Staying Creative at Home During COVID-19


As you probably know, I’m really into floral photography.  I mean, really, really into it, like traveling three or more hours one way to visit fields of ranunculus and photograph them for a few hours before heading back on the long trip home.  My typical approach to finding and photographing my subjects is to go to a park, a public garden, or even just a walk around my neighborhood.  I typically have to deal with sun and wind, for example, and how to create a creamy, lovely background out of unruly, unattractive weeds and such to focus on the beauty of the flower.  

With visits to parks and gardens off limits now, I was motivated to experiment with new techniques—specifically shooting floral portraits against a black background that I could do in the house.  I had seen this technique demonstrated, but truthfully there was a lot of work involved with creating the backdrop needed (really a black box), using automated focus stacking for increased sharpness, and figuring out the lighting.   

Well, as you can imagine, since I have been cooped up at home for more than a month now, the time to do this was suddenly available.  Once I collected the minimum supplies required, I was ready to build version 1.0 of the black box.  While version 1.0 is functional, there are some enhancements needed.  I’ll share the results of the new and improved version soon. 

The key to this technique is to create a dark pitch-black environment.  What I needed was a totally black box that is only open on one side.  To create a large enough “box,” I used large 40x30” pieces of black foam core that I cut in half or scored.  Version 1 has some light leak challenges that I am hoping to resolve with the next iteration.

Second, the ideal lighting is natural light, which for me, is a no-go since my windows are all east facing.  Instead, I was able to use a combination of overhead light from my dining room and supplemented with an LED panel.  The one that I use is from Lume Cube.  Another requirement is the use of lighting modifiers to control light and shadow.  I used a combination of a diffuser and a piece of black Bristol paper. 

Once all of this was in place, it was time to get ready for my first shot.  I currently use a Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera, and for these shots, I’m using a Sigma 105 mm macro lens.  To ensure the blackest of blacks, I am underexposing by two full stops.  To maximize sharpness, I am using an ISO of 100 at F16, and I’m taking advantage of the Z6’s automated focus stacking capabilities.  If you are not familiar with the concept of focus stacking, you are taking multiple images (in this case nine), all with different focus points.  I then “stacked” the nine images in Photoshop and blended the sharpest parts of each to create a single super sharp image.

All of the prep work needed is meaningless, of course, without beautiful flowers to photograph.  Fortunately, I live just a couple of blocks away from a Whole Foods store where I can sometimes snag good looking subjects inexpensively.  My favorite place to pick up fresh blooms on the cheap, however, is Trader Joe’s.  All of the flowers shown here were purchased while I was out shopping for groceries.   

There is one more challenge I should mention, which is posing my subject while keeping my posing aids out of view.  Hiding these items was more complicated than you would think, but once everything is in position and my camera is on my tripod, I’m ready to shoot at last.  After shooting, I import the photos into my computer using Adobe Lightroom and do some basic editing before sending them over to Photoshop to be stacked and blended.   

Once Photoshop takes care of the image blending, I carefully correct any annoying or distracting imperfections on the flower.  I don’t go overboard with this, but there are, at times, bruises or pollen bits for example to clean up.

Moody Cosmos

I hope you’ve found this blog post interesting and that it gives you a bit more insight into the creative process.  Let me know your thoughts and do share what you’re doing to stay creative during COVID-19!  I’d love to hear from you.