Photographing Iris

By avmoran (avmoran) on April 1, 2010

So you want to take some pictures of Irises, well let me help you out. I am not a professional photographer but here are a few things I have learned.

Taking Digital Iris Photographs

By Anita Moran


PART 1: The Equipment



             The Digital Age has arrived!  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are in the digital age and everyone is getting in on the act.  How special is this?  Well, you no longer have to settle for those pictures that are just mediocre.  No longer do you have to pay $4.00 for 23 poor photographs and 1 decent one.  You do not have to wait even that one hour to see if the photo you took is acceptable or whether you need to take another.  You do not have to waste time digitizing new photographs or slides in order to share them on the web.  Remember those boxes of photo albums with their irreplaceable photographs?  Well, that is no longer a worry.  We can now digitize and store these precious photos, reprinting them as we desire.  We can even repair, colorize, or sharpen these old treasures depending on the equipment and programming we purchase.

            One of the largest groups of people to benefit from the digital age is gardeners.  This includes hobbyists, professionals, masters, hybridizers, enthusiasts, etc.  Here is the best advice I can give you:  The pictures are for you first and foremost.  Second, it is for those you wish to share them with.  What pleases me may not please you but might please the guy down the street.  The exceptions to this are those photographs that will end up in catalogs, commercial websites, and checklists.  Those photographs must be of the highest quality and are usually mug shots.

            On average I take about 10,000 pictures at Conventions and at least that many throughout the year in my own garden.    Does that make me an expert? Of course not, just an enthusiast.  All those people who win awards for their photographs, or sell them, well that’s their job, their livelihood, and they are the experts.  No one can tell you what you like in a photograph.  Of all the pictures I take, half are discarded, as they identify the picture before or after it.  Of the remainder about 50 percent of them end up in the recycle bin.  It costs me nothing to dispose of them because I am using a digital camera.  I cannot remember how much money was wasted on photographs that were horrible but were printed anyway.  With all the photos I take I still miss taking pictures of a lot of irises due to weather, trips, timing (there is never enough time in the garden), bloom cycle, and any number of other factors.  I am not a professional photographer, and you do not need to be one either in order to get the photos you want. 


            First, what do you want to get out of your pictures?  Do you just want mug shots or do you want to see everything about that iris?  These are important questions.  Understand that you cannot make a decision on the quality of an iris through pictures.  You must see it in a garden setting or grow it yourself to make a decision as to the quality of the plant.  Can photographs help you? Yes.  Reviewing well-taken photographs can remind you of how that iris grew in the garden and its health, and can also show you something you may have forgotten or missed while you were in the garden.  Good photographs can also help hybridizers describe a flower more accurately, making it easier to write distinctive descriptions of seedlings for potential registration. What do you want to see?  Be prepared to take lots of pictures of a single plant.

            Second, Know Your Camera!!!  Every camera comes with a book to tell you how to work your camera.  Read it!  I know many are written so that you need a Doctorate in engineering but try very hard to get as much out of these books as possible.  I do not mean read it at one sitting-- take it one step at a time.  Learn how to do the basics by the book and then experiment with the basics.  Learn another function and work with that function by the book and then experiment and so forth.  Make yourself cheat sheets that give you quick information on what your camera is capable of achieving.  I have a Digital Rebel.  Many of you have seen me at conventions where I am clicking away, sometimes without bringing the camera to my eye.  That is because I am very comfortable with my camera and know where and how to shoot.  If I am in a hurry this make it expedient to take many shots of an iris, people etc., which I can later review, delete or use as needed.  That does not mean it will work in all situations.  I recently purchased a wonderful new lens to give me better Macro shots and still maintain my zoom capabilities. I now have to learn my new distances and positions all over again.

            Digital photography is getting better and more powerful all the time.  The Canon Digital Rebel is the camera I am comfortable with.  I know its capabilities and I also know that even if blurry, the color of a flower will be nearly identical to what I see in the field.  The one exception, and it is an exception with both digital and film cameras, is the blue or near blue colorations.  Even with that, my camera has come as close as any camera I have used.  I have had seven different digital cameras-- all have had their downfalls and the Digital Rebel is no different.  It is up to the photographer to know the drawbacks to his camera and compensate for them so that he can produce the best quality photograph possible.

            Does that mean you have to run out and spend a lot of money on a digital SLR? Absolutely not!!  If you have a digital point and shoot camera that takes good quality photos (greater than 4 mega pixels (MP) you can do very well taking photos of your favorite irises, bugs, pets or just about anything else you want to take a picture of. This brings use to the #1 reason to go digital,  DELETIONS.  You can take those horrible photos, delete them on the run and keep on clicking so that you do not waste time or memory.  With a film camera you might go through rolls and rolls of film to get a few good pictures and one exceptional picture.  Using a digital camera will save you money by allowing deletion of poor quality photos. 


