Most daylily hybridizers and enthusiasts already have a decent digital camera, and know how to use it properly. This article is not for those people. I'm writing mainly for those who are just starting out and who would appreciate a few tips in every day language. That's where I come in....because all I KNOW is everyday language. If you want technical jargon...you won't find much of that here. I don't do technical. And I write pretty much as I speak....(except not as colorful.)
Some of this article may will surely qualify as the blind leading the blind, as I have not been shooting digital all that long myself. My scribblings are designed to share with you some of what I've managed to learn, how I learned it, and how I attempt to apply it. This is also a glimpse into the fertile mind of a daylily-slash-camera fanatic.
Obviously, if you want good images of your daylilies the first thing you need to consider is your equipment. The rest relies on your own patience, talent, and your ability to comprehend a confusing manual that has been loosely translated from Japanese. Personally, I get a "D" in patience, a high "B" in talent, and camera manuals make my head spin. But if all else fails, I WILL resort to reading them.
My first digital camera was a little cheapo Kodak, designed to be easy enough for a first grader to master. And master it, I did! I LOVED that little camera, and I thought it took exceptional pictures. (which it did, for the price.)
Well, after a year of heavy use, it broke. I was devastated, and rushed to (Very Big Name Discount Department Store) to replace it. The replacement camera was also defective, so I tried another brand. The best thing I can say about the little Nikon CoolPix I chose is...it took pictures. It was the last time I bought a camera without researching it first, and the last time I purchased one at a Very Big Name Discount Department Store.
My husband took pity on me, (or thought I needed a challenge) and bought me a Canon S3 for my birthday. Now a Canon S3 is NOT an entry level point and shoot. It was a Super-zoom, dials all over, you'd-better-read-the-manual-or-you-will-fail, cuss-it-alot, MONSTER. For the first several weeks, I hated it. I swore at it daily and literally threatened to whack it with a hammer, but out of respect for Richard, I controlled the urge. And then, when all else failed....I broke down and read the damn manual.
The S3 had quite a 'learning curve', but once I learned what that little gem could do, I became a camera addict, and a collector. I added a new camera to my arsenal at least once a year, and am currently hooked on Sony for my super-zooms, and Fuji for my low-light pocket cameras. I poured over books, camera forums, and any internet articles I could find, trying to teach this old dog new tricks.
I learned to do my homework before buying a new camera. I haunt camera forums and wait until other photographers have already purchased the model I'm researching, read their comments, and look at the pictures they have taken. The only time I didn't listen to those who bought a'fore me was when I dropped $500 on the Sony H9. I had already fallen in love with it's predecessor, the H5, but the H9 had an articulating screen, and double the continuous speed, so I went for it....in spite of all the trash talk. I loved it. So much so, that when I had shot up about 30,000 images, (in less than a year), I bought a second copy to have as back-up, in case I wore the first one out.
In writing this article, I can't give any information on any camera I haven't used. It's up to each prospective buyer to go on-line and dig for facts about what cameras can really do what, which ones come highly recommended, and which ones to avoid. The worst thing you can do is just walk into a big chain retail electronics store, and allow the minimum wage teenager behind the counter to tell you what you need to buy. Know before you go. Decide what you want out of your photography. Do you just want adequate pictures to chronicle your daylily collection, do you want really nice images that you can impress your friends with, or do you dream of accomplishing the quality of National Geographic cover shots?
For those making a first purchase...there are basically three types of digital cameras. We have all three in our house, so here are my 'candid' thoughts about each.
1. The Itty-Bitty Point & Shoot POCKET CAMERA. This is the entry level digicam that is often no bigger than a deck of playing cards and usually has only a few bells and whistles. It's the easiest to use. That's why they call it a "point and shoot".
Some of these tiny cameras take AWESOME pictures, and while you may feel silly, whipping out that dinky thing while others around you have thousands of dollars hanging around their necks, there are a few great pros to wee little cameras.
A. Portability. You will never need a humongous camera bag on wheels to drag it around. All you will need is an empty pocket. And this may be too basic....but never shove it in the same pocket with your keys.
B. Ease of use. POINT....and SHOOT! You do have to 'half press' the shutter button to focus first, but that's not rocket science.
C. You can sneak them into places where big cameras are not even allowed.
D. The COST. You can find a decent pocket cam for as little as $100....just research the reviews and don't buy the cheapest thing you find.
E. They weigh NOTHING. No blinding headaches or aching necks from wearing what feels like an anvil on a string.
A. None of these small fry have much of a zoom. 3X, maybe 4X, and that ain't much. You can't sit in the back of a concert and get the sweat dripping of the drummer's nose. You'll need a camera with a lens as long as your arm, or a 15X to 24X "Bridge" camera for that.
B. Consequently, you have to get close to your subject to get a daylily bloom to fill the fram. To take macro pictures of daylilies, even after you set the camera to macro, you STILL have to bend your back in a double to get close enough to see the pistil.
(Obviously, sometimes you need to get in the same position with a big, fancy camera.)
2. The "Bridge" Camera I spoke of earlier. What's a "Bridge" camera you may ask? They are technically a High-end Point and Shoot, (aka "Prosumer" or "Bridge" camera, or "Super-Zoom), but you get a lot more goodies, more options to use manual controls, and in some cases, the ability to add lenses and filters. And that loooooong zoom.
This is a middle-of-the-road camera, best suited to those who have mastered the compact and want more, or who have tired of the cost and weight of the dSLR, and want less.
This is where I am. Right in the middle. And the pros and cons I will list here are my own personal reasons why.
A. The weight. For the most part, the dSLR weighs at least twice what a SuperZoom, aka Bridge Camera does. In some cases, MANY TIMES more. The Canon S3 uses 4 AA batteries, which adds to the weight, but it's still a featherweight compared to my friends' Sony A700 dSLR, or Richard's Nikon D40. If you suffer from back and neck problems, (which I do) it's much easier to have ONE pound hanging around your neck, than four or five. My Sony actually weighs about 12 ounces. With the battery.
B. That zoom, that zoom, that marvelous ZOOM! This may be the biggest, bestest feature of all. Most SuperZooms have between 10X and 24X, as of this writing. I don't know how much farther the manufactures can go, because there IS a down-side to too much zoom. It CAN degrade your image quality. The longer the zoom, the more likely this is. Adding more and more zoom without improving sensor size and adding weight is a concern, but here is where the manufacturers want to give the consumer a reason to upgrade.
One big up-side of the Super-Zoom is that I can get out twice as far with my 15X Sony H9 or H50 as my husband can with his Nikon D40 dSLR and an $800-18X200mm Nikkor lens, by just pushing a button....(which frustrates him to no end.) To zoom as far as I can, with my $400-$500 expenditures, he would have to spend thousands on a 400mm monster that would require a tripod to use.
C. There is no changing lenses as there is with a dSLR. Much less chance of getting dust on the sensor.
They are perfect for me, but people who want the image quality and versatility of a dSLR in a cheap, one-pound package have a lot of complaints.
A. Image quality. They are usually better than a pocket cam...IF you learn to shoot manually instead of in auto mode....but they can't compare with a really top-notch dSLR for clarity and the ability to enlarge to a sofa size print.
B. Cheaper made body. The light weight plastic makes them too flimsy for pro photographers.
C. Most do not have hot shoes, (thingy on top to attach an external flash to), and only a few will shoot in RAW. These are things that don't matter to me, and to get a good explanation of either you will need to research them... but serious photographers insist the Super Zooms without them are inferior.
3. The dSLR. These are the big guns. There is a huge variety of pro-quality cameras, with confusing model numbers like, A100, A200, A250, A300, etc., or D40, D50, D70, D80....D2000....you get the idea.
In many cases, when you buy a dSLR, you are buying only the body. The lenses are extra. Sometimes a LOT extra. Some dSLRs are sold in 'kits', with one or two 'kit' lenses. All dSLR manufacturers know that keeping the initial cost of the body down will net them the big bucks in the long run. The money is in the glass. (lenses) And newbies often succumb to the hype that they have to have a lens for every possible scenerio, so they buy a trunk full and in the end they wind up only using two or three of them. It's a very real syndrome called "LENS LUST".
