Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wildflower Portraits: 10 Tips for Taking Great Close-up Images of Native Plants


Submitted by Donna Bollenbach, Suncoast Chapter / Nature Photographer

Taking great close-up images of wildflowers is no different than taking great photographs of people, except the wildflowers won’t ever tell you they look “too fat” or “too old” or “too plain.” But, like people portraits, there are a few tips to taking outstanding wildflower portraits:

1. Get close, but be mindful: If it is the flower you are after, get as close as you can without damaging the plant or the habitat. If you want people to be able to identify a plant from your image, be sure to include features that are unique to the species, such as leaves, fruits or seeds.


Celestial Lily,  Nemastylis floridana, a rare endemic.

2. Be level: The closer you are to a subject, the less depth-of-field you will achieve. So, position your camera so the lens is parallel with the flower, or other feature of the plant, that you want to be the sharpest. If you have a depth of field preview on your camera, use it.


Green Metallic Bee, Agapostemon spp. on False Foxglove, Agalinis spp.

3. Use a tripod: Lenses with optical stabilizers are great when carrying a tripod is prohibitive, but whenever possible, I use a tripod. A tripod not only helps me achieve a higher percentage of sharp images, but it forces me to slow down and consider the composition, background and depth of field before releasing the shutter.

Pineland Water-willow, Justicia angusta 

4. Control the background: Background clutter probably ruins more photographs than poor light or poor composition. Control the background by repositioning the camera, using a longer lens (which will blur the background), or coming in closer to eliminate the background. The best advice when it comes to backgrounds is to “keep it simple.”

Zebra Swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus, on Yellow Colic Root, Aletris lutea

5. Watch the weather: Too much light and wind will make wildflower photography more difficult. Overcast days with little or no wind are ideal, but not always possible. If the light is too harsh, wait for a cloud to move in, or use a man made diffuser (such as a white umbrella). Constant wind makes close-up photography nearly impossible, but in a mild breeze, there will usually be a break when you can shoot. Flash can be used to to fill in shadows or increase shutter speed, but should be used sparingly. 


Drumhead, Polygala cruciata

6. Choose the best blossom: If you are shooting wildflowers at their peak, and you have more than one flower to choose from, look for the one that is most attractive and representative of its species. If applicable, make sure it has all its petals, good color, and appears healthy and vibrant. Of course, if your intent is capture the beauty of a wildflower after it goes to seed, you would focus on other details.


Adam's Needle, Yucca filamentosa

7. Find Perspective: A photographer’s ability to find a unique perspective on a common subject is what separates a mediocre image from a great one. Many beginning photographers shoot from wherever they happen to be standing. Often, this means they are shooting down on the subject. A seasoned nature photographer knows that sometimes you need to get low, even on your belly, to get a great shot. Before pressing the shutter, walk around your subject, stand-up, lie-low and change between zoom and wide-angle lenses to find the best perspective.

Yellow Pitcherplant, Sarracenia flava
8. Diversify:  Next time you photograph a wildflower, think of it as a person, and consider using one or more of these portrait perspectives to capture its unique features:

           Profile: The profile, or side view exudes grace and beauty. Lines are prominent. 


Scarlet creeper, Ipomoea hederifolia

Forked Blue Curls, Trichostema dichotomum

Three-quarter : The ¾ or “Look over my shoulder” view accents form and shape.



Yellow Butterwort, Pinguicula lutea
Scarlet creeper, Ipomoea hederifolia

Frontal: The frontal or full face view defines symmetry and balance.



Purple Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata

Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia spp. 

8. Bugs are a bonus: Bees, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles add a special dimension to wildflower photography. Consider them a bonus. If one happens to fly in the frame when you are shooting, just keep shooting. But, don’t rely on luck. Patience is the key when photographing insects visiting flowers. Rather than chase bees and butterflies around a field, it is much easier to stay focused on one flower and wait for a pollinator come to you.


