TOW - Digital Photography of Plants and subsequent manipulation of images for printing, the web etc.

John Lonsdale
Sun, 15 Dec 2002 16:52:28 PST
Mary Sue asked me to introduce and moderate the above topic, and I agreed,
without thinking too deeply about the monster that was about to be
unleashed.  That's what happens when people ask so nicely !

Rather than make this too specific too soon, I thought I'd let it go
whichever way you want it to go after a relatively brief introduction (if
that's possible with this subject) summarizing the way I do things to
generate images for 35mm slide production, the web and for printing.  Each
sub-topic is a TOW in itself.  I should say up front I am absolutely not a
skilled photographer so will defer to someone else all questions about the
finer points of photography.  The results which can be obtained by a
relative clown are testament to the ease of use of new digital cameras !
All aspects of image manipulation are also self-taught and I would love to
hear from someone expert in the intricacies of Adobe Photoshop who won't
mind me bugging them every couple of days.

I now use a digital camera to meet all my photography needs, prints, slides
and web images.  I am very happy with the results and don't envisage ever
having to go back to slide or print film.  As we bring up the various
aspects of digital plant photography I'd love to hear about alternatives -
cameras, software and techniques - as I'm sure there are many better and
different ways to do this.

I have always used Nikon digital cameras, either a Coolpix 950 or now a
Coolpix 995.  The former offered 2 million pixel (mega pixel) resolution,
the latter 3.4.  The 995 is perfect for all my digital photography needs,
having superb Nikon optics, sufficient resolution and a wonderful macro
facility built in that allows close focus to 1/8".  The unique design that
allows the lens to swivel independently of the body makes taking low down
shots a breeze, without ever having to lay down and crawl through the mud.
This camera cost around  $700 but has already been superceded at least twice
as resolution etc. gets better.

Good digital cameras are pretty much like good SLRs and most of the rules
are the same - and the digital camera gives you just as much flexibility,
just using a different interface.  You do need to choose the format in which
to save your images - this will determine how many you can save and what
quality they will be.  The ultimate quality gives you huge files and slow
downloads, I compromise by using the jpg format but with minimal
compression - this gives me the best of both worlds, a file around 1Mb that
downloads quickly with almost no loss in quality from a TIF file.  You need
some removable physical memory to save your digital images to - and this
varies greatly as well, in capacity, type and ease of getting images onto
the computer.  I use a 256 megabyte type II flash card, pretty standard, but
it is important to get plenty of memory.  The cards that come with the
cameras are woefully short of capacity.  You need to get the images from the
camera to the computer and you can do this directly or indirectly.  I have
never even installed the software that comes with the cameras, preferring to
use a flash card reader (which acts as a mini-hard drive) to download images
straight to my PC, into a directory kept for that purpose.

Once on your PC (or Mac) the world is your oyster !  I have two programs
which are indispensable - one to manage my image database, and one to
manipulate the images into their final form.  The former is called
ThumbsPlus ($75 download from - and it is really a Windows
Explorer which works with thumbnails made from the images in your
directories.  That is a gross over-simplification and it is exceptionally
powerful.  One of the prime uses I make of it is to batch rename all my
images - saves typing these in for every one.  This program also has a
preview feature - you can look at large previews of each file instantly by
clicking on the thumbnail.

After naming, some manipulation is always going to be necessary to get the
finished product and for this I use Adobe Photoshop.  The latest full
version is very expensive ($700) but there are much cheaper slimmed down
versions available which do most of what you need.  There are also several
alternative programs out there.  Within Photoshop (PS) I correct the
exposure, get rid of any blemishes (if necessary), re-size and change the
resolution as appropriate, sharpen the image and save for the web or
printing.  There are also a zillion tools available for doing every possible
manipulation under the sun - and there are books several inches thick
available to help you do just this.

Images for the web are surprisingly low resolution (72 dpi) whereas to get
good prints of a reasonable size you need higher resolution images (300dpi).
For printing I use an Epson Stylus Photo 1280 ink jet printer - and get
results which are just outstanding.  Improvements in technology allow for
prints which will last 75 years or more using archival quality papers and
inks.  The 1280 is around $450 but you can get great prints from prints at
1/3/ to 1/2 that amount.  For producing photos for web site use, PS has a
'save for web' utility which allows you to maximize quality whilst reducing
file size automatically to the low levels suited for rapid downloads.  Like
ThumbsPlus, PS has a batch utility which allows you to process hundreds of
images with a single command.

So, very simply, that's the process I use to satisfy all my plant
photography needs.  Let's hear about alternatives, issues, questions and
comments - this can be as simple or as cutting edge as we like - it's up to
you !  Given that I can print a magazine quality 10 x 8 image in my basement
5 minutes after taking the picture, this technology is here to stay and
enjoy - and there's certainly nothing difficult about it !


Dr John T Lonsdale
407 Edgewood Drive,
Exton, Pennsylvania 19341,  USA

Phone: 610 594 9232
Fax: 801 327 1266

Visit "Edgewood" - The Lonsdale Garden at

Zone 6b

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