If you decide to go whole hog into the dSLR scene, be sure you have two things....a strong back, and deep pockets.
A. Image quality. Image quality. Image quality.
C. You can LOOK like you know what you are doing, even if you don't.
That's actually all I can think of, but if you want the opportunity for true excellence in your photos, it's enough.
A. The weight. They come in heavy, heavier, or heaviest, expecially after adding a lens that weighs more than the camera.
B. The 'extras'. Like a big, rolling camera bag with a telescoping handle to hold all those lenses, and a very sturdy tripod to hold the weight of those lenses.
C. Stopping to change one of those expensive lenses while the rare bird you just spotted flies away, never to be seen again in your lifetime.
D. And having to pay to have the dust professionally cleaned off your sensor because it blew in there while you had that lens off.
E. Most dSLR models do not have "live preview" (yet). You can not look at your LCD screen to see what you are shooting, you HAVE to peer through that little view finder. For some people, this is the way they prefer it, so to them it is not a 'con'. And it does make you look like you know what you are doing.
F. And of course, the number one 'con'...the COST.
By now you are probably thinking...'when is she ever going to get back to photographing DAYLILIES?' I promise, I'm almost there.
But for that ingenue camera buyer, there are still a few things I'd like to touch on.
There is something the average camera buyer doesn't know about digital cameras that the camera manufacturers don't WANT you to know.
Serious camera people understand that BIGGER IS NOT BETTER WHEN YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT MEGAPIXELS except with dSLRs. That teenage salesmen, working on commission, wants you to think that 10 megapixels is better than 8mp, which is better than 6mp, blah...blah...yadda...yadda.
Well it's NOT. The more megapixels that are crammed into the tiny sensors that are necessary to keep the smaller camera's size and price down, the more the image quality (IQ) suffers. I've already admitted to being technically challenged, so I won't claim to be able to explain this in geek-speak, but it's a fact that the cameras of today have been over-loaded with more mega pixels with each generation, while the sensors stay roughly the same size. It stands to reason that something has to give. So what does this mean to Average-Joe Point & Shoot Camera Buyer in today's market? It means you are basically screwed on image quality. The best IQ went bye-bye with the 5mp and 6mp cameras, and will be seen no more. And why is that? Because the camera buying public has always swallowed the hype that bigger is better, that the large, economy size is cheaper, and the manufacturers will always give them what they think they want. We are in a 10 to 12mp age and only going UP. If a company came out with a 6mp camera NOW, very few people would buy it. It's all about marketing strategy.
Unfortunately, we just have to live with this situation until some innovative camera company takes the initiative to give the serious camera bugs what they REALLY want....a 12 ounce camera that looks like a dSLR, with proportionate megapixals to the sensor size, and a serious zoom. (We may inhabit the sun before that happens.)
To be as techical as I know how to be, once you get a sensor big enough to properly handle double digit megapixels, it follows that it will add weight that rivals the dSLR, and an increase in cost that does the same. If you are looking for a small digicam today, check into the smallest megapixel units you can find, do your research, read reviews, log onto those camera sites and forums I mentioned, such as http://www.dpreview.com/, and ASK QUESTIONS. Other camera fanatics are usually willing to help you find what's best for you. Don't just walk into the local 'BUY MORE' and let a clerk tell you what you want.
And there are always....RECONDITIONED CAMERAS...otherwise known as... REFURBS. (These are not dirty words!)
What does 'reconditioned' really mean? I asked that very question, and here's what I found out. EVERY camera that is returned to the manufacturer is gone over with a fine toothed comb, and is brought up to specs. This includes end of model year returns from the stores. These are units that have been sitting in their brand-new, factory sealed boxes, and never used. They still get tweaked, and are often better than brand new. Yes, you may also get a used camera, with a scratch or two, but it has still been returned to like-new on the inside. This is one option for saving money, and possibly finding a good, older model camera that isn't bogged down with too many megapixels. There are reputable companies that sell refurbished cams on the internet. There are many MORE that are NOT so reputable, so to help you ferret out all the dirt on the scam artists.....I've included a link to help your research. When checking out any website selling new or used electronics, go to this site and see what others have to say about that company first:
I've purchased several refurbished cameras, and have had nothing but good experiences.