Equipment and Features:

             There are so many good digital cameras that to select one for support here is unwise and unfair.  Things to remember about cameras: they are as different from each other as people.  Digital point and shoot cameras run from $125.00 to $500.00 depending on the options you want.  Digital SLR cameras can run from $800.00 to $5000.00 for only the BODY!  Make sure your camera is always set to the highest quality photo option available on it.  Yes I know that means fewer pictures can be put on a memory card but with memory cards now selling for $30.00 for 1 GB (gigabyte) it is worth it. As a side note, due to the popularity of digital cameras the SLR film camera you always wanted is more reasonable than ever before.  However, support for these cameras may be lacking in some areas. 

            For any digital camera you usually can not go wrong if you buy a brand name.  You will pay a little more but it is well worth it in support and features.  Off-brand named cameras can sometimes be a good buy, but if something goes wrong you may be looking at getting a replacement instead of having it repaired.  Digital cameras have software and updates that are usually available from the manufacturer’s websites with free downloads.  These updates will usually not affect how the camera is operated but the results are usually an improvement, and in some cases may add new functions to your camera..

            Of the Point-and-Shoot cameras the Canon Powershot® cameras are very popular and inexpensive, running from $120.00 to about $250.00.  They are from 5-8 MP, meaning they take a high quality photo and some like the TXI also take video.   The line of Minolta DiAMGE® are also popular--the Z3 has 5 MP a large view screen.  Unfortunately many of these cameras are discontinued but can still be found.  The Nikon Coolpix® series are also good quality.  The Nikon L11 which is 6.0 MP runs about $150.00 and has a large view screen.  Kodak Easy Share® C703 is 7.1 MP and is about $150.00 but requires a docking station for about $99.00.  Sony Cybershot® cameras DSC-W90 is 8.1 MP runs about $250.00 and also has a large display.  All of these cameras a reliable and most can be purchased either locally or online for reasonable prices. (Table1).  There are more expensive point-and-shoot cameras from those listed here that  have greater versatility, greater resolution, and more features.  It all comes down to what you want your camera to do and the money you want to spend.


Comparison of Point and Shoot Digital Cameras











6.0 – 10


Converter lens available (zoom, wide angle)

$115 –



Easy Share®

6.0 – 10


Most need docking station (~$99)

$150 – $300



7.0 – 10



$130 –  $450



5.0 – 10



$130 –  $450



5.0 – 10


Ŧ See notes

$120 – $300 *

Ŧ Most in this product line are discontinued and manufacture support is questionable

* E-Bay

TABLE 1: A comparison of the most popular point and shoot digital cameras. 


            Using  a SLR camera is generally more of an expensive hobby than the point and shoot cameras, mainly due to the cost of the interchangeable lenses.   Functionally they give you greater adaptability in that you can change lenses and go from wide angle to macro to zoom lens often exceeding 16,000 mm. The Nikon D80 had a color matrix meter which is their attempt to correct color problems, ISO to 1600 (ISO denote film speed and is used for digital cameras to denote the equivalent.  For example ISO 100 needs bright sunlight or flash, ISO 1600 can be used in heavy clouds, twilight conditions) without flash but is proprietary for lenses which means you can only use Nikon lenses for the most part.  Canon Digital Rebel (EOS XTi) can be less expensive than the Nikon and can use less expensive lenses (i.e. Sigma) and is fast taking 3 shots per second in one mode and Canon continues to use Compact flash cards.  The Sony Alpha SDLR has image stabilization can take burst shots of 3 picture per second as well.  Olympus Evolt 500 is only 8 MP compared with 10 for the other SLR cameras, and the price shows.  There are very few features on this one it is just a work horse.  Pentax K10D also has image stabilization and can be purchased at a reasonable price (Table 2). 

            All the SLR cameras can be placed in full manual mode for those more comfortable with setting each function as is required with film SLR cameras.  They can be set to fully automatic so it essentially becomes a point and shoot, but looks real complicated--and they can be.  The newer SLR digitals now come with manual and automatic focus and white balance.  Most lenses come with hoods to shield from bright sunlight and most are auto-focus which can be switched to manual.  Lens technology has improved to the point that macro and telephoto options can be used in the same lens.  That wonderful new lens I have is just such an animal.  The 28-200 mm lens allows you to get macro photos and telephoto shots in mere seconds.  There are a lot of options on the different Digital SLRs. The professional models (used to be $3000 - $4000 for just the body) are hard pressed to hold their prices, as the general public is demanding and buying the lesser expensive models that do the job just as well.


Comparison of SLR Digital Cameras










D80 – D200



Body + 1 lens






Body + 1 lens + memory

$700 – $1200


Alpha DSLR



Body + 1 lens + memory

$700 – $1000


Evolt 500



Body + 1 lens + memory

$700 – $800





Body + 1 lens + memory

$600 – $1000

TABLE 2: Digital SLRs vary in price, resolution (MP), and acceptance of generic (less expensive) lenses. 


            Some options you want to look for are Zoom and Macro capabilities in the camera you are considering.  Macro photography is the ability to take very close photos of an object and have them clear.  Most cameras and/or lenses have a minimal focal distance, which is the distance you must be away from an object in order to take a clear picture.  Know what that distance is so that you do not waste your time trying to get a macro shot with a lens that needs to be five meters away from an object to get a clear shot.  Many cameras will have a MFD of 18 mm, which is less than an inch.  I will guarantee that if you get that close you will not get a good shot without special filters.  Many SLR cameras often are more flexible as they have lenses or lens attachments which allow very good macro photography (Figure 1).



