I had recently been to the Wilhelma Botanical gardens in Stuttgart. This is really paradise for a nature lover. They have green houses where humidity, temperature conditions etc are controlled so as to stimulate the ecosystems of the tropical and sub tropical regions, Amazon rainforests, Desert and others, so you can see birds and plants from all over the world. What I really wanted to do was camp out there and see and read about them and sketch them to my hearts content but what I managed to do was take close to a 1000 snaps; which I think is a huge success considering the fact that I had a dissatisfied child tugging and pulling at me every inch of the way, because he was way more interested in the fahrzeuge in the construction site outside than in the exotic flowers inside the glass houses! (I didn`t think a day would come when I would know the kinds and names of different types of automobiles but I do now, he makes sure that I do!) Anyway, if the gardens are so fascinating now in winter, I can`t imagine how they would be with the roses in the rose gardens and the waterlilies in the ponds blooming and with the butterfly house open in the summer.
Taking reference photographs is a bit different from good photography. You don`t necessarily need a good composition since you are going to use photos in different ways to make one layout in your painting. You need to get close up shots for the details, long shots so as to remind you of the general form of the plant or drape or the way it creeps. If you want to use them as is, then go around the plant to get an effective composition but don`t turn or twist the flowers towards you to get a good shot. The curves just wont look natural then. Take them at eye level, crouch for the ones near the ground or stand on a raised platform for a higher shot but don`t shoot from above or below. Early morning or evening light, called the sweet light is the best for taking photos; shadows are long and rich with reflected light. At mid-day, the contrast betwen light and dark is too stark with very few mid tones; shadows are short; no reflected light. But it is not always possible to get the right conditions, I just grab the oppurtunity to take them when ever I can. You can always change the lighting, color, anything you want in your painting, the photos just serve as quick pictorial notes. Sometimes the light can be so beautiful it is difficult to capture anyway with your camera, then its best to jot down a few color reminders.
Below are some flower photos for you. I place them in the public domain as I have taken them and you are free to use them for whatever purpose that you choose. Click to download high-resolution versions: