In and of itself, the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is a visual overload of greenery, flowers, and very large plants housed under a century and half old greenhouse glass. Different areas of the Conservatory have different climates and house suitable specimens – whether it is aquatic plants, highland or lowland tropics, or potted plants. Each visit is different for two main reasons. One, you probably missed seeing the plant the last time. Two, different plants are in bloom throughout the year.
While it is certainly exciting to take everything in, I am always searching for the tiny elements that provide alien textures. Here in this photograph is a leaf from a pitcher plant that captures prey with a tube (pitcher) containing a prey-trapping mechanism featuring a deep cavity filled with digestive fluid liquid. That in itself is morbid and fascinating, while the pitcher part is fantastically details. Yet for this photograph, my focus is on its scale-like leaves.
Shooting Notes: While the Conservatory is a greenhouse, the glass panes are painted with a white paint that creates an opaque barrier to filter the sunlight. This ultimately results in relatively low light and making hand-held photography a bit challenging. Tripods are not allowed in the Conservatory (while monopods are). So there are various approaches (sometimes not always successful) to capturing these plants while keeping shake and blurry pictures to a minimum. 1) Hope for a clear day where the sun shines bright. Sometimes that is enough extra light to make a good shot. 2) Bump up the ISO to 200 or 400 (higher if you must at the expense of increased grain). 3) Open up the lens to the highest f/stop (f/1.8 to f/3.5 for example). 4) Turn of your VR (vibration reduction) function.
All of these options may allow you to shoot at a quicker shutter speed, resulting in less shake and blurriness. Remember, in theory, we need a shutter speed inverse of the focal length for sharpness. Shooting at 50mm needs a shutter speed of 1/60 sec or faster. VR provide another stop or two of speed (1/30, 1/15 sec).
EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center-weighted metering mode, ISO200, 35mm (prime lens), f/4.5, 1/13 sec
San Francisco (CA), Pitcher Plant Leaf Detail, Water Drop. Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA. August 09, 2014. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.