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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.




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.



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.


3d Imagery

  • Monday, 30 March 2015 12:09
  • Written by

How are my photos being used?

  • Friday, 27 March 2015 22:45
  • Written by

Condé Nast Traveler - used my oyster image on 21/06/2011 for a couple of weeks. My image is just the oysters and accoutrements not the background.




Other sites using my images


New York CECIStyle expert style tips - Callahan catering

ABC Australia News Article    
ABC America NYC    
Stoneleigh Wines

Recipe of the month    
Namibian oysters    

Australian Good Food and Travel Guide

London Fine Foods

Tourism NSW


Auburn University Food Systems Initiative

Batemans Bay Oysters

Nantucket Wine Festival

Bargara Beach Hotel

Deer Park hotel



Canadian living today    
Washington Post Express    

Washington post express PDF version page 26

Timeout Magazine online

Book Covers

Oyster Cookery on

Australian Good Food and Travel guide


Older Links    
University of Virginia    

Bonsai (before and after shots)    


Bonsai Photography Section 8 - Troubleshooting

  • Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00
  • Written by

Troubleshooting Bonsai photography




Common issues

Blurry images - Use a tripod, add more light, increase your shutter speed, open your aperture.

Focus on the wrong part of the image: refocus the lens, maybe try manual focus, for an slr adjust the focal point in menu.

Incorrect exposure - over exposed - under exposed



Bonsai Photography Section 9 - Reviewing the photo

  • Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00
  • Written by

Reviewing your photos




Review your photos as you take them.

Look at your image on the back of your camera and zoom in at 100%. move the cursor around the screen and look for the focal point that it is clear and sharp.

If you are doing a full tree shot;

  • Check that you have fit everything into the shot, that there are no branches slightly off screen on the sides, top or bottom.
  • Check that you have the stand in the image if you require it.
  • Check that you have at least a little space around the whole tree so that you have a little flexibility in post production
  • Have you done a landscape (horizontal) shot, do you need a portrait (vertical) image as well


  • How does the lighting look?
  • Is the image in focus at 100%
  • Can you see all details that you want to see
  • Are there any patches in the photo that are really dark and you see no detail at all?
  • Are there any patches in the photo that are really white/bright and you see no detail at all? These could be "blown out"
  • Take a photo with the aperture + 1 and - 1 and see what the image looks like.


Review your photos on the largest screen possible as a second step if you are not connected directly(tethered) to a PC while you are taking the photos.


Advanced tips

Check the histogram through the back of your camera if you can do that on your model.




Bonsai Photography Section 2.1 - lighting reflectors

  • Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00
  • Written by


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.


Bonsai Photography Section 6 - Tripods

  • Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00
  • Written by

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.

Bonsai Photography Section 4 - Cameras

  • Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00
  • Written by

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.