 Figure 1: Marco photography.  Up close you can see what is not always obvious with point and shoot cameras without Macro capabilities.  A zoom picture of a newly emerged Japanese beetle (A) with Macro (B), Fly Wing Macro (C) and daylily pollen (D). (Click to enlarge)

            If you look at the above pictures (Figure 1) is a newly emerged Japanese beetle (A).  Most gardeners could care less about the structure of these pests but with a Macro shot you can even see the small tufts of hairs that surround the wing plates (B), or how about a fly’s wing (C) or just a look at your pollen (D). (Note: no insects were injured in the production of these photos)  Macro photography can enhance your view of the veining on the hafts, a minuet horn on that seedling or some other small structure that you need to identify.  Remember the closer you are to a flower the larger the end picture will be and the less distortion from reducing the picture down for sharing on the internet.


Figure 2: Macro photography with zoom combined Marco filters. Normal (A), Zoom with +4 Marco (B), Zoom +10 Macro (C).


Figure 3: Zoom photography can bring an object thought not picture worthy into focus and can allow a good picture even if you can not get close to the subject. (A) 28-200 lens normal (B) Full Zoom 30’ away.  (C) 75-300  lens normal, (D) Full Zoom 60’ away. (Click to enlarge)


            Macro photography with SLR cameras can get even more detailed.  In the above figure (Figure 2) a quarter is shown with a stock lens that came with the camera and  no zooms and no filters (A).  Adding +4 macro filter and maximum zoom for this 17-50mm lens you get a little closer (B).  With the same zoom setting and a +10 macro filter details that may be missed in the previous photographs are obvious such as the “D” in the lower right of Washington’s neck.  An even closer shot can be taken in all macro filters are combined.  For my filter set that would be +10, +4, +2, and +1.  This combination requires bright light and no flash.  Flash with most macro photography washes any detail from the picture.

            Using zoom capabilities can assist you in getting that picture you want (Figure 3).  Without zoom you might be able to take a shot of the flower bed (A) but by adding zoom you can get a picture of a flower that may be in the middle of the bed (B) or at conventions and other garden tours you do not wait until you can get close enough to get your shot.  Another positive for zoom photography is wildlife.  Without zoom capabilities you can get a shot of a birdhouse or feeder within a garden bed (C), but with zoom capabilities (D) and this is just 300mm) you can get a shot of birds feeding from that feeder.

            For those who are used to film SLR cameras that have a lens for every situation, you may be more comfortable with the digital SLRs with the same capabilities.  Many of the AF (Auto focus) lenses for Film SLRs can be used with Digital SLRs.  Those with point and shoot digital cameras can investigate the web site for your camera manufacturer.  Many point-n-shoot cameras manufacturers, especially the more upscale brands (Sony, Cannon, Minolta, Nikon) are now coming out with lens adapters to increase the functionality of point-n-shoot digitals.  These adapters include zoom multipliers, macro attachments and filters.

            Memory will determine the number of photographs you can take.  Many cameras are now using SD cards which are very small and take little room but can hold up to 16 GB (Gigabyte) of photographs, which even at the highest setting is thousands of shots.  The cost of these cards is also tumbling as newer technologies are being released.  A 1GB compact card when I first got into digital photography was about $200.00 +, and now they are about $38.00 - $58.00.  Have some smaller memory cards as well for taking pictures in your own garden.  Using smaller memory cards (128 KB to 512 KB) you can go out to the garden and photograph several times a day, download quickly to see if you got the picture you want and have time to go back into the garden for more shots.  The smaller cards are cheaper to replace as well.  Keep the larger memory cards for trips, visiting other’s gardens, Conventions, and other situations that will give you little time to check what shots you have gotten.  Always keep several memory cards with you--you never know what situation will arise.  If a memory card fails or fills more quickly than you expected you will always have more memory on hand.  If you do not have a laptop to travel with to a Convention, Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, Rite-Aid and other places with one-hour photo capabilities also have a process to copy the pictures from your memory cards to CDs.  This will allow you to empty your memory card and start fresh the next day.

            There are many programs out there for manipulating photographs.  NOTE: You can manipulate size of photograph, crop, sharpen, even extract a portion of a photo; you should not disturb the color of the photograph.  What is the use?  The same photograph will look different on ten different computers and 10 different monitors.  You probably could not adjust it to match exactly what you saw in the garden for every monitor or computer so why try except for your own needs.   How many of us have looked at pictures only to see that the foliage is blue?  “Ahh, hmmm that is not right!” This means that that sight or catalog is not trust worthy for what will end up in our gardens.  Often you will find that using contrast and lighting will give you what you want and need.  Probably the cheapest, most powerful program that is easy to run is Microsoft Picture It.  I know many do not like Microsoft but for me it is so much easier than Adobe, which requires several Degrees to figure out.  There are a lot of good programs that just need time to learn, but it is well worth that time.  The minimum you want a program to do is crop, resize, correct contrast, and sharpen a slightly blurry photograph.