If refurbs are not for you, and you must have new....once you have decided what you want, here's another bit of good advice. Find a seller who will let you return the camera for full refund if it's defective, (or at least replace it with one of like value). Don't buy where you are going to have to cough up a 're-stocking fee' or where they insist you return defectives to the manufacturer.
Until you know you like the camera, purchase only ONE digital memory card. Different brands use different cards.
Once you are happy with your camera, get extra digital film, and at least one extra battery.
ONCE YOU START VIEWING YOUR IMAGES ON YOUR COMPUTER......
NEVER trust what you see on your computer monitor. None of my pictures look as good there as they do when they are printed. Don't go too cheap on the printing, but DO take some to a professional and see how they actually look before condemning your camera.
All cameras, monitors, printers, computers, and processing equipment are CALIBRATED. And no two are ever calibrated the same. This is what makes my pictures all look clearer, but redder, on my husband's monitor than they do on mine.
If your images look "off" on your monitor, or don't please you once they are printed....it may not be the camera. If calibration isn't the culprit, that only leaves one other possibiltiy. Get that manual out again and see if it's YOU. Some experts say that a $100 camera can get images just as good as a $5000 pro outfit, IF the photographer has sufficient skill.
Now....let's go shoot some DAYLILIES!! (finally!)
WHEN should you shoot daylilies? Most people already know the answer, but for the newbie....here's the Cardinal Rule. You want to be outside shooting daylilies much earlier than you want to be out of bed. Catch them before the sun hits them hard, between 6:30am and 8am is best. Once the sun is blazing down on them, you may need to shade them somehow to keep direct sun from 'blowing out' parts of your image. In other words, you will see spaces on your flowers that have no detail, only a distracting white or light spot from the sun's reflection.
IS THAT DAYLILY REALLY THAT COLOR???
Probably not. This is an area where I can offer little help. How many times have you looked at a picture of a daylily, and when you saw it 'in person', the color was quite different? It can't really be perfect with digital photography. To get an accurate depiction of the color of any flower, the best way is with slide photography and a 35mm camera. But we are in the digital age, so what do we do to get those colors correct? PhotoShop? That may not be as off-base as it sounds, because someone adept at post processing CAN adjust colors to make them more true to life. We shouldn't have to resort to that, but cameras aren't always color correct. My husband's Nikon dSLR tends to take anything with a red or purple cast, and make it redder, (and the shot above is from his Nikon). My Sony gets pretty close in morning light, but falls short in full sun. And lighting can make vast differences in the tone and hue of our pictures. For an example, visit THIS PAGE. It's a link with three shots of the same daylily, taken at three different times of the day. And it almost looks like three different varieties. The best we can hope for is to take several shots, using different lighting, modes and exposures, and choose the one that most looks like the flower in question.
GET CREATIVE. A single daylily bloom can make a very attractive picture, but be aware of the surroundings. Is the background distracting? Cluttered? Downright ugly. That's where artistic license comes in. If there is no way to unclutter the background, get in as close as you can, and crop off the part that detracts from the shot later. Check to see if a different angle would get a more pleasing shot before pressing the shutter.
Get in close. The pistils and stamens of daylilies can make cool macro shots. If you look closely at the shot of Kent's Favorite Two (above) you can see that the focus was on the anthers of the bloom on the left...and that bloom is clearer than the bloom on the right. This was done by spot focusing and moving the camera to the left while holding the shutter button in place. (More about this later.)
Sometimes getting close reveals photo ops you didn't expect. A lot of cool critters like to hide in or rest on daylily blooms. (I thought this was a really pretty moth until I found out it is the mother of all those tent caterpillars that are eating our Shademaster Locust!!)
My all-time favorite insect. This young praying mantis sure stands out against this deep purple daylily.
Getting farther back has it's advantages too....IF the surrounding companion plantings can become an integral part of the shot. Composition is the key.
If your camera has spot focus, try it out. You can zero in on one bloom, make it the center of attention, and the rest of the back ground will blur....sometimes into nothing more than soft colors and shapes. This is called "Bokah" in photography circles, and the better you can get at it, the more appealing your images will be. (This is what I was referring to when illustrating the two red blooms above.)
