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Thursday, 23 April 2015 12:38


Bonsai photography - controlling focus - point of focus or focal point.

The point of focus or focal point of the image, is where within the image is the clearest and sharpest in focus. Depending on the aperture and depth of field a small part, half the image, or the whole image may be in pretty clear focus.

You can focus the camera in one of two main modes, automatic and manual.

Both methods of focusing have their benefits. Depening upon the camera, the automatic mode may have more than one, a point and hold focus mode and a servo mode, which changes focus as you move the camera or the subject moves. Hopefully you won't have any moving bonsai, unless being moved around by wind of breezes.

The best way, on the camera, to check the image is in focus is to zoom in and check the image at 100% to see if

  1. There is a clear image that appears to be in focus
  2. There is good composition.

Tips for focusing

Select where you want to focus and ensure that you click on the shutter button you are point at this.

You can have the focal point of the image to the side of the shot or top or bottom and still be in focus using at least two methods including;

  • changing the automatic focal point on the dial in option on the camera. This will usually change where the viewfinder lights up when you click the shutter button.
  • pointing the camera at the point of focus, holding down the shutter button half way, moving the camera viewfinder off center and creating composition and taking the photo. (not in servo focus mode)
  • Using manual focus to focus on that point

Reasons for automatic focusing

  • Easy to use, generally push the main button down halfway to get the focus working.
  • You can concentrate on other things like focal point, composition, lighting, aperture, depth of field and shutter speed.
  • Digital SLRs can give you the option to dial in a focus point in the viewfinder, so it will always focus on the center or side or top corner of the screen for example.


Reasons for manual focusing

  • If you want to focus on a focal point that is partially obscured you can do so, because the camera may wish to focus on something closer or more prominent in the shot.
  • If your camera on a tripod is having difficulty focusing in low light conditions, you can manually adjust the focus in advance of the shot and be ready to take the photo.

The focal point on this image is in the main part of the trunk marked by the red indicators. You normally can see similar indicators through your camera viewfinder.

There is generally an indicator on cameras to indicate where the point of focus is as you focus in automated mode, as marked in red in the image above.

The focal point on this image is in the front part of the branch marked by the red indicators. You normally can see similar indicators through your camera viewfinder.




Wednesday, 22 April 2015 03:04

Bonsai photography - controlling your exposure - shutter speed

You can control the exposure (how bright or dark your image is) of your bonsai photograph by adjusting several factors.

Three of the main factors you can control on the camera are;

  1. Camera Aperture
  2. Camera Shutter speed
  3. Camera ISO Speed

In this section I will cover shutter speed.

Shutter Speed

The shutter is what stops the light getting to the light sensor or film if you were using a film camera.

The shutter opens and shuts to let light in.

The shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter remains open to let light onto the light sensor which records the image.

Shutter speed basics

A normal shutter speed using flash photography and a tripod may be 1/60 sec or 1/100 sec.

Anything slower than 1/60 sec become problematic if you are trying to hold the camera. You may get blurry images from camera shake.

Slow shutter speeds

Slow shutter speeds allow more light to hit the light sensor and you can work with less light, combining this with a wider aperture.

Fast shutter speeds

The faster the shutter speed the less time the light has to hit the camera light sensor. Using a really fast shutter speed freezes action and reduces blurring when there is enough light.



Camera Modes

Cameras in automatic mode

You will find any modern camera manages shutter speed in automatic mode. You can adjust how the camera manages shutter speed by setting modes on the camera

Cameras in Shutter speed priority

When you set your camera to this mode, you can set the desired shutter speed and the camera will detect the appropriate aperture for the exposure, based on light hitting the light meter when aiming and focussing your shot.

Cameras in manual mode

You can control the shutter speed and aperture on your camera in manual mode. One way to think about aperture and shutter speed is a balancing act. If you don't change the available light, and you increase the shutter speed you will have to decrease the aperture to have the same exposure. You may wish to do this to change the depth of field.



Wednesday, 22 April 2015 02:40

Bonsai photography - controlling your exposure - aperture

You can control the exposure (how bright or dark your image is) of your bonsai photograph by adjusting several factors.

Three of the main factors you can control on the camera are;

  1. Camera Aperture
  2. Camera Shutter speed
  3. Camera ISO Speed

There are other factors that affect exposure you can sometimes control, depending on the environment including;

  1. Light intensity, how bright your lighting is if indoors, or how you modify the light if you use natural lighting.

In this section I will cover aperture.


What is aperture. Aperture is a number representing the size of the whole in the lense that lets the light through.