Part II: Taking the Picture


            Now that you have that camera that you have been dying to get and you have taken a couple of shots and you know the basics, let’s go through some tricks. 


What Should I Take A Picture Of?


            Before you take a picture of the flower, take a close-up picture of its label if it has one, so that when you go to work with your digital photographs you know exactly what flower you are working with.  This also eliminates the need for an extra notebook to record the picture number and what it contains.  In the example below I took a picture of the plant tag, and then took the picture of the iris (Figure 4).  This enables me to keep track of the names of the irises, and if I am at a Convention I can later mark my book as to which pictures I still want or need.

Figure 4: IMG_4483 and IMG_4484 as raw format pictures.  Taking the picture of the label allows you to better identify you photographs.  Using right mouse button and RENAME function you can name the iris photo as Firestorm then delete the tag photo.


            What do you want from your photographs?  This is a question that may have several answers to it.  I take photographs for comparisons, records, information, projects, my website, and the publications I am editor of.  You may also want to use them for record keeping, invitations to group activities, sales and auctions, or just for your own enjoyment.  Remember one thing: IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT OTHERS think of your photographs.  If they contain what you want and you are pleased with them then they are good shots.

            If you look at the picture below (Figure 5) you will see three pictures of the same seedling.  Most people want to see and get a good mug shot first (5A) and that is fine if you want an overall good picture for sharing or to put in a sale catalog or in a publication.  This is the shot most of us see for medians and tall bearded as well as other iris such as Siberian, and species iris.  Japanese iris may be the exception to this, as the shot of choice is a combination of the mug and top shot.  The iris below is a dwarf, so the most common picture you see is looking down (5B).  There is a reason for this: unless the SDB or MDB is in a raised bed, your first look will be a bird’s eye view looking down on the plant from above.  Another shot you might consider, especially for seedlings no matter the size, is a stalk shot (5C).  Many pictures I see are side shots and while not as esthetically pleasing as the mug shot it is a picture that can tell you a lot.  If you look closely at Figure 2A which is really more of a combination between a side shot and mug shot, you can see that the hafts do not overlap, and the yellow edge is more defined than in the top or stalk shots.  All of which is important information and none of that information is in the mug shot.   Another picture you may want to take is a clump shot.  How healthy is this cultivar?  How many of us have bought irises based on a pretty face only to be disappointed by its performance in our gardens?  A clump shot may help with these problems.  For judges who are supposed to judge the entire plant this will help focus on the entire plant.

Figure 5: Three of the many type of shots to get on an Iris include the mug shot (A), top shot (B), and (C) stalk shot.


            Although I use the majority of photographs I take for internet sharing and my websites, the next most often use I have for my photographs are comparison shots.  I like to compare siblings and so I make a collage of the siblings to compare what I have kept (Figure 6).  Repeat crosses can also gain you information (Figure 7).  This cross produced much better flowers in my opinion for the second cross.  You also might want to compare shots you have taken to see which is best (Figure 8) or see the different information each shot can give you (Figure 9).  Time has a big effect on your shots especially with seedlings.  In Figure 10 you can see three shots of three different flowers from the same stalk.  All are different, a major reason for not judging a seedling immediately.  Time across years may be more difficult to maintain as pictures can sometimes get lost.  This is a very important comparison (Figure 11).  From first flower open to 5 years later the difference in form is tremendous.

Figure 6.  Sibling comparison of a cross between CHANTED and I. lutescens.  These are only the ones that were retained for further evaluation.


Figure 7.  A comparison shot of a repeat cross between CIMARRON ROSE and TOUCH OF MINK.  The first cross produced a seedling with a flaw and inconsistent blooming habits while the second produced a flower with better form, increases and blooming habits.

Figure 8.  Comparing seedling photographs taken at the same time but different angles to see which displays the flower best.

Figure 9.  A comparison of the different features of the same seedling in different lighting conditions to observe faults and strengths.

Figure 10.  Comparing different flowers from the same bloom stalk of a seedling showing improvement in a single season gives an indication of the possible improvements that this seedling may make over the years.

Figure 11.  A comparison of a seedling from the first flower to open to six years after the seed was planted shows the significant improvement in the flower over time.


            For those of you who like to include wildlife in your photographs, it is a good thing to know what the beast is (Figure 12).  I had no clue what this little beasty was so I took the shot and put it on line and got my answer.  Assassin Bugs are one of the beneficial insects gardeners want in their gardens as they eliminate many pest species.  Just another use for those photos you are taking of those really strange critters that may actually be good for the garden.  Also take pictures of those insects which cause damage for identification and the type of damage they cause.

Figure 12: An immature Assassin Bug keeps other destructive species in the garden in check.  I just know this guy is waiting for that ant to come by.


Preparing Iris to Take a Picture


RULE #1: If you are at someone else’s garden DO NOT touch a plant for any reason without express permission and NEVER touch an iris at a convention unless you are the hybridizer. 


