Photographing Orchids in 2023
Time to read 3 min
Time to read 3 min
To date, I care for a few hundred orchids and many more hundreds of carnivorous plants. In this post I want to jot down a bit about my journey, the society I joined, and how I photograph orchids in an open room without light control
I’ve been growing orchids since around about 2015, starting with a few common Phalaenopsis purchased from a grocery store or donated to me. My collection grew to a dozen or so and I decided to build a large terrarium to help keep them warm, humid, and watered. To fill out this new setup, I found myself at a real orchid shop picking out more exotic species and hybrids.
It was around then I became more aware of just how many varieties there are. In nature, around 30,000 species grow in areas where the plants have adapted for millions of years. Those species have been grouped into 800 or so genus based on their traits and event smaller groups called sections. Humans and other animals have expanded the unique varieties to120,000 by cross-pollinating similar plants mainly within the same genus and sometimes cross-genus which are called hybrids.
At the orchid shop, I purchased mostly orchids that have similar temperature, light, watering, rest, and fertilizer requirements that were all mostly compact as to not grow out of the 24” tall terrarium. These included several Paphiopedilums (one to some blooms with pouches), compact Oncidiums like “Twinkles” which have many small, fragrant blooms along a flower spike. Most Oncidiums are rather large with branching flower spikes several feet long hosting dozens of flowers. I also added Bulbophyllums which produce very funky blooms that often smell like garbage or excrement to attract their main pollinators, flies. To round it all out, I picked up a bunch of cork bark, mosses, and ferns.
However, the real boost to my collection came when I joined the Northwest Orchid Society and learned from their expert members. Many of them are quite generous with information and donations of plant divisions. So, while my goal with the terrarium was to simplify, I somehow, over the several years as a member, I added several hundred new orchids to my collection which lived outside my terrarium on large racks in my office closet. Yes, it can be an addiction!
Not too long after joining the society, I took over as the main photographer of the orchids brought in to our monthly meetings by members. These are largely well-grown plants that grow in regulated greenhouses and are quite impressive. I usually arrive a bit early and take some time to get the angles and lighting just right.
For the first year, I used my Nikon D750 with the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro lens to get in close to the blooms while magnifying the background into a blurry motif. To light them, I used the Nikon SB-910 mounted atop the camera usually pointed at the ceiling and wall to soften the light.
More recently, I started using the new Nikon Z8 mirrorless camera with the same lens. The lighting is now off-camera on a stand firing into a portable softbox with front grids to avoid light spill. The flash is sitting on a Pocketwizard TT5 wireless transceiver which allows me to use either High Speed Sync or Pocketwizards “Hypersync”. The former lets me use shutter speeds well beyond the physical shutter limit of the camera, typically 1/200 or 1/250 of a second, by strobing the flash. The Hypersync method uses full power flashes that sync the shutter to the flash pop. Using full power extends the flash duration so the whole image is illuminated as the curtains fly down the sensor’s face.
Camera: Nikon D750, Nikon Z 8
Lens: Nikon 105mm F/2.8 macro
Light: Nikon SB-910
Modifier: Gridded softbox on stand
Triggers: Pocketwizard TT5
I'd love to hear your special way of photographing flowers! Thanks for reading! -Sean