March 24, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Houseplants: Nature Photography, Indoors

The pandemic has presented many challenges for landscape photographers, but in a challenge there is always opportunity. In a year of being home, I finally decided to explore photographing some of the many (many!) plants in our house. It's something that I've thought about often, since we do love our plants (over a hundred of them), but it was always somewhat intimidating. It may be easy to take a picture of a house plant, but taking a good picture, something original and worth sharing, seemed daunting. A clear barrier was that I sold my full frame macro lens a long time ago. I bought one towards the beginning of my photography journey, when I was trying everything out. I ended up not using it much, and got rid of it.

So, I worked with what I had: I started by photographing plants that had enough foliage to fill the frame using my Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS USM lens. I've always loved our monstera plants, but our monstera deliciosa leaves were simply too big to frame without a distracting background. The monstera adansonii, however, proved to be a perfect subject. Using off-camera flash, I illuminated the newest emerging leaf, separating it from the others to achieve the image below. Three external flash units were used, two with large soft diffusers, and one with a flash grid to concentrate the light on the standout leaf. 

AdansoniiAdansoniiAn illuminated new leaf emerging from a Monstera Adansonii plant.

A somewhat less obvious subject was our purple-leaf shamrock. It's not a big plant, but it happened to be blooming, and the foliage was dense enough that I was able to fill the frame, once again placing attention on one element (in this case the flower) that stands out from the background. This image was also illuminated with off-camera flash, in a similar configuration to the image above. 

Oxalis BloomOxalis BloomAn Oxalis triangularis blooming. Captured during COVID-19 quarantine. I then grabbed one of our big pileas... This was an obvious choice, since we have a pilea problem, they keep multiplying and we cannot give them away fast enough! This means we have some big ones, including the original mama plant that started it all. It took a lot of time to carefully place the leaves in a way that filled the frame without damaging the plant, using small stakes and strings. The lighting here was different, using a small reflector on the flash unit behind the plant, to achieve a strong backlit effect. 

Leaf CollageLeaf CollagePilea leaves create a beautiful, back-illuminated collage. Recently, I reached for the macro lens that I do own... An EF-M wide-angle lens that we use on our EOS M5 camera, mostly during trips. The EF-M28 f/3.5 MACRO IS STM is a wonderful little lens with a built-in mini ring light. I've used it to capture the few macro shots that I've shared before, but the wide angle makes it challenging for indoor use. It's hard to eliminate distractions, and you really have to get in very close to your subject, which creates a lot of perspective and depth of field issues. For the image below, I put the lens basically inside of our very small and blooming african violet. Because of the proximity, this image required many more focus stacking frames than the ones above. But look at that tiny landscape of lines and colors underneath the leaves!

Velvet VioletVelvet VioletA little african violet reveals its rainbow of colors when illuminated. Looking Forward: New Lens Coming!

I have now ordered a macro lens for my full frame camera (a Canon EF 100 f/2.8L MACRO IS USM, arriving any moment now!), and hope this will once again open creative possibilities that I had decided not to explore in the past. It's fair to say that the pandemic has rekindled my interest in this type of photography, and I look forward to seeing what I can do with my new toy. 

Technical Information

All these images required focus stacking and used three off-camera flash units for lighting. A variety of flash modifiers were used, including an umbrella, a soft box, a mini soft box, a bouncer, and a small grid. If you have questions, please comment below or send me an email. I am considering writing a more in-depth article on the technical side of these images, either here or on the Slow Photography Movement website. If you'd be interested in reading this, let me know. Otherwise, I will still do a "Part 2" for this entry (it could be in a month, or in a year), to share some images captured with the new lens. 

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