            How many times is that drummed into us as we go through judges training?  It is a good rule; however, at conventions hanging out with hybridizers has its advantages. In your own garden, there are a few little tricks you can do.  Before taking photographs in your own garden, with the exception of seedlings, go out and deadhead the stalks and trim dead leaves so that when you are able to get that great shot, it is not ruined by the background or foreground (Figure 13).   ‘Queen In Calico’ does not draw your attention as much as the faded flower and the bud that is twisting the falls (A).  You will notice that the ‘Grape Harvest’ picture is cleaner and the flower holds your attention (B). Once you are ready to take your photographs remember that you might have to move around the stalk in order to get the picture you want, but as long as there is not a chance of disturbing other plants go for it.  To get the shot of ‘Grape Harvest’ I stood on the garden wall.  This is when knowing your camera REALLY comes in handy.  Taking shots of Dwarfs (Figure 4), if you know your camera you can get a mug shot of dwarfs by reaching down with the camera in what you think is the correct angel and shooting the picture.  If it doesn’t come out, delete and fire again.  Don’t you just love digital?

Figure 13: ‘Queen in Calico’ before stalk cleaned of spent blooms which detract from the overall quality of the picture, compared with ‘Grape Harvest’ after deadheading and removal of all damaged leaves.


How Should I Take A Picture?


            Be prepared to get down and dirty.  Unless you are willing to get on your knees or even lower to get that perfect shot you may never be satisfied with the pictures you are taking.  I have to remind you of the statement, “KNOW YOUR CAMERA”.  Practice taking pictures of everything, see what your camera is really capable of, you might be pleasantly surprised.  Many of the point-n-shoot digitals have zoom capabilities.  Use it in your testing so that you are as comfortable with it as you are without using it.  Use your preview screen if you have one but do not depend on it--what looks clear may in fact be fuzzy and vice versa. Use your view finder as often as possible.  As you are learning about your camera do not delete any but the most obvious poor and fuzzy shots.  See how effective your program is on cropping and maintaining the clarity, sharpening the photograph, and correcting lighting. Look at pictures on websites, in catalogs and decide what pose you want for your iris. Remember the more views you take the more information you have. 

Figure 14:  Being prepared gets you shots not only of iris but of other interesting critters and sites at conventions.


            Always be prepared, especially at a convention for you never know where the shot may come from.  It could be a deer in a woodland walk or a frog hidden in a fence (Figure 14).  It can also get you a shot of that iris you wanted to see up close and personal.  By knowing your camera well and how it works the pictures which require speed at times are available to you.   If you know your camera extremely well you may even get several shots.


            After you have developed a technique using your camera so that you get consistently good pictures you are ready for something a little harder.  The WEATHER!  I will guarantee that Mother Nature will try, and often succeed, in ruining that perfect shot.  You look out your window as the sun is coming up and see that the seedling you have been waiting for has finally opened. You eat breakfast waiting for the sun to be up just a little more and run out to the garden and into a thunder storm which destroys that perfect first bloom.  Ahhh, but it is not a miniature dwarf or an aril so chances are high for another bloom in a day or two.  What do you do?  Well you take the picture anyway.  Why?  For two reasons:  to see how has the seedling weathered the storm and second, if there has been hail and wind, the stalk may be damaged to the extent that there might not be subsequent bloom.


            In Rain – If you’re caught in a sudden downpour, protect your equipment first and wait until it slows or stops.  After the rain has passed or is reduced to a sprinkle hold the stalk just below the flower, gently shake the excess water off the flower, which will usually return the standards to their normal form unless the rain was particularly heavy.  (Remember what I told you about hanging with hybridizers, well this little trick I learned watching Rick Tasco taking pictures of his iris in horrible conditions and it worked very well).  If possible turn off your flash.  Flash photography, especially with digital cameras, can distort the color tremendously.  If it is too dark to take the picture without the flash, it is too dark with the flash and you will get little useful information.  The only time flash photography is good with plants is if it is windy (Figure 15).  Using a flash option then will help to reduce the blur from a moving object.  In many digital cameras even this capability is not needed because they have stability modes built in.  This is not an always rule.  If the only picture you can get of an iris is with a flash, take it. Take several photos without the flash first then several with the flash.  You will be surprised how good photo programs can compensate for the lack of light.  Again, with digital you can always delete.  In foul weather try not to take fancy pictures, just take the best possible pictures you can, either a mug shot, side shot or top shot.

Figure 15.  Effects of wind can be seen in the blurring of the photo (A) but with flash, the shot is clearer but form is still off due to the strength of the wind.


            I do not want to recount how many times I end the season with no picture of a particular cultivar just because I did not take a shot.  Even a poor clear photograph is better than none.  You can tell which of your irises withstood the trials of Mother Nature.  Below are two photographs of the same cultivar.  The first was taken the first day of the Portland convention, in the morning before the rain started (Figure 16 A).  The second was taken the third day of the tours after three days of torrential downpours attacked the iris fields (16 B).  The information obtained from these two shots is that the color fades with more than 4” of rain per day, but over all this is one tough iris that I want in my collection.  I did not shake this iris to get the standards to rise there was no need.  Although it was leaning a bit I believe that was due more to the saturated soil than the lack of the stalk.


