes colors towards blue, especially outdoors, and the foliage setting seems to "warmify" everything (Picasa also has a warmify function for post-processing). I mostly noticed the difference when taking pictures of the dog; with the "foliage" setting she looks true color, and without she looks dusky and grayish.

I need to take a photography class. Maybe someday.