A look at this year’s Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden
For those who enjoy photographing flowers during the cold Chicago winter, The Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden has an amazing display of eye candy to excite your senses. The greenhouses are warm and toasty and when you step into this tropical paradise, it promises to make you quickly forget it’s winter outside.
The show opens this Saturday, Feb. 13 and runs through Sunday, March 13. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Regenstein Hall, the galleries and greenhouses are all transformed into a magical and elaborate display of more than 10,000 orchids. The show promises to be more spectacular than ever this year, with many new features and displays and some new and stunning orchids.
I am once again honored to have my orchid images being featured in 40″ x 60″ panels lining the walls of Krehbiel Gallery on the way into the exhibition. The Garden commissioned me during the 2014 Orchid Show to produce these images. I have continued to produce images to be used for the banners, posters and magazine spreads that advertise the show.
Orchids are exotic and complex flowers and are what I consider to be the most difficult flowers to photograph. Indoor light can be challenging — glass greenhouses can have bright contrasty light and the inner rooms of the exhibit have limited light. In addition, orchids often grow in clusters or in close proximity to other orchids making them hard to isolate and eliminate distracting backgrounds. Below are a few tips on how to photograph the orchids in the exhibit.
In a public exhibit you don’t have the luxury of setting up a backdrop and moving orchids around but you can carry a small piece of mat board (black on one side, white on the other) and slip it behind an orchid to isolate it and provide a clean background. Orchids are very fragile flowers so only do this if it does not disturb the orchid or surrounding plants in any way.
Experiment with apertures. Higher apertures are necessary if you are trying to capture the details and inner structure of orchids in great detail. Using a tripod will help you shoot at those higher apertures. Tripods and monopods are allowed in the exhibit on Wednesdays, Noon to 4 p.m., but keep in mind that the exhibit can be crowded and pathways are narrow in certain areas. When I move in close with my macro lenses I am shooting at apertures as high as f/32 to get everything in focus. Turn on Live View and focus manually when on the tripod. Softer focus images shot at wider apertures are beautiful with orchids, as well. I will often shoot at lower apertures when I want a dreamy, soft background that eliminates distracting elements, or simply want to draw the eye to a soft ruffle of an orchid.
Move around to get your best background. Sometimes moving a fraction of an inch will eliminate a hot spot or distraction from your background. Simplifying your composition by moving in close will also eliminate difficult backgrounds and create an impactful image.
A flash, powered down and held off-camera, will help illuminate the flower and provide light in some of the exhibit rooms with limited light. My preference is using a macro ring light mounted on my macro lens. A ring light allows me to shoot handheld at higher apertures in less than ideal lighting conditions. It provides nice even lighting that appears natural, and I can control the amount of light and the direction of the light with the ring flash. Flash of any type will also help to darken your background to eliminate distracting elements and lessen your work in post-processing.
A diffuser will help soften the bright sunlight in the glass greenhouses and a reflector can help provide fill light to illuminate the deep inner structure of orchids.
Most of all, be patient and give yourself permission to play and practice. Orchid photography is not easy; it takes patience and lots of practice. After three years of photographing The Orchid Show and building a portfolio of several hundred images, I continue to learn and experiment in the way I photograph these magnificent blooms.
To order tickets online or find more information about the show and special events, please visit the Chicago Botanic Garden’s website at chicagobotanic.org.
To learn more about capturing the beauty of flowers, please come to my presentation at the Out of Chicago Summer Conference — “Macro Flower Photography — Learning to See and Capture the Beauty of Flowers.”