            Another big reason to take multiple shots of the same cultivar, especially at Conventions, is that you cannot remember everything about a plant in the short span of time we are limited to during National and Regional garden tours.  During tours you determine the winners of the “President Cup” and the “Cook Cup”.  If the selection is difficult, and it will be, multiple shots like those in Figure 16 allows you to see the strengths and weaknesses of various cultivars.

Figure 16: Blazing Beacon (Tasco 2004) before and after torrential rainfall during the 2006 AIS Convention tours.

            Another problem is sunlight.  In my garden I take pictures before the sun reaches my flowers but allows enough light that a flash is not needed.  I get better color saturation and I have fewer shadows that interfere with seeing ruffles, imperfections, veining, texture and a whole list of other features.  The second favorite time of the day, and one I am seldom home for, is HIGH NOON.  With the sun directly over head the shadows are fewer and diamond dusting is very obvious.  Having a lens hood can eliminate any glare that might occur (you can now purchase hoods for some point and shoot cameras).  A body or umbrella can also be used to reduce glare, but try to keep shadow lines out of your shot.  Taking a shot in the evening is almost as good as the morning with one minor exception and that is that color in the evening can be influenced by the sunset.  If you have a beautiful sunset you probably are not getting good color in your shot.  Always true? No.  If there are trees which block most of the light from a sunset, this time of day can be as good as the morning.


            Taking pictures of arils and arilbreds presents its own set of problems.  As the aril checklist editor can attest there are many missing photographs of arils that are still being grown.  With the Aril and Median Trek in April of 2008, it is necessary that all with cameras work to perfect our techniques and then apply these techniques when in the gardens.  First, remember I am not an expert, and I do not pretend to be.  I can only give you how I go about getting pictures and what I look for.


            First and most importantly, remember, if you like the picture you took, it is a good picture.  Second, know your camera and what it can, and more importantly, what it cannot do.

Figure 17:  From opening at 9AM the form of Sahra Tash changed and the intensity of the color is less when a second picture was taken later in the day.



Arils and arilbreds are unique in the iris family.  While Tall Bearded holds their form for nearly the entire two or three days they are open, arils and arilbreds may change color, form, and general appearance with in hours of opening (Figure 17).  Age of the cultivar, especially with seedling you can seed a great difference between the years as it matures (Figure 11).  For these reasons taking multiple shots of the cultivars, is very important.

            What drew most of us to arils and their progeny are their unique characteristics.  Capturing these distinctive traits when fighting cold, wind, insects, lighting, and other factors is sometimes daunting, but please do not give up.  Those with unique and bold markings are sometime easier to capture than those with fine lines (Figure 18). By focusing on these markings you can usually capture them adequately enough to show them to others. Not all arils have dramatic markings, but while you are focusing on fine lines and other characteristics, don’t forget the appearance of the whole flower.

Figure 18: Dramatic lines and colors are sometimes easier to capture such as on TURKISH TOPAZ, while fine lines and subtle coloring such as DOTTED SUNSUIT (Photo from Betsy Higgins).


            Most people want to see mug shots and that is fine for catalogs, file sharing, and even a checklist, but are these the best?  A mug shot of PERSIAN PADISHAH, for example, would show all the attributes and beauty of that flower.  Taking a mug shot of STRIPED MOONBEAM, while a good shot, would not show off its unique variegated foliage.  So for this particular plant a stalk shot along with a mug shot might be the better option.  


            It is more difficult for me to get a good picture of those with less than half aril content.  For these plants you must accent those attributes that make it able to be registered as an arilbred.  In Figure 19 there are shots of three seedlings all of which are OGB X SDB with the same parentage.  The first is with the dwarf as the pod parent and the OGB as the pollen parent.  Though it is an OGB- by genetics it is not an arilbred in form.  The next two are with the OGB as the pod parent and the dwarf as the pollen parent.  The center one has the required two aril traits while the last shows only an IB form no matter at what angle the picture was taken.

Figure 19: A wide variety of forms seen with OGB X SDB crosses.


            Using your camera as an eye allows others to view a cultivar that they’ve never seen before and can open a whole new world for many who have never seen arils and arilbred and never imagined the unique nature, form and colorations of this class of iris.  Don’t be shy.  Take photos of your arilbreds.  You may be the only one with a particular cultivar that many thought was no longer available!


 Another effect of time is the fading flower.  This is not a big problem with tall bearded as there are more than a couple of blooms to a stalk; however, not getting a shot that first day with the smaller varieties may get you a less than desirable result (Figure 20). In Figure 20A the flower has not opened completely and if this is a seedling there would be no way to judge the form. In Figure 20B the flower is completely open and the form, color and faults of a flower can be seen.

Figure 20:  Taking a picture of a flower too early may give you a less desirable effect as taking one too late as far as flower form is concerned. 


            The best way to get those pictures you want is to practice, practice, and practice.  I cannot stress that enough.  The more comfortable you are with the ins and outs of your camera the better the results will be.  There is so much information available for photographers that is FREE, there should be little problem in knowing the workings and functions of your particular camera.