You can modify the size of the aperture.

The smaller the number, the larger the amount of light that comes in.

The larger the aperture number, the less amount of light that comes in through the lense.

The aperture number is also referred to the F-stop number.  example f2.8

How Aperture affects exposure

The higher the number the darker the image (example f11 or f22)


How Aperture affects depth-of-field

Aperture directly affects the amount of the photo which is in focus. A simple example might be if you had 15 trees in a line leading away from you and you were photographing that line of trees you can choose whether you want one tree in focus and all the trees behind and in front of that tree out of focus, a narrow depth of field. Or you can choose to see a group of trees next to each other in focus in that line, in other words a greater depth of field.


A narrow depth of field is gained by a smaller aperture number e.g. f2.8

A larger depth of field is achieved by a larger aperture number e.g. f22.


Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00

Lighting for Bonsai photography



Lighting in its simplest form can be natural sunlight, Here are some of the types of light you can use including

  • Natural light; Daylight or sunlight (direct sunlight can be harsh,high contrast and dramatic)
  • Filtered Natural light;  light or light passing through a medium for example a window or curtain
  • Artificial light always on; flourescent tubes, worklights, tungsten lights
  • Artificial light flash photography; on camera flash, off camera flash
  • Reflected light; any light source reflected off a wall,or sheet, or card or other object

and various combinations of the above;


Example of Artificial light - Bright Frontal lighting (red eye for plants)

frontal lighting, dark shadows

This is the classic result of a frontal flash with little or no other natural or artificial light. Note the dark

shadows behind each branch.


Finding a balance

Depending on your style it is important to consider the light parts of the image and the dark parts of the image.

Generally speaking it is the ratio of the light and dark parts of the image as well as colour which will affect the overall mood significantly. If you imagine a picture of a tree being light and bright versus dark and shadowy, you can evoke different emotions and interpretations of the same image using two different lighting methods.


 Shooting inside next to windows. 

Shooting inside next to a window can be an easy way to start. The light coming in from a window is often soft and filtered. If the light is coming in from the left hand side of the photo, you may need to place a piece of white paper / cardboard / sheet on the right just out of the photo to reflect some light back to the right hand side of  the bonsai and balance things up a bit. Just be aware that external light can change with clouds coming over and reducing the amount of light coming into the window. So if you have a manual setting that worked with one photo it may change if the light changes over time. 



Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00

Cameras for Bonsai photography




Start with what you can afford or borrow.

If you put a camera on a tripod in a lighting environment where you control a lot of the variables. Your camera's bells and whistles will become less important to start with. So in other words if you have access to a starter camera start with that.


You can use any good quality digital SLR to capture great images.

Ideally you want to put this camera on a good quality tripod.


Phone cameras

Camera phones are great, if you want to get a photo of a tree on the run that shows the essence of the tree, you can get that on a camera phone with not too much fuss. Also if you want to test other factors like lighting or modifiers you can view this on your phone very conveniently.

Also camera phones and videos are great for progress shots documenting growth or work you are doing on the tree.

Where you will start seeing differences between camera phones and SLRs is in depth of field and apeture controls.


Small digital cameras

These cameras are almost on-par or very similar to phone cameras except they can have optical zoom lenses instead of the digital zooms on phones. Some of these cameras have wireless built in to make transfer of images easier.


Digital SLRs - What a complex mix - and too many choices.

I will include the new range of mirrorless style digital cameras in this section as well as the more traditional digital SLRs.

Some of the more modern variants the lenses are bigger in height than the camera bodies.

Some of the older DSLRs will do a great job on this without too much initial outlay, but the modern cameras with improved auto focus and ease of use can improve the experience.

A key point to consider is that you may be worth spending more on the lenses than the camera itself, if you really are starting to push the boundaries.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will put in some example shots taken with a variety of cameras so you can get a feel for the differences.

A couple of key differences to consider when looking at these cameras.

Camera Backs and tilting displays

You may find you prefer a viewfinder to the back of the camera, but also some of these camera backs tilt up allowing you to have the camera lower, but still view the image without stooping.

Plugging your camera into your computer

A key difference between some of these cameras is to be able to connect to the computer and either view the shot image of what you have just taken on the big screen, or also control the camera itself from the PC. This can be very helpful when looking for anomalies that need to be cleaned up, like spider webs that are sitting in the tree, that you just wouldn't see through the viewfinder, but once on the big screen almost take on dinosaur like proportions.






Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00

Tree Preparation and placement

Tree preparation is important and it could even be better to begin preparing the tree for photography the day before your photography shoot.