My camera is almost always set to spot focus when I'm shooting in my gardens.
Gheck out these two shots. In the first one, I used spot focus to make the point of interest the daylilies, (Custard Candy) and the Coleus is deliberately blurred. The second shot is the same view, but the Coleus in front is the main focus, and the daylilies are softened in the background.
To Tripod or not to Tripod? Let's slip this subject in for a minute...then we'll go back to being creative. Some photographers advocate using a tripod for everything, and if you are shooting with a big, heavy camera and lens, you may have no choice. When you are shooting portraits, or static subject matter while indoors in low light, a good tripod is a must. But I'm shooting daylilies on a hillside... I don't have the time, patience, or strength in my back to fiddle with a tripod, and did not use one on any of these shots.
90% of our daylilies grow on uneven grades. For me, using a tripod would require adjusting all three legs to different lengths in order to get the camera level....for each shot. After a few shots, I'd lose that good morning light. A monopod is a better choice, but using one makes me nervous. It still has to be adjusted often, and my fear is dropping it and whacking my camera on a rock. I much prefer keeping my camera hanging around my neck.
Here are a few work-arounds to help get good shots withOUT the aid of a tripod. Hold your elbows in close to your body. Hold your breath while you squeeze the shutter. "Twist" your camera....in other words, push the right side of your camera forward, while pulling back on the left side. It helps to steady the camera. Don't zoom out any farther than you have to in order to get the shot you want. The longer the zoom, the more weight at the end of the lens, and the harder it is to hold it still. And my very favorite...being the lazy person that I am...sit on a portable garden stool, put your elbows on your knees, and do all the above.
Shoot a LOT of shots. Don't just take one shot and move on to the next flower. If you do...when you check your images later you may find they aren't what you wanted, but by then your good light might be gone.
Let's get back into creative mode, and look at some more examples. Don't be afraid to try different angles, modes, shutter speeds, and exposures of the same flower. In the shot shown below (Strawberry Fields Forever), once again I used spot focus, framed the flowers in the center of the shot, half-pressed to focus on them, and then moved my camera to the right while holding down the shutter, and RE-POSITIONED the frame to include the background foliage. (Coleous-"Freckles".)
When shooting in a seedling bed, the background is often unappealling. Sometimes this can be overcome by getting at an angle where the only background you see is another seedling....as in the shot below. I like this because of the composition, and the color combination.
I used the same principle below, and managed to add a little Lady In Red Salvia for more visual interest. The front flower is Beauty Of The King, the one in the back is Just A Tease.
Play around with the available light. The shot below is back-lit by the sun and the light seems to go through the petals. I also made sure to include the surrounding flowers again. The daylily is Memory Jordan's 2008 intro....My Friend Anna.
And while we are talking about CREATIVITY....who says you can't add a little 'whimsey'. At one time I thought about creating a very unique Daylily Calendar....but I've only managed to get a few 'months' finished. This is, of course...April.
Another way I sometimes get 'creative' is not a new idea. A lot of daylily photographers do it. If I want a good shot of a bloom, and the background is just beyond help by angles or cropping, I will sometimes remove the bloom and place it in a more appealing location. This seedling (below) was plucked and placed on a Hosta. To make it look even better, I used my post processing program to 'clone' out the snail holes in the Hosta leaves.
Another reason for removing the blooms and placing them elsewhere for the shot would be for comparison purposes....as with this mother and child shot.
The shot above is one of Richard's, taken of a sibling to the one nestled in the Hosta. This shot is a good example of filling the frame to get rid of unwanted background. But this was done partly by cropping. Don't be afraid to get really close, but by the same token, don't always get so close you have no room to creatively crop. And don't think that cropping off part of a bloom is going to ruin your picture. Sometimes it adds more than it takes away.
Sometimes a daylily doesn't even have to be open to make an impressive shot. I got the one above while waiting for String Bikini to burst open.
If your camera has a continuous mode, set it there, and fire away. Make sure you have your focus locked and take several shots. Sure, that means a lot of editing and deleting later, but if you get that one exceptional shot, it's worth the time and effort. It all depends on how badly you want to show off really good pictures. All this work is not for everyone.
