A few folks have asked me how I photograph my carnivorous plants. My answer? Well, it sort-of depends. I use three different devices based on the type of photo I’m looking to capture. Am I trying to photograph an entire Sarracenia? Maybe just a single Venus flytrap trap? Or what about individual sundew glands? It’s all about having the right tool for the job.
Below, I’ll describe the photographic tools and methods I use from least-macro to the macroiest. Yah, that’s a word now.
Tool 1: Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR
Canon makes solid DSLRs, and the EOS Rebel T3i was a great option for me as a casual hobbyist just cutting my teeth on plant photography. I never invested in a macro lens for the Canon, so was always hamstrung on catching the finer details of plant photography. That’s where the LOHA lens, and microscope (below) came in handy. I’m currently in the process of upgrading to something a tier up, with the Fujifilm X-T2. There will be a macro lens investment, here.
The T3i is what I use to take most of the non-macro shots you see on the blog and, with a little help from my wife, I’ve been able to learn the basic settings like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to achieve my desired aesthetic. I aim for a sharp foreground image and bokeh (blurry) background. I also want to capture the vibrant colors and semi-transparent skins of the plants, so try to shoot in as much natural light as possible. More back lighting helps highlight the white or transparent windows on many Sarracenia hoods, while front lighting brings out the vibrant colors and venation running up the pitcher. Both bokeh and color capture requirements help me figure when to shoot and what my camera settings should be like.
Shooting outdoors at 9am on a Saturday morning in sunny California gives you options to back or front light the plant with diffused sunlight. Shooting against a detailed background helps with bokeh, as many small details blur together when your aperture is wide open. Specifically, I tend to set my camera to aperture priority, “AV,” which let’s me control how much of the frame is in focus, and the camera automatically adjusts the ISO and Shutter Speed. I lined up my shot and this is what I got. This shot was taken with the following settings: 1/64 sec, f/1.4, ISO 200
Tool 2: LOHA Life iPhone Macro lens
Enhance! There are a lot of macro lenses available for the iPhone. Some of them are super expensive and will be obsolete as soon as you get a new phone, others are incredibly cheap and fall apart after a couple of uses or have crummy glass. There’s a sweet spot right in the middle, and I think I’ve found it. The LOHA lens is clip-on, which means that it’s mostly universal across Android and iPhone devices, and even if the form factor of my phone changes slightly, this lens will retain its usefulness. It also has decent glass with focal length perfect for most of my needs. On top of the macro functionality, it also comes with an attachment that makes it a wide-angle lens, meaning you can take super landscape shots without having to backup. My real interests are in the macro capabilities, but this is a nice bonus. Combine this with a flexible leg tripod from the same company, and you have yourself a killer setup for taking 90% of the macro shots you could want of your plants.
You can see both products in action in the photo of my photo (whoa, meta) above, and you can get both on Amazon for less money than you’ll pay for a decent Venus flytrap. Buy the LOHA lens here, and buy the LOHA tripod here.
Tool 3 – Plugable microscope
Enhance!! The Plugable brand USB Microscope is a great, inexpensive way to peer into the tiny world of carnivorous plants. You’re going to get around a 250x zoom from this “microscope.” That’s not enough to explore the cellular world of plants, but it’s enough to pick out unique, otherwise hidden details. In the above photo, you can see a single, thin leaf blade of a Drosera binata with an unfortunate insect suspended from a sticky gland. This is not something you’re going to have an easy time seeing with the naked eye, and it definitely won’t show up on the Cannon gear discussed above.
The microscope comes with an adjustable LED halo light that allows you to evenly illuminate the subject as you please, and a focus ring for adjusting your shot. It plugs right into a laptop that you’ll use like a live viewfinder and digital shutter button. The microscope does come with a capacitive shutter button, but you’ll want to avoid this as touching it invariably shakes the whole thing and throws off your focus. At 2.0 Megapixels, it’s not going to take uber crisp shots, and with a USB 2.0 plug, you’re going to be limited on the devices you can attach this to (phones? Nope. Newer Macbook? Uh-uh), but it is a solid plug-and-play solution, and did I mention that it’s cheap? Like $35 cheap. That’s impulse buy territory, and a great way to explore a tinier world with carnivorous plants, otherwise out of reach unless you have a $600+ macro lens and DSLR or mirrorless camera.