Having taken thousands of photos of African Violets and Gesneriads, I have fine-tuned a method of photography for them. In reality, this approach can also be used for almost any kind of small plant photography, and for many types of other small still-life photography such as jewelry, machine parts, you name it. In this article I will demonstrate using African Violets as the subjects using a simple backdrop set up and on-camera flash.
Materials /Gear Used
• Black cloth for backdrop
• A home made setup using any low profile art work case, such as the Mezzi line of cases Canon 7D
• Canon Speedlite 580EX E-TTL Flash or 580EXII Tamron AF 18-270 f/3.5-6.3 Macro len
• Black/White/Gray card
For a variety of reasons, transporting show plants to your studio is usually ill-advised. The tips in this article are aimed at photographing the plants at a show site or a remote location.
The first consideration is the background. No need to worry about shadows on the background (which can be a huge problem) if you use a black crushed velvet cloth on a right angle Portable Studio in a suitcase. For bringing a portable “suitcase studio”, buy any oversized attach case and drape the black cloth over it. Choose one that has a low profile, not necessarily an actual suitcase, to allow the cloth to lay flat. Mezzi makes a nice line of oversized cases. The Mezzi 36″ Art Work Portfolio Aluminum Case will handle very large plants with ease. Choose a case that fits your needs. The trick is to lay the cloth on it smoothly to avoid ripples that can reflect light. Instead of crushed velvet a very black cloth will also work well. Pick a cloth that doesn’t reflect light when folded. Another reason to choose black is to avoid the crease you will get where it is folded at a 90 degree angle.
I always place the plant on the cloth with the “good” side facing the front. The good side is when either the flowers are facing you (or most of the flowers) or the plant symmetry is best at a particular angle. With African Violets, you can move the blossoms to some degree, but be careful to not break them off of the plant. Move them carefully towards the center to give them a “bouquet” look, or at least in a symmetrical pattern. When I photograph at a show, they are usually already in perfect form.