Photographing heather

Do you also feel badly motivated for your photography each year in August? The beautiful green fresh colors of spring are gone, those warm summer morning and evenings with that warm light is coming to an end and every plant and tree has already bloomed. I am sure you have felt the same way and you’re only waiting for the autumn to arrive.

 Well, actually there’s something to photograph in August that I must admit I only discovered recently. The heather flowers.

 Last year, 2018, they were non existent due to the insane warm summer we had here in Sweden. Luckily this year everything is back to normal.

 Here’s a short blog post to inspire you and give you some tips as well.

Sunlight is always important for landscape photography and here’s no difference. I would say it’s essential in order to bring out those lovely pink colors to lighten the heather plants. I especially like the back light during golden hour when lights strikes the heather and illuminates it. It could be hard to control the exposure even with filters so try placing to sun a bit to the side and not direct in front of the lens. Side lightning is also a great alternative. It still lightens the heather beautifully and it’s easier to control the exposure.

Beautiful backlit casting warm light on the heather.

Beautiful backlit casting warm light on the heather.

Heather is quite small, make sure to put it in the foreground close to the lens. This requires you to put the tripod as low to the ground as possible. Otherwise there’s a risk the heather will not have the same visual impact in your photos as you hoped for. I like using a wide angle lens, putting the heather in the foreground only a couple of centimeters for the lens. It will appear large and lead your viewer into the frame. At the same time, try to put an interesting object in the background as well , like a tree, to connect the foreground with the background.

Getting the heather close to the foreground and having an interesting object in the background. A nicely balanced composition.

Getting the heather close to the foreground and having an interesting object in the background. A nicely balanced composition.

In order to keep both the foreground and background sharp use an f-stop from f/11 to f/16. I would not go higher then f/16 as this could soften your image as diffraction starts creeping in. Most lenses are the sharpest from f/8 to f/11, but I’ve found that my Sony FE16-35 f/4 lens works perfectly fine at f/16 as well.  Also I would strongly recommend using a tripod as the shutter speeds could be low due to high f/stop like F/16 and if you wish to use focus stacking (more about this technique soon). Depending on the distance between your foreground and background even taking photos at f/16 could not be enough to make sure that both your heather in the foreground and objects in the background are sharp. Focus stacking is a great technique to learn. You’ll find plenty of information about this technique online, but here are some general guidelines.

For the first image only focus on the heather in the foreground. The foreground will be sharp while the background elements will be blurry. For the second image only focus on the elements in the background. The heather in the foreground will now be out of focus. Below is my procedure after having imported the images into Lightroom. I have the Adobe CC subscription with both Lightroom and Photoshop. There are various techniques that will lead to the same results, but below you’ll find my preferred method.

 

  • Mark both images in Lightroom and go into Photo => Edit in => Open as layers in Photoshop

  • This will automatically open Photoshop as 2 separate layers

  • Mark both images and auto align layers to make sure both images as identically stacked ( even if you use a tripod there could small differences between the 2 frame). You will find it under Edit => Auto align layers. Chose automatic as the Photoshop algorithm will do a good job.

  • I make sure that the photo with only the foreground in focus is placed at the bottom and the photo with the background in focus is at the top

  • Next to the top layer insert a layer mask. I add a black layer mask that will hide the layer below. This means you only see the top layer with the background in focus

  • Then I pick the brush tool, choose white color, and with a medium to hard opacity brush and start painting the part of the image below that I want revealed. In this case I’ll brush the bottom part to only reveal bottom part of the image below hence only showing the part that’s in focus

  • Now we have an image where both foreground and background are in focus

  • Press save and the focus stacked image will automatically be exported back to Lightroom where you can make further adjustments like white balance, color corrections, sharpening etc.

Simplify your photos. It’s easy to get lost photographing heather fields as you want to incorporate everything you see. Like in other aspects of photography it’s as important what you exclude in your photos as what you include. Focus on part of scene and make sure you show other parts of the landscape as well. It will be more interesting then just a snapshot of only the heather.


Only heather and wind pined trees. Keep it simple.

Only heather and wind pined trees. Keep it simple.

Want to make the heather even more dominant in the frame? Then tilt you lens slightly forward. By tilting the camera and lens slightly forward, the heather in the foreground, will appear much more dominant then the subjects in the background. A great visual in-camera trick.

Sometimes the heather can be so plentiful and dense that the tripod feels voobly. In that case put your hands deep inside the heather next to the tripod legs and make sure that each leg is securely attached to the ground. Make sure you dig a bit inside the heather to better secure the tripod to the ground.

Standing in the heather with a tripod can make it all unstable. Make sure the tripod legs are firmly secured to the ground.

Standing in the heather with a tripod can make it all unstable. Make sure the tripod legs are firmly secured to the ground.

To sum it up there’s definitely some work involved composing heather photos if you want to show them as part of the environment. Therefore you should not hesitate finding those low angle points to emphasize the plants while at the same time trying to fill the frame with interesting objects like trees, forests, clouds etc.

 Good luck and let me know if you have any questions.