Progressive Bee Fly ,Exoprosopa spp, on  Blushing Scrub Mint, Dicerandra Modesta,

9. Tell a story: Capturing a close-up of a wildflower does not mean you cannot capture some of the environment where it lives or its relationship to wildlife. One of my favorite techniques is to use a wide-angle lens to get close to my subject, yet show enough of the background to reveal its natural habitat. Even without the habitat, your close-up image will tell a story if it reveals the form and function of a wildflower. 




Donna Bollenbach has been photographing nature for over 20 years. She has written articles, taught workshops, and published an e-book on the art of nature photography. The last five years her primary subject has been Florida Native Plants. She is currently working on a database of her images. Donna is President of the Suncoast Chapter, Social Media Director for the Florida Native Plant Society, and editor of this blog. Her Facebook Page is Natives, Naturally

I was asked what equipment I shoot with, so here is the list, but you should not feel limited by your equipment. You can follow most of these tips even if you are shooting with a cell phone. In any case, I shoot with a Nikon D300 (12 megapixels) (usually on a tripod), a 180 Sigma macro lens and a 17-80 Nikon wide angle zoom. I also have a Panasonic point and shoot with macro capability and a lens that zooms from 55 to 400mm.Most of the images I take with the Panasonic are wide angle close-ups, like the one above.  

Calling all Florida Native Plant Photographers: In 2017 I would like to feature a native wildflower that is currently in bloom each week on this blog. It would be called "Wednesday's Wildflower." I have seen many wonderful images of wildflowers by FNPS members on social media. If you would like to submit your images, along with a species profile for "Wednesday's Wildflower" please send me an email and I will send you more information. 


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

FNPS, and the Tarflower Chapter, Mourns the Death of Founding Member Bill Partington, Jr.

In Memoriam: 
William “Bill” Moore PARTINGTON Jr.
February 3, 1928 - October 14, 2016



   Bill Partington was a founding member of the Florida Native Plant Society (Tarflower Chapter) and a champion for Florida’s natural environment. He was Director of FNPS from 1979-1985. During that time, membership grew from 6 people to over a 1000. Bill Partington was well known for publishing an annual “calamity calendar” in the 1990s, featuring cartoonists that made fun of Florida’s gator attacks, hurricanes, and overcrowding. He wrote many articles and took photos for the Florida Audubon Society, New York Geological Society, Wilderness Society magazine, several wildlife books, and numerous columns on the environmental impact of the Cross Florida Barge Canal (now called the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway). Bill graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. Williams College awarded Mr. Partington in 1995 their coveted bicentennial award in distinguished career achievement. In 2000, FNPS presented Bill with the society’s highest award, the Mentor Award, to Bill, for his tireless conservation activism.

The Tarflower Chapter was fortunate to have Bill as a member of their chapter. FNPS and Tarflower members valued his knowledge, enthusiasm and his sense of humor, as noted in these personal tributes from the November 2017 issue of the Tarpaper. 


Bill in his yard, courtesy of  David Partington
   “When Bill Partington gave lectures to Audubon or the Native Plant Society you could hear a pin drop in the room. He once gave a talk on wintering Monarch butterflies of central Mexico, with pictures which he took himself. That Monarchs migrated to one spot was a newly discovered phenomenon and he brought the news back firsthand.

   In another talk about micro-photography, with a camera and light setup he created, he showed fascinating, very colorful pictures of plants, caterpillars and birds common to central Florida. The close-ups were so close, showing tiny structures in a Blue Jay's feather, leaf margins and the internal physiognomy of flowers, that it was a look at a world that cannot be seen at a casual glance, yet is everywhere. His work was between normal vision and molecular photography. 

