Garden Photos in Limited Light

Now this is an oxymoron. Macro shots by nature need good light due to how close you generally are to your subject. But when you don’t have the beautiful soft light of morning or early evening, you can use just your camera to your benefit. Sure the images will not be quite as moody and soft, but they can be had anyway if you are willing to take the chance on your manual settings.

I am interrupting the regularly scheduled post, Chanticleer, Eleven in Twelve, On the Way Back, to bring you this special event from my garden. It coincides with a post on Green Apples, so I hope you jump over there after reading this. The post is called When the Light is Just Right for Photography. It showcases macro shots taken in Maine during lighting conditions best suited to soft and warm photos. See twenty images in beautiful light. The Crescent shows up again as a side view.

This is an image from the shoot in Maine for the post, When the Light is Right for Photography. Do you agree that the light makes for better images? Compare these and the ones from Green Apples to the ones in this post.

I think this is a Field Crescent, but I am not certain.

The Chanticleer Tour will continue, scheduled for July 25th. The end of July starts the garden walk gardens that I promised.

So what did I do differently? These images are not taken with a macro lens, but a 300mm. I did not use fancy extras, like extension tubes or even the macro lens I own. So purposefully not using what will produce a better image, here is what I got just by shooting with a high ISO, and before I hear it, I know grain is a problem especially when you blur a background. But trust me, you can get fine images with today’s digital cameras. I did not even use my Nikon D7000 here (the better camera).

Check out increasing the ISO on your camera. Many of these images were shot cranking the ISO up to 1600 and above. This allows for reasonable shutter speeds where hand holding the camera is necessary. Did you know pumpkin flowers were fuzzy or attracted many bees? The ISO above was 6400. The pumpkin is growing in my yard, by the way. More accurately, it is taking over the yard. You will see a post of this interloper soon.

Increasing the ISO allows for more light, like opening up the aperture to 4.8 or even more open does normally. The faster the sensor the more open the aperture in low light cases.  You can get some nice bokeh this way.

Bokeh describes the character of the out of focus areas in your image. The best bokeh is those little round blurry colors of light in the background of an image. They occur when you adjust the depth of field with a low aperture and a short focal length. My 135mm lens zooms to 18mm like in this shot of the Monarda, backed by boxwood. Better yet, would be if the boxwood was wet. You would get more circles of light. What you are seeing is that the boxwood is dry and buff colored.

You can see, I sacrificed light somewhat. In fact, all these images were shot on a very dark gray day, a day hopefully awaiting a thunderstorm. Even a dark day can produce images that are not too bad. This is not your usual cloudy morning, good for nice saturation, it was a day looming with dark skies. Even the street lights were flickering on and off. So you can see how important camera settings are in capturing available light.

So the amount of light entering my camera was very dependant on my camera settings and the high ISO. The aim was to achieve soft images, but still have some color saturation, like below.

The other option was to use a flash. I took some shots of insects using the flash that I will show later. But using the in camera flash limits you to a shutter speed of 250. These settings can also be controlled when using a hot shoe mount flash. But I did not use mine here.

The whole point of this exercise was to show the difference that you get when you actually choose a good time of day to photograph. If you do, the resulting photographs will be lively and not flat. Hop on over to my post on Green Apples and see the difference in the macro shots taken there. It makes a world of difference. Also, there I used a 17-35mm lens and filters like a ‘real’ photographer.

This post was to persuade you to hop on over to Green Apples.

The photos there are soft, yet well focused. Blur is used more effectively. I just wanted to show a comparison of using a better camera, professional lens and a few filters, along with the most important… morning light.

These images were also taken in early morning light, but no sun. The sunniest thing in the garden was my little sunflower. Here’s hoping for rain. Now off to When the Light is Right for Photography. But first….

I have to put a smile on a fellow blogger’s face because he was disappointed I did not do a closeup of the Iris at Chanticleer. Here are three images Stone, I hope you come back and see I did not forget your comment!

Make sure and go visit Stone the Gardener. His blog is REALLY good. He has a great post on Freebies for the Garden that I saw this morning.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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41 Responses to Garden Photos in Limited Light

  1. stone says:

    Looks like Siberians, Ensatas, and pseudacorus…
    Appreciate the plug, Thanks! 🙂

    Bokeh… I feel smart, now. I’d like to achieve bokeh more.

    I think the butterfly is a painted lady.

    • You are right, it is a Painted Lady butterfly. The Field Crescent does not have the white at the top of the wings. Glad I added the iris. I hope you are getting new bloggers visiting. Your blog is really entertaining and always has good info.

      • stone says:

        Thanks, I did get some new traffic, and updated the post with the concerns over nutrient deficiency, something that I should have thought to address when I wrote the post…

        I put up a new post yesterday at the sand-hill blog… I had 3 pictures of stuff that I needed to identify…

  2. Jennifer says:

    Hi Donna, Your photography is always beautiful and you are so knowledgable about lens and camera settings. I flounder around in comparison. I imagine the shots I could take if only I had a stronger foundation of practical skills!

  3. Brian Comeau says:

    Beautiful! You have a great eye and perspective. I am so old school in my thinking sometimes and still shoot like I’m using 50 ISO Velvia and forget about the other end of the ISO spectrum. Thanks for the reminder and inspiring me to try something new tomorrow.

    • I learned this from the National Association of Photoshop Professionals site. I am a NAPP member and there is so much great info from the best of the best. I also subscribe to Kelby training and a famous street photographer, among his other talents, Jay Maisel, was saying he has his camera set to a very high ISO. He also was using Aperture Priority mode on his Nikon. I watched a Day with Jay Maisel, and Scott Kelby was shooting the same subjects as Jay and not getting as nice an image. He asked the settings and the main difference was the high ISO. The only problem is printing large scale, but for stuff on the web or smaller prints, no problem.

