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Leader Insights – Sue Bishop

Posted on 16th July 2015

For the next in our series of leader interviews, we chatted to our resident flower photography expert Sue Bishop – who has been part of Light & Land since Day One, and was actually responsible for the name! She had some fascinating insights for us on her career to date and some handy tips for ‘budding’ flower photographers (sorry, couldn’t resist that one!) – plus some early news on future plans for an exciting new Light & Land Tour . . .

Can you tell us a little about how you got into photography and how you came to specialise in flowers? What is it that you love about flower photography particularly?

I bought my first SLR about 30 years ago and at first I photographed almost anything outdoors, although with a strong bias towards natural subjects. Gradually I found that I was becoming more and more drawn towards flowers and close up photography – as flowers make such wonderful subjects, with their endless variety of colour and form. Working with a macro lens, I see them in a way that I have never previously seen, and I enjoy making photographs out of tiny details in the flowers. I also love using depth of field creatively, and small subjects like flowers lend themselves well to this.

How did you get involved with Light & Land?

In January 1994 I attended a talk given by Charlie Waite at my local camera club. I was already quite passionate about photography by then, and after a chat with Charlie, we agreed to set up some workshops together – one of the first being to the Lake District. The trip went really well, and when Charlie turned to me and said, "This is nice, do you think we should give it a name?" I suggested ‘Light & Land’ as that’s what we’re all about – and the rest, as they say, is history! When these were successful, I set up the company Light & Land and ran it for the next ten years. Charlie led the trips, and I did all the admin, and gradually we took on other tutors and expanded enormously during the time that I was running it.  

What types of trips (and where) have you led for L&L over the years – and what do you have planned for the future?

I’ve led several one day workshops for Light & Land, including snowdrops at Kingston Lacey, autumn colours at Claremont Landscape Garden, and lavender at Lordington – and earlier this year I led a trip to Holland at tulip time with Charlie. You can read a review of that trip from one of our guests here. Tours being planned for next year include the Pyrenees in June for flowers, butterflies and landscape - and then New Zealand in the autumn for wilderness landscapes and wildlife, which will be very exciting! The Pyrenees Tour will be co-led by Robert Thompson, and New Zealand will be co-led by Ben Osborne and Richard Young. We’re also planning more one day workshops in various locations around the UK.


As a professional flower photographer, what other types of work do you get involved in?

I’ve written three books about photography, and am hoping to start work on a fourth book very soon. I also write articles occasionally for photo magazines, and I teach photography on walking holidays with a couple of other companies. I’ll be taking part in a group exhibition of landscape photography by LBW at the Oxo Tower in September - and in the same month I’ll be speaking at the Scottish Nature Photography Festival in Perth. I also teach flower photography and landscape photography to small groups and to individuals on a one-to-one basis. All of which keeps me pretty busy!

If someone is thinking about specialising in flower photography, what advice would you give them to help them hone their skills?

Don’t forget that a fair amount of flower photography can be done with ordinary lenses such as a short telephoto, but if you really want to specialise in it, then sooner or later you will probably want to buy a macro lens! These can be bought second hand from reputable suppliers, which helps to keep the cost down. One of the wonderful things about flower photography is that you really can practise it regularly - in gardens, in parks, in the wild, or even by buying flowers from a florist and photographing them at home.  And it really is necessary to practise!

A lot of people seem to think that because a camera is a mechanical object, there is no need to practise photography - but the more photographs you take, the better you will become, especially if you analyse why each image has worked or not worked. You could also try taking a series of photos with different aperture settings, to see how the background is affected, which is a great learning experience. Looking at other photographers’ work always helps - not with a view to copying it, but just to see which approaches you like and why.


One last question – what would you say were your top three tips for flower photography?

1)  Always remember the background! Unless you are filling the frame completely with your flower, there will be a background to consider - and the background is just as important as the subject. A photograph of a beautiful exotic flower in front of a tangle of twigs or dead leaves is unlikely to be successful - while a picture of an ordinary flower such as a daisy, with a beautiful wash of out of focus colour behind it, can be wonderful.

Think also about your viewpoint. You can often find a more successful image by getting down to the level of the flower and looking along, rather than photographing from standing height and looking down at it. This is especially true of small spring flowers such as snowdrops, which are often growing in bare earth. The earth makes a very dark backdrop for the snowdrops if you photograph them from above, so if you can lie down at their level, you can fill the background with other snowdrops or foliage.

2)  Notice the quality and direction of the light.  This can fundamentally affect your photograph, so consider moving yourself around the flower a little to have the light coming from the best direction. The bright, harsh sunlight in the middle of a summer day is not usually the best for flower photography – so try to take your photographs early or late in the day, or on a day with high, white clouds to diffuse the hard sunlight. 

3)  Think about the colours which you will include in your frame. Reds, oranges and yellows are dominant colours and will pull the eye - while blues, greens and mauves are cool, receding colours. Try to avoid patches of red in the background of a blue flower for instance, as dominant colours will always pull the eye, no matter how small and out of focus!


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