The video is the short version of this article with a slide show of the best of this year’s orchids at the end.
It’s not for nothing that Western Australia is referred to as the “Wildflower State”. There are over 13,000 species of plant to be found, with new discoveries added every year. If we narrow it down to my particular area of interest – orchids – there are 394 species of terrestrial orchids in the South West Corner of the state. Some of these species are so specialised that are confined to very small areas and found nowhere else. Some species will not bloom unless there has been a bush fire the summer before, others if the winter rains are delayed or are insufficient will not put a show on either. This means that no two years are the same. An example of this is my favourite spot near where I live is prolific with the number of orchid species found there. When I first went I was simply amazed by the number of fringed mantis and white spider orchids that were flowering. Over the ensuing ten years I’ve seen such a display of those species since. This year there was a carpet of purple and pink enamels like I’ve never seen before. So this not knowing quite what you are going to find adds to the whole experience. On a few occasions I may be lucky enough to be able to access the flowers by car and a short walk, but most of the time I end up walking through the bush for anything up to four hours.
I approach photographing orchids as I would shooting a person’s portrait – using off camera flash and reflectors to fill shadows, separate from the background, bring out the shape and textures. Too many botanic studies show indistinct photos where the subject does not fill the frame and the background is intrusive. To that end I use a macro lens of around 100 -120mm (35mm equivalent). It’s not because I’m necessarily shooting at a 1:1 ratio, it’s just because I’ve found there are very few zoom lens that focus close enough and have a fast aperture to allow control of depth of field.I used to use a Canon DSLR with a Canon EF 100mm f2.8 IS L lens and carry around a Manfrotto 143 Magic Arm Kit to support the lights. I made a video about using that setup some 7 years ago and that can be seen just below. Since making that video I added a full frame 6d, the Canon macro lens, and extra light and a set of TTL wireless flash triggers and consequently found myself schlepping 10-12Kg of kit into the bush on longer and longer forays. Something had to give – and my back did! So fast forward 7 years and I’m now using an Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens. I’ve not given anything up in terms of image quality with this change because I’m generally working at a base ISO of 200 with lighting which means all the usual objections to m4/3 about excessive noise and poor dynamic range have been taken out of the equation. The Olympus 60mm f2.8 is easily the optical equal of Canon’s EF 100mm f2.8 IS macro L lens at less than 1/2 the price and about 1/3 of the weight. The Manfrotto Magic Arm got binned as it was very heavy at 2.7 Kg and replaced with a Manfrotto Table Top Tripod Kit 209, 492 Long which weighs 454g. As far as lighting goes I’m using a Metz 64AF – 1 and an Olympus FL-600R flash with small soft box, snoot and honeycomb grid. The only thing that I have given up is radio TTL triggers for the flash, I’m using a TTL flash sync cable at the moment. I prefer to use the Metz unit when doing a lot of high speed sync work as it is the more powerful of the two. This may change in the New Year, it may not.
Other things in the bag include an 80cm 5 in 1 reflector – I only use the white reflector as the silver is too strong, the gold too garish. Some times I use the diffuser over a plant to cut down on ambient light levels. A Vittorinox CyberTool L is there. It has a good selection of small screwdriver bits that can most screws on a camera body, a set of pliers, wood saw, metal saw and file and a host of other doodads. I once re-assembled my Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color-Skopar with it while in on holiday in Beijing. Water – this can be in a 1L bottle for shorter expeditions or a 3L water bladder for longer ones. Extra clothing if needed, sunscreen and insect repellent to avoid nasty encounters. Batteries for camera and flash. Wallet of memory cards. That’s it. The whole process is very simple.
Well Beloved Significant Other (BSO) Helen Amyes had a stonker of a year on the croquet front and was invited to attend the Croquetwest 2018-9 trophy presentation. Yours truly was tagging along as the +1 with aim of taking just a couple of photos for her clubs Facebook page. The inevitable happened. Turn up with a camera, couple of lenses and a flash and suddenly you are the “official” photographer and taking the photos for the press and social media. As I’ve said before grip and grin is not my favourite form of photography. There wasn’t a lot of wriggle room for an alternative approach this time so it was pretty basic event photography. At least it was helped along in the form of a jolly jape where fake awards were interspersed with the real ones. Even the recipients were left wondering what they’d actually just won.
The “Strobist” phenomena burst onto the photographic scene some ten years ago and thanks to the efforts of David Hobby and the timely release of reliable affordable radio controlled flash triggers a whole movement was born. What was exciting was that Hobby advocated a lean and mean approach to lighting using affordable and portable speedlites. In an era of auto everything Hobby also broke the mould by showing people how easy it was to use manual flash. Joe McNally shooting Nikon and Syl Arena using Canon quickly jumped on the band waggon extolling the virtues of off camera flash using the TTL systems of Canikon.
The other day I had the sudden realisation that I would need a new photo for the promotion of current exhibition as the one I had been using was out of date – I have considerably more hair on my head and less hair on my chin now. My preferred photographer is Liv Stockley but she is currently somewhere in Africa and unavailable for the job. So I would have to shoot this myself aided by my partner Helen. Using the Olympus OMD EM10 with the fantastic Olympus m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 was a no brainer – bags of resolution, fantastic image quality and it allowed Helen to take the shot by controlling the camera via wi-fi using an iPad. Lighting was the conundrum. It would have to be flash, but how to control it? I wanted the key light in a big brolly box, but this would mean I would lose the TTL flash capability as Olympus use a line of sight light transmission system for their wireless flash. Once the slave flash is enveloped by a large light modifier it can’t pick up the signal from the master, so I would have to use a radio trigger. There are no reliable easily available radio controlled TTL triggers for the m4/3 system so it would have to be manual all the way and the excellent Hahnel Captur fit the bill perfectly. They are available from good camera stores, I got mine from Digital Camera Warehouse, and they have a good warranty. Why take a punt with cheap no name “poverty wizards” from dodgy Chinese Ebay sellers when you can get an excellent product locally? So that’s the triggering taken care of. To work out the exposure I used my trusty Minolta Auto Meter Ⅴ F. Sadly no longer made by Minolta as Sony took them over and canned the flash meter product line, but it is now made by Kenko. Yes it is old school and some may argue that in the digital era not needed, but I like working this way. In this scenario there is no need for TTL flash as the lighting and subject to camera distance remain constant.
Equipment sorted the styling of the photo was the next consideration. The portrait would be a classic head and shoulders, but I wanted something clean and contemporary. Initially I thought about using the classic Rembrandt lighting style. It’s the studio portraitist’s bread and butter lighting, but it is a little bit staid. So I decided to go with broad lighting. One Metz Mecablitz 64AF-1 Flash in a brolly box was the key and a large reflector provided the fill. To provide a bit of separation from the background a Metz 44 AF-1 (now superseded by the 44 AF-2) fitted with a Hohnl Speed Grid. Simple and effective.
So while the “Strobist” phenomena has largely gone out of fashion, the principles and skills are very useful and every photographer should have some grasp of the basics.