Things to do before photographing;

  1. Give your tree a good water and ensure that the pot gets a good rinse off as well.
  2. Remove any obvious tiny detrimental weeds or leaves
  3. Do any minor styling or tidying up as required.
  4. Have a look at different angles and consider any shots you wish to capture.
  5. If you are shooting multiple trees in a session you may wish to note specifics that you wish to capture, so in the heat of the moment you don't forget when you actually photograph the tree.
  6. Test the tree on various backgrounds
  7. If you are shooting outdoors, identify an area where you can photograph, check the light and note the time of day, so you can reproduce the lighting.
  8. Check you have all your gear together,lenses are clean, batteries are charged and memory cards have capacity for your intended photographs. If you are working in an environment where you can setup your gear safely and securely do that in advance ready for the shoot.
  9. Check you have your tools such as a paint brush for brushing things and a pair of tweezers and scissors.

Things to do the day of the photo shoot

  1. Give your tree a light brush to remove any spider webs
  2. Wipe the pot over with a damp cloth, including the back of the pot in case you spin it around for a different angle
  3. Wipe the stand over with a cloth to remove dust or fluff
  4. Check the ground cover for weeds or stand out items
  5. Ensure that any tie wires coming through the bottom of the pot are neat and tidy as sometimes these show up when you are down at the pot level with the camera.

Camera Angle

Camera angle is at the choice of the photographer, but experiment with the tree. Basically keep the camera at the same height and angle that you would prefer the viewer to see the tree at. Depending on the lense a good starting point is the bottom of the camera at the top of the pot. You can work it out from there and have your own rule. Obviously this will depend on your tree and pot and stand.

Sometimes for a detail shot of the trunk, a flower or in between branches you will need to raise your camera up and shoot down into the tree.

Distance from Tree to camera

The distance you choose to put your camera is dependent on a number of factors. It depends on the length of your lense. If you need to fit more in the frame you may have to zoom out or move your camera back.

You cannot move your camera any closer than the minimum focal distance which is written on the lense, it might be for example .3 of a metre(0.3m). or much closer for a lense with macro. If you move your camera too close, you may find you or the camera(autofocus) cannot focus on the bonsai tree. Just move the camera back a bit. 




Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00

Tripods for bonsai photography


Use a tripod that is rated capable of holding the weight of your camera and the biggest lense you intend to use for bonsai photography and any other attachments you may attach to it. As a guide never leave your camera on the tripod unattended, especially when walking around moving reflectors and plants.


Landscape orientation (horizontal rectangle through the viewfinder)

Using the camera to take a landscape orientation of the image is pretty straightforward as the weight is mainly going through the camera body down onto the tripod, if the lense is not too large.


Portrait orientation (vertical rectangle through the viewfinder)

Using the camera to take a portrait orientation requires a slightly more sturdy tripod as the weight is not as evenly distributed, quite often the camera is off to one side of the centre of the tripod.


Tripods with ball heads

Allow movement in many directions with at least one locking mechanism.


Video versus camera tripods

Video tripods tend to have a smoother action on the pan and tilt and have a larger arm to enable




If you are constantly moving your tripod around, you can actually get a dolly with locking wheels that the tripod sits on for those finer adjustments, you just roll your tripod.

Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00


Lighting modifiers

Lighting modifiers are a broad category including reflectors, diffusers, gels, physical modifiers of light like barn doors and cones or snoots to direct and focus light. This is not a complete list, but more of a start into some of the basic tools which can help with photographing bonsai.


Lighting reflectors

You can use lighting reflectors to bounce light, absorb light

Simple reflectors can be made of card, paper, cloth, board, polystyrene foam like packing foam from a dishwasher or flat pack furniture pack.

The whiter or more mirror like the more reflective. Just be aware that the colour of the reflector has an effect on the mood or colour of the subject. The reflector can cool the image down or warm it up or give it a colour hue.

Reflector performance can be affected by distance to the subject, distance to the light source and reflectivity and texture.

It is useful to have a variety of reflector sizes, for example a small reflector placed in front of and below a bonsai can fill in unwanted shadows and show more detail which may have necessarily been hidden without the reflector.


Lighting diffusers

You can use lighting diffusers to soften and widen light. To spread a single light source and to reduce the intensity of light.

A lighting diffuser can be as simple as a curtain on a window a sheet in front of a window or



Please note that care should be taken using light modifiers near hot and cold light sources as there is a risk of fire/electrocution. Always use the appropriate non-flammable, non-conductive light modifiers for your choice of lighting. Reflectors should always be secured from being knocked or blown over by gusts or drafts.