Episode 76: how to take great photos of your houseplants

Light, framing and focus are all vital components of a good picture. Photograph by  Jacqui Hurst .

Light, framing and focus are all vital components of a good picture. Photograph by Jacqui Hurst.

Whether you’re keeping records of houseplants’ growth or showing them off on social media, taking photographs indoors can be tricky. I speak to three plant photographers to find out their top tips on lighting, framing and focusing your shot - and learn about some simple, inexpensive pieces of kit that can help you up your game. Plus - I answer a question about a Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’ that’s letting its name down by being anything but pink. My guests this week are:

Stapelia gigantea   . Photograph: Filipa Domingues of  @checkmyplants .

Stapelia gigantea. Photograph: Filipa Domingues of @checkmyplants.

  • Jacqui Hurst, British photographer of plants and gardens who runs workshops on technique and visual composition.

  • Filipa Dominguez, a film producer from Cape Town, South Africa who’s creator of Instagram account @checkmyplants. All her photographs of cacti and succulents are taken with natural light only, with an iPhone.

  • Marzena Wolowicz, a Polish plant photographer based in Vienna, Austria and the owner of Instagram account @folia_folia. She loves taking photographs of lush foliage and greenhouse interiors.

Tips from the experts

Here are some tips from our trio of photographers on how to improve your shots:

A reflector is easy enough to make using three pieces of card or foam board taped together - or you can buy one from a photographic shop. You can then use this to support coloured backgrounds. Photograph:  Jacqui Hurst .

A reflector is easy enough to make using three pieces of card or foam board taped together - or you can buy one from a photographic shop. You can then use this to support coloured backgrounds. Photograph: Jacqui Hurst.

Filipa Dominguez  with some of her plants.

Filipa Dominguez with some of her plants.

Photograph: Marzena Wolowicz of  @folia_folia .

Photograph: Marzena Wolowicz of @folia_folia.

  • Jacqui recommends running your eye around the edge of the frame just before you take a shot to make sure there’s no distracting clutter in shot.

  • Photographing plants indoors can be tricky because of low light levels: Marzena suggests moving your subjects nearer to a window or bringing them out onto a balcony or other outside space (weather allowing).

  • Direct sunlight can be too harsh for photographing plants, so take care that you don’t create too many shadows. Filipa photographs all her plants against a black background.

  • Jacqui suggests making a reflector out of white foam board (see the picture below for details) to help bounce light around. You can use a mirror but be careful to avoid reflections, or dropping the mirror.

  • A tripod will help to reduce camera shake, particularly at low shutter speeds. A Gorillapod is a good choice for tabletop shooting.

  • It’s easy to simply copy the ‘minimalist white room’ look that’s so prevalent on Instagram but not all of us have that kind of home! Instead, try to let your own home and personality shine through your shots.

  • Camera menus can be confusing, but if you get stuck you can always half press the shutter button to get your camera back into shooting mode, advises Jacqui.

  • Want suggestions on what camera to buy? Here’s James Wong’s Twitter thread on cameras for photographing houseplants.

Hoodia gordonii,      commonly known as bushman's hat .  Photograph:  Filipa Domingues .

Hoodia gordonii, commonly known as bushman's hat. Photograph: Filipa Domingues.

Question of the week

Mary’s Philodendron erubescens ‘Pink Princess’ is letting the side down by being distinctly non-pink. It seems this is a common problem with this variety of blushing philodendron, with Costa Farms’ Justin Hancock reporting one in five seedlings reverting to plain green.

A reverted Philodendron 'Pink Princess’ on sale at Logees (but out of stock at time of publication). Take a look at their  non-reverted ‘Pink Princess’  for comparison purposes.

A reverted Philodendron 'Pink Princess’ on sale at Logees (but out of stock at time of publication). Take a look at their non-reverted ‘Pink Princess’ for comparison purposes.

This is clearly a widespread problem with this plant: Google it and you’ll find reverted specimens on sale from various sellers, including US nursery Logees.

It helps to understand what’s going on in the leaves of a variegated plant such as this: it’s called chimeral variegation where two sets of genes are battling it out in a single leaf: one has chlorophyll, the other doesn’t. (Pistils nursery’s piece on variegation and its causes is a useful resource here.)

If your plant has reverted, try cutting back the plain green foliage to encourage new, variegated growth, but you may find you have to put up with a lack of pink.

Want to ask me a question? Tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com.

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Credits

This week's show featured Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops and Overthrown by Josh Woodward, both licensed under Creative Commons.