A Day with Heather Angel

12th March 2020

Heather Angel is one of the great wildlife photographers with a wonderful portfolio of images; she is a constant traveller, especially to China and the mountains of Sichuan, as well as a prolific nature writer.

I had a day (thanks to a brilliant birthday present) with Heather learning how to photograph plants close up, both outside and in the studio; in so doing, I learned a lot about plants and their insect pollinators (a current project) and also how to better use the controls on my camera.

On a mad March day, we dodge the downpours and enjoy the clear bright sunshine when long gaps in the cloud appear. The garden is full of flowers from across the temperate world and bulbs and other early flowering species are out, braving the wet, cold Spring.

The first lesson was how reflected light (the foiled backing card from a packet of smoked salmon works very well), evens up the tones on brightly coloured flowers in sharp sunlight.

I am shown how the grape hyacinth signals to insects by displaying the white rim on the flowers where nectar is present; the others are either coming out or going over.

Indoors, and plants are put in a light tent or against a pale blue polypropylene sheet backdrop (from a local art shop); and black velvet is used to set off a flower to create a strikingly lit image. The last set up is a dead leaf on a light box. Each shot requires the tripod to be positioned, the lighting is added and experimented with and the camera settings adjusted. We worked out how to focus stack on my camera and Heather showed me the kit to do it properly. Sometimes a plamp is used to hold a flower in place or to hold foliage back. The studio is filled with tripods, lights – some flexible and one extendable like a telescope, light tent, clamps, plamps and every type of florist’s flower holder. Plants in a multitude of pots come and go or selected flowers are picked and clamped.

Even a New Zealand Pāua shell (often used in jewellery) gets the light tent treatment.

It is intense but endlessly instructive and the day passes in a blink. I’m not saying that the final results are world beating; but the day helped develop the tools to one day perhaps enable the capture of a truly great image; and it was simply, great fun to learn from a generous professional who effortlessly combines brilliant technique with creative flair.

Published by Steve Parr

Professional ecologist and amateur photographer. Love to travel and explore.

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