  4. I read (and viewed) this stunning post from beginning to end. Thanks for all the great tips–you’re so well-versed in camera settings. I usually play around with settings as I’m snapping shots. I’m a little cowardly when it comes to opening up the ISO settings–the highest I generally go is 800 because of the grainy worries. But I guess I’ll have to try it more. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • You might read my reply to Brian. I told where I learned this trick. I often do not go as high as 800, but if it is dark outside (or inside) or I want to increased shutter speed for flying birds, I up it.

  5. Bom says:

    Lovely images Donna. I just have a P&S so I don’t really play around with manual settings. Like your commenter Brian, I like using Fuji Velvia but I use 100 ISO. Unlike him, I still shoot with film from time to time until now although I have yet to shoot my plant babies in film.

    • You would be surprised how many pros still shoot film. One on my sidebar you might be interested in is filmcamera999. He is selling quite a number of old cameras. They are listed in his posts. If you like the older cameras and want to try different models, this is the place to go.

      • I’m not a pro, but I still use film in addition to my DSLR. I even belong to a Nikon F6 group of enthusiasts who share their pictures on the web. When I turned 16 my dad gave me his Leica and responsibility to all the family slides…far more meaningful that a harddrive filled with pictures.

  6. love your pictures !!

  7. Ogee says:

    Thanks for the lesson!

  8. gail says:

    That was a very enjoyable read! I am ready to move up to the next camera with more control over settings, in the meantime you\’ve given me a lot to think about nd practice with my canon G12. Thanks, gail

    • It will be an adventure for you getting a new camera. There is so much the new ones can do, but so many ways to get an image, making having it fun to learn. Your photos are already so wonderful, I cannot imagine you with more photographic control.

  9. Loving your photos – thanks for the beautiful garden tour:) Enjoy Your Weekend!

  10. So much good information. I was in the garden this morning looking for good light to take some macro shots. You helped me think about the ISO more. Here’s to more beautiful photos in the garden!

    • I cannot get the good light in my garden. Fences and trees block the sun until it is after ten in the morning and after five at night in the summer. That is what is nice at the farm or places wide and open. So I really have not much choice in getting decent images unless I shoot creatively. Most of my garden photos are during the sunniest parts of the day unfortunately. Macro shots need a decent amount of light, so most days I can get those images.

  11. Victor Ho says:

    You made some excellent points. Lighting and the color of light is essential. But as you say…when the light is right. It’s not usually great when I’m traveling or on a day trip because you’re on the move and shooting throughout the day. I am still aware of how a bright blue sky or a stormy day will affect the image. As the weather and light changes my selection of images is different. Very nice post.

    • I most always shoot manual for the same reason as you, bad timing with few good light opportunities when traveling. None of my garden walk images ever were shot in good light. They open at 10am and close at 4pm or 5pm, same as many other places I visit. I never really get great images from garden walks. I guess my main point was get creative with the camera. I notice that you do often.

  12. vanetua says:

    Your work is so beautiful!

  13. b-a-g says:

    You’ve captured the lilac of the bell flowers really well.

  14. Donna I will need to bookmark this post and start playing with my automatic camera…fabulous shots…wish me luck!

    • Trying new things with your camera is a good thing. You get those ‘ah ha’ moments that change everything. Learning to balance the triad of camera settings makes one a better photographer. You can’t really learn this by reading, you can only learn it by doing and doing it often.

  15. Great tips here, Donna. I use my 300m lens for macros as well. I hope you are having a great time.

    • Thanks. I more often use the macro lens, but when shooting insects that are hard to approach, like dragonflies for instance, I use the 300mm or even the 400mm. The 400mm is heavy and I am better with it on a tripod, but have taken flying hawks with it hand held. It takes some real practice to hold it steady. I have returned from Maine, but I will be off again soon.

  16. GirlSprout says:

    Wow, 6400 ISO I didn’t even know that was possible. I have a point and shoot that’s a bridge camera. I will try the ISO setting and also try it in manual mode to see if I can adjust the ISO. Thanks for the tip.

    • Not all cameras will show the number for the higher ISO, like my D80. 3200 is H1. I also have H0.3 – 2000 and H0.7 – 2500. At these levels on this camera I get noticeable grain. The new Nikon D800 has a range of 100 – 6400 like my D7000, but it is expandable to 25,600 ISO. That is some pretty good low light shooting. The D800 and my D7000 have better sensors and the the higher ISO shows minimal grain even when pushed way up.

  17. Love and appreciate the wealth of knowledge you share with us and the beautiful photographs….. wow..

  18. Sadun blogi says:

    I have a looong way to learn to take some good photos!

  19. meredehuit says:

    You are sweet to share, Donna… your knowledge and your amazing pics are so welcome. Someday i want to be as good a photographer as you are. I probably should learn about all the settings on my camera first. Through the process of discovery, I’ve learned the value of morning light… it’s my favorite time to shoot… it’s rather magical, don’t you think?

  20. Jean says:

    Donna, Thanks for these great tips. I’ve always been afraid to crank up my ISO above 400, but I can see you get great results with much higher settings. I’ll be more adventuresome in the future!
    It was great meeting you and getting to spend the afternoon together in Maine.

  21. thequeenofseaford says:

    I have to reread this post with camera in hand. Went outside to get some cool pics of the sky as the sun was setting after a wild thunderstorm. Will see if any are decent enough to share. I tuned ISO around some…though didn’t know what I was doing. Seriously need to find that camera book!

  22. Brian Comeau says:

    Hello my friend. You got my attention with the leaf reflection; I love it. So many beautiful images and your garden knowledge continues to astound me.

  23. Pingback: In the Garden « ArtyAnge – Art work and Photography

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