Orchid Photography with the New iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 13 Pro Cameras

Apple introduced the iPhone 13 series in the fall of 2021, and I traded in my iPhone 11 Pro for an iPhone 13 Pro, which features several camera improvements:

* Faster wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses with 36% larger pixels, providing improved image quality, especially in low light and at night;

* A 3X telephoto camera vs. the iPhone 11 Pro’s 2X version;

* A new Macro mode, facilitating close-ups of subjects only 2cm from the camera lens.

I decided to check out these new capabilities during a couple of visits to Orchids Forever, a large display of hundreds of colorful orchids staged each winter at Cleveland Botanical Garden (CBG), part of Holden Forests & Gardens located in University Circle on Cleveland’s East Side. 

Oncidium ‘Gower Ramsey’, Cleveland Botanical Garden Entrance Area

Orchids are the world’s largest group of flowering plants, with more than 25,000 species in 800 genera and over 100,000 hybrids and cultivars. Each winter, hundreds of spectacular orchids are on display inside the main building at CBG as well as in the Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glass House, which showcases the Spiny Desert of Madagascar and the Costa Rica Rainforest. Many of the orchids are displayed on tall, multi-sided black display stands, as shown in the photo above, made with the iPhone 13 Pro’s ultra-wide-angle camera, which is equivalent to a 13mm wide-angle lens on a 35mm full-frame camera.       

Miltoniopsis Orchids, Costa Rica Rainforest Glass House, Cleveland Botanical Garden

The gorgeous Miltoniopsis orchids shown above, photographed with the iPhone 13 Pro’s 9mm telephoto lens (77mm equivalent in 35mm) are typical of the scores of multi-hued orchids on display in the Costa Rica rainforest Glass House, in which the ferns, tree bark, and other tropical foliage created attractive backgrounds for the orchid flowers. 

Venus Slipper Orchid, Cleveland Botanical Garden

You might think that the iPhone 13 Pro’s new Macro mode is accomplished with the 9mm telephoto lens, but in fact it is the 1.57mm ultra-wide-angle lens that incorporates the Macro capability, used to create the close-up of the Venus Slipper orchid shown in the photo above. When the iPhone is moved close to the subject, it automatically switches to the ultra-wide-angle lens Macro mode and snaps into focus. Some users find this disconcerting, and the iPhone 13 Pro settings include an option to turn off this automatic lens switching if you prefer. 

Macro mode is only available on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, but if you own an earlier iPhone model, as far back as the iPhone 8, you can obtain a similar macro capability using an iPhone app, Halide Mark II. Halide Mark II requires an annual subscription fee, but is packed with a wealth of photography features that make it an attractive alternative to the iPhone’s built-in camera software. 

Orchid Panorama, Costa Rica Rainforest

The iPhone includes a superb facility for creating panoramic images with a field of view up to 240 degrees, creating a 63MB JPEG file about 16,000 pixels in width, which can be made into a beautiful inkjet print 3-4 feet wide to hang above your living room sofa. I used this feature to make the panorama shown above, filled with pink, purple, and white orchids.  

Laeliocattleya Gold Digger ‘Orglade’s Mandarin’, Cleveland Botanical Garden

The Laeliocattleya orchid photo shown above is another example of the iPhone 13 Pro’s new Macro mode. Like all the orchid photographs I made during my two CBG visits, the images were transferred from my iPhone 13 Pro to my digital photo library on my Dell Precision 5820 PC workstation, and edited in a combination of Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop. Why not use the powerful editing features available on the iPhone 13 Pro, including Lightroom CC? The main reason is that the iPhone 13 Pro’s screen, although it provides a superb display, is only 13 square inches in size, while my 24-inch EIZO, at 261 square inches, allows my aging eyes the luxury of a screen twenty times larger! In addition, the desktop versions of Lightroom Classic and Photoshop provide more powerful editing features than their iPhone app versions. In particular, I use Photoshop’s powerful editing tools to remove bright highlights, stakes, twist ties, unwanted flowers of brightly colored adjacent orchids and other background distractions from the image. 

Phalaenopsis Orchids, Costa Rica Glasshouse, Cleveland Botanical Garden

Excellent lighting and a strong composition are two of the features of a fine orchid photograph. In the Phalaenopsis photo shown above, the brown tree roots serve as leading lines that direct the viewer’s attention to the vivid purple flowers, which are positioned along a diagonal of the picture frame. In addition, the flowers are partially backlit, which creates a subtle glow to the purple petals. 

Spider Orchids, Cleveland Botanical Garden

Spider orchids are some of the most spectacular flowering plants, and the flowers shown in the photo above were positioned against a dark gray background, which I darkened to black by adjusting the Black Point slider in Lightroom’s Develop mode. Some orchid photographers carry pieces of black velvet cloth to drape behind the orchid, but in general I prefer to search for flowers having a more natural background with a mixture of foliage, grasses, tree bark and other items that works well with the orchids and can be fine-tuned to adjust the tonality and color and eliminate any distractions. 

The Forever Orchids event at CBG ended on March 13, so you will need to wait until next winter to enjoy and photograph another orchid display, although a few orchids may be found blooming in the Costa Rica Rainforest Glass House in every month of the year. I would like to thank CBG horticulturist Sadie Smith for providing me with IDs for many of my orchid photographs, and I would like to congratulate the horticulturists at CBG for the superb orchid displays that must have taken hundreds of hours of work to create.    

For more information and tips on iPhone photography, check out our eBook, iPhone Landscape & Nature Photography, recently updated for the new iPhone 13 series:









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