            Now! This winter, practice on taking pictures of anything and everything.  Take the time to go through your manuals and search on line for functions available to you that you may not be aware of but can help you know how to use these additional features to their best advantage. 


Saving Digital Photographs


            I am assuming that all of you who use digital cameras know how to use computers.  For those who use MACs, I cannot help you in maneuvering around your computer, but I assume that you can do the same functions as those of us with Windows can do.  Saving your digital photographs and editing them is the most time-consuming portion of digital photography.  It is well worth the effort as you do not have to accept less than perfect.  Often those photos that are less than perfect are good enough to be acceptable.  This is the portion a one-hour place could not do for you, but you can delete and edit photographs yourself. 

            First ALWAYS copy your files in what ever RAW format they are taken in and save them to a special area in a folder named “RAW”.  When you have a few hours, ok minutes, identify each raw photo correctly with the iris, or what ever it is and rename the file without changing the file at all.  This can be done in Windows Explorer using the filmstrip view.  This can be done quickly if you took a picture of the label of the iris before or after taking a picture of the flower or plant.  Using [Right click][Rename] function you can easily change the name of the files to appropriately identify each photograph (Figure 4).  Add the name of the iris, year or any other identification you want.  For conventions I like to add the hybridizer’s name so I can get the other information from the convention book.  For pictures that are non-iris you can identify when it was taken.  As you are renaming you can delete individual files that are too blurry to be of any use or unwanted information.  When all are completed you can sort according to name, and all the ID photos that you did not change the name to will be compiled together for easy deletion.    Once you have completed that, Copy, do not Move, all your RAW photos in a folder named “WORKING”; this way you will always have the raw photo to return to in case there is a problem.


Part III: Working With Your Pictures:


Saving the WORKING RAW:

            Once you begin to work in what ever photo editing program you are comfortable with, save the pictures you are working with to that file type.  For Microsoft PictureIt it would be *.MIX files, for other it might be TIFF, or GIF or other format as long as it is not JPG format.  These will be large files but they are going to be your best files second only to the RAW files.  The reason you do not want to save in JPG format is that this is a compression format.  What that means is that every time a file is saved in that format it is compressed and you lose clarity because the number of pixels is diminished. If there is a need requiring high resolution, then these files are where you are going to get them from. 


Editing Files

            Ok everything is saved and you are ready to work on your working files.  There are a number of very good photo editing software.  Adobe has three alone, Photoshop Elements® being the standard, highest rated and you need time and effort to learn it.  Corel Paint Shop® is the second rated but like Photoshop it is difficult to learn and use. Microsoft produced PictureIt® but has since gotten out of this field, which is a shame because it is easy to use and cost effective for the non-professional.  ACDSee Photo Editor® will probably be my next buy.  It is not expensive and the free trial was as easy as PictureIt® to use.  Picasa by Google, has a free trial version that is less taxing that the full version but not as powerful.  The newest version however is not as abrasive and is easier to learn.  Below is a review of most of the photo editing software available.

            Once you have your software you want to use. You can now make some of those photographs that you thought were horrible into something you can be proud of.  In Figure 21 you can see a BAD SHOT made better with three simple steps.  First crop the picture, lighten the picture just a little more than you would like then adjust the contrast so that you have the picture you want (Figure 22).

Figure 21: A less than perfect picture can be made better with Crop, lightening and contrast.

Figure 22:  Taking a dark photograph and crop it to the appropriate size then lighten it to just beyond normal lighting, then adding contrast to correct will yield very good results.


            These three fixes can make ninety percent of your pictures that are not what you want at least acceptable, as long as the image is clear.  Most photo editing software also allows you to sharpen a photo, BE CAREFUL.  Some of these packages actually reduce or remove pixels which can make your photo grainy looking so use this with care and of little as possible (Figure 23).

Figure 23: A slightly blurred photo can be sharpened to clean it up but too much can make the photograph look fake or worse.


            Color?  This is a big problem with me.  There are several sights that color iris to their satisfaction and believe me there is no resemblance to the actual flower.  Remember this, a camera, no matter if it is digital or film CAN NOT capture all the colors that your eyes can no matter the advances in software and hardware, lens, and cameras.  It is just not possible.  The biggest problem seems to be with blues and some purples (Figure 24).  Be very sure of your colors before using this method of editing.  With good cameras this editing is not needed or needed very little.

Figure 24: Daughter of stars will usually photograph as blue a slight tweak of in lighting, white balance and contrast will get it as close as possible without artificially changing the color.


Reducing Files


            Now you can reduce the size of your file in three ways.  The first thing you want to do is to crop all unneeded and unwanted portion of the picture (Figure 25).  After this is done to your satisfaction, resave the file in the current name and format.  Still a large file and the resolution is still great.  The second and third steps will be done together. Resize the photograph.  There is usually a resizing portion to photographic programs in which you can change the size of the picture.  Make sure you maintain proportion of the picture.  Choose the smallest size and type in four, so that it is at least 4” in one dimension.  Next you save the file in a GIF (Graphic Image Format) or JPG format which is a compression format and allows the best method to share on the internet.

