Photographing white flowers can be difficult because it is easy to overexpose the image and end up with a washed-out, featureless shape. One way to get around the problem is to bracket your shots.
Bracketing means that you take several pictures of the same flowers, with different exposure times for each frame. Some you will overexpose, and some you will underexpose. But you should be able to end up with one that’s “just right!” But where do you start?
Begin by familiarizing yourself with your camera’s built-in meter system. Most SLRs and even the most basic digital point-and-shoot cameras have program modes for aperture priority, speed priority, and manual modes. Aperture priority means that you set the aperture and the camera will set itself for the best speed for that lens opening. Speed priority means you set the speed and the camera will change the lens aperture to get the best image possible for that speed setting. In manual mode, you fly solo, setting both aperture and speed yourself with no help from the camera. While this can be confusing for a beginning photographer, it also allows you the most creative freedom. But save that thought: for now, let’s get back to the white woodland flowers.
I wanted to capture the detail in the center of the flowers, while keeping the fern leaf from getting too dark. Some definition in the background would be nice, but it’s not necessary. The background could go completely out of focus and this might improve the image, because it would help declutter the image. Too many competing elements can make an image less interesting, because the eye wanders over the frame and there’s no clear-cut subject of the photograph.
In this case, I wanted to bracket to make sure that I got the shot. I started by going with aperture priority so I could control how much of the image was in focus. By choosing a small f-stop, the stamens of the flowers would remain nice and sharp, and I could keep the petals and fern leaf in focus, too. Aperture priority means that the camera selects the speed, so this would give me a starting point to bracket from.
I took one frame at the aperture priority setting, noting the speed that the camera had used. Then I switched the camera to manual settings. Using the same aperture, I changed my speed settings and took one frame at a shorter exposure time, and one at a longer exposure time than what the aperture priority program used. This is how to bracket: now I had three frames of the same flowers, with three different exposures. Sure enough, one turned out very dark, while one was light. This is the middle frame, which is the one the camera picked.
It doesn’t always work that way, though — the camera doesn’t know what results you are trying to achieve, and the program modes often just end up being a compromise between too light and too dark. Sometimes images work best when they’re slightly dark, so don’t be too quick to throw away your images before you have a chance to really look at them.