Night-blooming Tropical Water Lilies

June 19, 2012

Most people think flowers need sunlight to open—but not all do. For our upcoming National Geographic story, “Gardens By Night,” we researched night bloomers and assembled a list of ten specimens we hoped to photograph. Many of these open only one night a year. It’s all about patience and planning—and being in the right place at the right time.

We work three nights prior to (and the night of) the full moon. That’s four nights out of a month to shoot—assuming the weather cooperates. When we arrived at Longwood Gardens for our second night of photography, senior gardener Tim Jennings, the water lily specialist, greeted us with news that one of the Giant Water-platters would open that night. “Hurry,” he said, “this baby doesn’t wait for moonlight to start opening.” We scrambled and got everything in place; our first exposure was at 7:46 p.m. (about 20 minutes before sunset). The lily began to open a minute later.

Although we happened to be there on the one night this beauty opened, we had not scouted this particular flower before, and had no idea if the moon would rise over the greenhouse to illuminate it. The moonlight arrived an hour after our sequence began. It touched the edge of one of the lily pads—and then the flower itself. Call it luck if you like. We prefer to think along the lines of Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I’m a great believer in luck. I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Nuts and Bolts:
There are 55 still photographs taken over a 2½-hour period—the time-lapse pares it down to 17 seconds. The first exposure was at 7:46 p.m. (ISO: 400, f/11, 1/30 second) and the last exposure was at 10:15 p.m. (ISO: 400, f/11, 267 seconds). With the “Long Exposure Noise Reduction” set to “On,” the last exposure of 4¼ minutes doubled to become a 9½-minute exposure.

Originally posted on National Geographic Magazine’s “Field Test”

Photo by Nina Subin
All Images © 2013 Diane Cook & Len Jenshel. All rights reserved.
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