Macro mode...I've never owned a digital camera without it. On many cameras you can leave it on and it makes no difference whether you are shooting up close, or into infinity. Some cameras stay in macro after you turn them off, and are still set up that way when you turn them back on. I like that. It's convenient. I have a pocket cam that has to be RE-set to macro every time I start it up. Bummer. I lose a lot of time wondering why the darn thing won't focus. If you are trying to get a macro shot, and can't get that tell-tale 'beep' that says your focus is locked on...check to see if your macro is engaged. If not, you can't shoot macro shots.
Identification in the field. Not always so easy...and I tend to get lazy after awhile and just shoot in all directions. Consequently, I will have no idea what those lilies are later when I'm ready to file them. Richard is more organized in that department, and I will try harder to follow his lead next year. (Yeah...THAT'S gonna happen.) He has a small dry erase board that he carries into the seedling beds. He writes the cross number on it and shoots that before shooting a seedling. Or...if we can see it for the weeds, we do have markers in front of each seedling with it's number.
Daylilies are not a static subject. The slightest breath of air will move them, and when you are shooting, a minor shift can throw off your focus and ruin your pictures. Shooting in continuous mode can up the odds of getting at least one shot in focus, but be sure to try to lock on first.
Once I graduated past auto mode, I never went back. Auto mode will NEVER...repeat, NEVER give you the image quality that you can get if you master manual mode. This requires that you change the exposure and shutter speed by hand, instead of letting the camera choose what it thinks is right, (and is most often wrong.) This also means you may have to make these adjustments with every shot. A small change in direction will mean a big change in how much light your camera's sensor needs to get a decent picture, and you have to figure out what that means. No one can really tell you this...you have to learn it by trial and error...and...I can't say this enough....by reading the dreaded manual!
Filing the images: MY method.
My method is not exactly orthodox. There are many ways, and many helpful programs to aid in filing and storing digital images...but this is how I do it.
I have a large capacity digital film card (Memory Stick) that I use for my daylily shots. Sure, I get side-tracked, and shoot the cat, Richard, the other flowers, whatever gets in my line of fire....but for the most part, this card/stick is for one purpose.
I TRY to make sure I have THAT card in the camera when I sleepily traipse out to the garden each morning. More often than not, I leave it in the computer and the battery is dead, and have to go back after both, but I eventually get it together. Next summer I am going to put a BIG sign on the inside of the door...reminding me to prepare my camera for action.
"STOP!! IS THE CARD IN THE CAMERA? IS YOUR BATTERY FULL?"
Once I'm done with a morning shoot, I review the images on the computer, and delete all the screw ups. I also try to cut the number of shots of any one variety down to the one or two best ones. As I go along I pick out the shots I want to print, make sure they are pre-cropped to the size print I want, and file them accordingly. I use my fairly simple post processing program to put the name and/or seedling number on each image. (See image below) This way I don't have to write on the backs of them later, and take them out of the album to see what the heck they are.
Before they closed their nearby location, we used Cord Camera for our prints. If anyone has a Cord close by, I highly recommend the quality of their prints, and the friendly service.
The shots I want to keep, but not print, are also filed, and a back up copy of that file is put on my external hard drive. I also file the images straight off the card. These images are originals, not copies, and will retain their clarity. Every time you open an image and work on it, you degrade the quality, so always keep your 'negatives' to go back to if need be.
Once I've got my filing complete for the day, if I have something else I want to shoot, I remove the 'daylily card' and replace it with another one. I try to remember not to shoot a trip to the zoo, or a dog show with the same card. It isn't life or death, it's just my way of keeping organized. At the end of the season I make sure I have at least two back ups, (one of them a disc) and re-format the card. Then I do stuff like writing this article to keep myself busy until the next year's seedlings start blooming.
Our daylilies are one of our passions, photography (obviously) is another. How perfect is it that we can use either one to enjoy the other. I hope I've made this article fun and informative. Now, go shoot something!
Possible future intro: mini-diploid mini we call "Waiting For Mr. Wright"
Note: This page is under construction and may not have been proofed for errors. If any glaring mistakes are found, please contact me.