   Bill always expanded the information one already knew, providing deeper perspective and greater respect for what's out there. His quiet manner, gentle humor and constant curiosity about our environment, even in his backyard (which is where a lot of the microphotographs were taken), were always appreciated. He spoke up when attractive ideas, such as the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, would cause harm to the State and steered it away from permanent damage. For fifty years or more he was a soldier for Florida, a guardian who really did think globally and act locally, quietly but effectively. I don't know the half of his efforts. It's not how life is made, but if ever there was a person who should have kept on living a little longer, it was Bill. His last talk for Native Plant was about the environment-saving heroes of Florida, defenders who guided our State. He was among those stalwarts."​
Cecilia Catron, Tarflower Member

   "Thank you, Bill Partington, for being a fierce advocate for Florida's environment and for the role you played in getting the Florida Native Plant Society up and running. Your words expressing concern for activism and desire that FNPS be more activist continuously run through my mind. Rest in peace and our warmest regards to your family."
Cammie Donaldson, FNPS Administrative Services

Bill's humorous side,
courtesy of David Partington
   "Bill, myself, plus 3 or maybe four others started the first conversations about having a Florida Native Plant Society.  Bill’s determination and humor kept us from straying too far from the mission of creating FNPS.  Without his generosity of providing his name, contacts, and office I don't know where the Society would be.  When we grew to 35 members, Bill decided we should have our first State Conference.  Through his connections, Rollins College let us use their facilities...for free!  I think we generated a couple of hundred paying new members from the conference, and we were off with Bill Partington in the lead."
Carol Sawyer Lotspeich, FNPS   founding member


   "Bill was presenting at our Tarflower meeting just eight weeks ago. I clearly recall many people that I have never seen attend his presentation on important movers and shakers in the early days of when the term "conservationist" was still being coined. It is my understanding that September 6th's meeting was well attended not just by Tarflower, but also by Orange Audubon Society. After all, Bill was Assistant Director for the Audubon Society from 1967-71 and his interests covered both plants and birds.

   I have enjoyed spending time with Bill during the last months of his life. Even then, he had a light-hearted, energetic charm about him. And he certainly had charisma- that only certain people possess and even fewer radiate. Our conversations were never boring- not even for a second. I observed, even in his declining health, that he was never truly concerned about his mortality. His eyes were eternally curious- brimming with questions and ideas- but he exercised restraint and timing via his wit and word choice. I found that most remarkable. Once, while visiting his home, he stopped our conversation dead in its track to admire a hummingbird outside his dining room window feeding on a Hamelia Patens. Unlike me, Bill knew when to pause business and smell the roses. I could take a page from him on that."
Mark Kateli, Tarflower Chapter Treasurer and Assistant State Treasurer

Bill loved all nature,
courtesy of  David Partington
   "My introduction to Bill Partington was a phone call from him to write something for the Florida Native Plant Society newsletter, which was still in the embryo stage. The Florida Audubon Society's magazine, The Florida Naturalist, had published a few articles I had written about edible wild plants, and I guess he thought I might come up with something for this new organization.

     I wrote a short piece about the Sabal Palmetto that I called "The Aeolian Harp Tree" and took it over to him in Winter Park. I asked a question or two about the newsletter and found out that it didn't yet exist. So I volunteered to get it going and became the first editor of The Palmetto, a position I held for the next 15 years. 

    FNPS was organized in 1980 under the umbrella of the Environmental Information Center in Winter Park, of which Bill was the director. Bill remained the director of FNPS until 1986.

     Bill was full of good ideas and had good organizing skills. He organized the first conference at Rollins College, bringing in fine speakers from his many contacts. He encouraged chapter building and had each new chapter plan the next annual spring conference, then started having fall mini-conferences, too.

   As director of the Environmental Information Center, he also published Enfo, a newsletter of environmental concerns, and the Solar Coalition newsletter. He led environmental trips in Florida, to nearby states, and to Costa Rica (which my parents and my husband and I went on). I loved his Calamity Calendar, making fun of Florida's many mishaps to discourage new residents, and his bumper stickers that said, "Leaving Florida? Take a friend."

     His leadership gave the Florida Native Plant Society a good start in its first five years. When FNPS decided to "go it alone", Bill was given a life membership."
Peggy Lantz, Tarflower Chapter and first Palmetto editor

Bill and his wife, Eloise - courtesy of David Partington.