Using artificial light • Beating camera shake • Using walls for support • Shooting at an angle
We are used to seeing flowers in daylight, and that is how we most often shoot them too. In fact, we really don’t expect to see flowers at night, as most disappear inside themselves once the sun goes down. I spotted this lavender in flowerbeds around a hotel car park late one night, lit by lamps dotted around that were kept on all night. Lit from below and on a level, the lavender stems looked most unusual. I suppose, looking back, I have seen lamp-lit plants many times before, but this was the first time they really caught my eye, and the first time I really looked.
I was on my way back from dinner, so I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I turned the ISO up to 1600, braced my elbows against my knees, and hoped for the best. Shooting with the aperture opened to f/5.6 I managed a shutter speed of 1/25sec most of the time – so with a focal length of 135mm on a full frame sensor I produced plenty of camera-shake. By trying each shot a three or four times I got at least one sharp frame for every composition. There’s always a wall or something to add extra support, and with a bit of luck the angles all work out well – in fact, restricting yourself to the views allowed by wall-mounting can lead to compositions you may not have thought to try otherwise.
For this particular shot I rested my arms on the top of a low wall and held the camera tightly to my face for extra support. Focusing manually in the low light I gently depressed the shutter release as softly as I could, while breathing very slowly. I was using an IS (Canon’s Image Stabilisation) lens, which helped too. Surprisingly, given the conditions, I did manage quite a few sharp images.
Keeping the white balance on daylight has allowed the colours of the sodium lights to reflect in the colours of the plants. The greens of the stems are really quite vibrant, while the purples of the lavender heads are slightly warmer than they might have been. The lavender was leaning over anyway, as it does, but I shot with the camera on an angle to emphasise the fact and to create a more dynamic composition.