Figure 25: A comparison of uncropped (A) and cropped (B) photograph of Rosalie Figge which gives a cleaner picture of the iris by eliminating excess background. 


            Once you have your files in all three formats gather them together and copy them to a DVD or CD.  A DVD is better because it is 4 GB, giving you much more room to store your images.  These disks need to be recopied once every three years to maintain their integrity.  Now you are set to share your photos.  I make a back-up copy of the DVD to take with me so if needed I can retrieve a photo.  Flash drives are also great for this and are easier to carry around.

            Printing your pictures is the hardest of all to describe because each printer, ink company and paper manufacturer all affect the outcome of your picture.  For high quality photographs my best recommendation is to copy those pictures you want to print onto a disk, flash drive or even your camera memory chip and take it to your local Wal-Mart, Ritz Camera, Target, Walgreens or wherever there is a one hour photo machine.   These places use virtually the same ink and the same paper and printing methods.  For times when you do not need a perfect high quality picture your color printer will do a good job.  I love Hewlet Packard because they are cheap, quick, and produce good quality prints on a variety of media from card stock to inkjet photo paper.  At just about any place you can get school supplies (Wal-Mart, Target, Staples, Office Max, Office Depot) you can get inkjet photo paper, or other high quality picture paper.  For iris sales I love using just plain old printer paper since I know it will get damaged and a good print is not lost in all the confusion of the day.


What To Do With All Those Pictures


            Well you now have them reduced and cropped, and corrected the lighting, and of course you have saved them in multiple places so if you cannot find one folder you can surely find another.  For those of you who give talks, all those *.JPG and *.GIF (don’t get upset these are just file extensions no computer wizardry needed) files can easily be plucked into presentation programs like Microsoft Power Point®.  These will make the presentation more meaningful and brighter.  Even some of those bad shots are helpful in this case. 

            Most computers with Windows® have a little freeware program from Microsoft called Microsoft Movie Maker®.  This very easy to use program can be used to compile all those photographs into a movie where you determine the time they are shown (I like 2 seconds) and also add music or other music type file.  This program can also be used to save it in a format that can be burned to a DVD to be shown on any DVD player.

            Many of the presentation software packages also have photo album creators, most of which can be used on the web.  Speaking of the web, there are many sites that allow you to upload you files for sharing.  These are particularly nice if you belong to web based garden communities.  Some require that the picture already be uploaded to the web in another area and a link made to it. 

            One of the best uses for pictures is the numerous illustrated checklists from a variety of sources.  By submitting your photos for consideration you are reaching not just people who already have the cultivar but also those interested in the class of iris you are depicting.  Places like Iris Twiki ( ) have an extensive and searchable illustrated checklist for many different plants including Iris.


Closing Thoughts


            In closing, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE.  That is the only way to learn the capabilities of your camera.  Do not be hesitant to take lots of pictures.  In digital photography those extra pictures can tell you a lot and if they do not, it cost you nothing to dispose of them.   Now that you are comfortable with your camera, and you can get a perfect shot on just about every iris picture you take, there will inevitably be an Iris that no matter how many photos you take, none come out to your satisfaction.  You cannot figure out what you are doing wrong, but what you end up with is not what you thought you had.  It happens every year to me.  Do not get discouraged, eventually even that iris will lend itself to at least a good picture if not a great one.

            If you do not have one and you plan on taking lots of pictures, invest in a DVD burner to save those pictures to.  Another use of the photographs you have spent the Spring taking is the rhizome sales.  Most of the general public like color and are not too worried about names.  Having photographs of the offerings at these sales can be a tremendous help in selling the stock you have.

            Share.  Yep, share those photographs on the internet with local societies, regional societies, and even editors from other associated societies like the Dwarf Iris Society, Aril Society International, etc.  They are always looking for good quality photographs for their newsletters, and other publications.  As a regional editor, I look for photographs of those irises that grow well in my region.

            Good luck and most of all HAVE FUN.  Photography is a wonderful hobby beyond taking flower pictures. 




Camera Manufacturers:












Hewlet Packard:




Purchasing Cameras: CAMETA CAMERAS - (800) 991-3350 Digital Corp - 1-800-807-4171 Ext 226  Wal-Mart Yes Walmart   Best Buy (Shop you might get it cheaper)


Memory :  Good place for cheap memory cards of all types


Photography Terms:


Photo Editing Software:


Photoshop ~$600-$1000 :


Irfanview ~ Freeware :


Portrait Professional ~ $50.00 :


Picasa ~ Freeware (caution can take a lot of memory and time with indexing)


Review of Photo editing software with prices:




Photography Terms:

Related articles:
editing, equipment, garden, iris, Photography

« More articles

Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Great Article! starlight1153 Apr 3, 2010 5:59 PM 1

AIS Region 4

Welcome to the Region 4 of the American Iris Society Cubit.

» Home
» Forums
» Articles
» Links

Cubit owner: avmoran

» Contact Admin: avmoran