Floral Photography with Panel backlight


I'm retired and living in Northamptonshire, so plenty of time for photography.
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Floral Photography with Panel backlight

10 Jun 2022 9:21AM   Views : 387 Unique : 240


'Wild Poppies 2'
I’ve been posting images of flowers and other macro subjects over the last few weeks, which have generated quite a bit of interest and UA's.. I’ll give a few examples in this blog post. In many ways these images don’t look like photographs, more like ‘hyper real’ watercolours or engravings. They look at their best when printed on heavy weight matte paper, which further enhances the water colour feel to the images. I’ve been using Pinnacle Cotton Rag 310 which has a slightly warm, but smooth surface for these. Viewers can hardly believe these are actually photographs!

John (Duder), who has been a constant source of encouragement for me, suggested I write a blog on the method I’d developed. Key to this is the balance of backlight and front light, so I can have softness in the image, transparency of the petals and leaves, with a very flat, white background.

We all believe that ‘Photographic’ lights are expensive, don’t we? But, with a bit of luck and adaption, they needn’t be. For the backlight and image support, I’m using an LED ceiling panel light. These can be bought for as little as £20, for a 600mm square panel. If you select carefully, these are very even in the light output, and can be bought with cool or warm light.

For small subjects, I have a panel cut down (disassembled, cut and reassembled) to 300 mm square, so it fits neatly under my copy stand. To do this you have to cut and solder the LED strips, which takes a bit of courage, so maybe a better solution is to buy a panel of a size you can manage. The LED panels all run off mains voltage, with a small transformer you normally hide behind the panel when installing them in a ceiling. The LED strips in the panel run from lower voltage DC, and are dimmable if you use a variable power supply rather than the supplied transformer. This is how I run my small panel which fits under the copy stand.

This shows the general arrangement for the panel under the copy stand. With just top light, the subjects all throw shadows, which you can see on the shot below:

With the panel lit, the shadows magically disappear! This is what we need for the uniform white background.

Recently I’ve splashed out on a new 600mm square panel, which has both brightness and colour temperature adjustability. Its is superbly uniform and bright, but was considerably more expensive than the simple panels. The panel is a Ledvance Planon Plus, from Lyco. This is great for larger compositions, when it can be placed on the floor and the camera tripod mounted, as shown below. For small subjects I’ll have to find a way of mounting it under the copy stand.

The panel provides the backlight and conventional lights the front lighting. Nothing exotic or expensive, just use what you have. You can adjust the colour temperature in Lightroom to taste and to match the back light.

As everything is static in the set up you can use image focus stacking where necessary – ie if the subject has substantial depth or won’t lie flat. It works really well if you can use tethered shooting, so you can see the composition on your large screen, and test focus to see if stacking is needed. There are lots of ways to do this – I use the Canon utility which connects to my EOS R by wifi. With this you can really work on the ‘micro composition’ ie are the stems together, is the spacing right, are there any defects etc. There is no real hurry – the flowers will take a good few minutes to wilt.

For small subjects, I have been using 4 or 5 images in a stack. For larger, flat subjects it might not be needed, or only 2 or 3 images. Try and keep aperture at or wider than f/11 so there is minimal diffraction blurring. Always use RAW capture at the highest resolution and use manual for all the camera settings..

Below is an image captured before processing. As the subject is against a white background, it is best to set a stop or two of increased exposure compensation. Don’t blow out the background though, as you need some tone in it for setting the white balance. This is one of only two for the focus stack.

First task after importing the files in LR is to stack the images. I use ‘open as layers in photoshop’ from the photo menu/edit in.. , then, when the images have loaded in PS, select them all, choose ‘auto align’ layers from the edit menu, then ‘auto blend – stack images’. Check the result, flatten, save and it will open up again in LR as a .tif file.

Next job is the white balance. Use the eye dropper to sample the background to give the neutral white. You can adjust to taste using the colour temperature slider. The result is shown below.

The image will now need a bit of exposure adjustment – I find that it works very well if you slightly overdo the exposure, then pull it back with the clarity slider, but try it yourself and experiment. If you didn’t have quite enough front light, you can select subject on LR and increase its overall exposure, or use local brush adjustments as necessary. Your image should now be looking quite interesting, getting close to the final result.

Now make any further adjustments to local brightness, colour, vibrance etc. Remove dust spots or any defects in the petals, leaves etc.

These images seem to look better with stems that fade out towards the bottom of the picture. I use the graduated mask too to increase exposure and reduce saturation towards the edge. Another aspect is a border; as the images have white backgrounds they benefit from a stroke border. I prefer to do this in PS – open the image in PS from LR, select the image and select stroke. Depending on the image I prefer about 4pixels, with a colour selected from the image – such as a stem or dark area of the petal.

I like to print these on heavy matte paper – such as Cotton Rag or Cold Press Natural – the colours take on a beautiful subdued pastel warmth and as there are little areas of deep black the high Dmax of lustre or more glossy paper isn’t missed. The paper makes the images look even more like paintings, and less like photographs! Good result! I also print these on pre folded Cotton Rag greetings cards – always very popular with friends or at Art shows.

I hope you have enjoyed the images and reading about how I realised them. It was just a case of having an idea of what I wanted them to look like and experimenting. The backlighting panel is very useful, even as a diffused source for portraits, still life etc! Let me know if you try this or have any questions on the materials or process. Thanks for reading and (hopefully) commenting!

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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
10 Jun 2022 10:12AM
Thank you, Andy - that's REALLY helpful. And, coincidentally, it solves a completely different lighting problem I've been wrestling with.
flowerpower59 Avatar
10 Jun 2022 11:00AM
They are beautiful images and well worth the effort. Thanks for the script which is very useful.
dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
11 Jun 2022 9:39AM
Very interesting Andy.
While I'd figured the principle it's very useful to read your explanaion and details as it's those that are essential for a successful result.
badgerwil70 Avatar
11 Jun 2022 10:40AM
Very interesting and informative Andy thank you.
Have been looking forward to your blog which has given me a few ideas !


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