If you are making a living out of photography, you must be good. If you are making a living out of wild plant photography you’re a genius. There is not much call for wild plant photographs these days, especially macro shots that offer a portrait of an individual plant. Some talented individuals have success with landscape shots that incorporate a stunning wildflower meadow, or a row of perfectly formed trees, but on the whole demand is low. To maximise the demand there is, correctly identifying plants with both the scientific and common name are key. Even if you don’t intend to sell them and just enjoy uploading to your chosen photo sharing site, by labeling them correctly you will be more likely to connect with those doing the seeking. You may be at a stage where you have the ability to recognise a group of plants – viola, orchid, gentian, forget-me-nots etc – but can you take it to the next level and name the species – eg Viola riviniana, Anacamptis pyramidalis, Gentianella amarella, Myosotis sylvatica? It takes some effort to correctly identify a species of plant, yet we are fortunate in the UK to have some really great plant identification guides to help.
New Flora of the British Isles by Clive Stace
Not for the faint-hearted. Just carrying this book will make your eyes water. It contains not much in the way of pictures just line drawings, a fairly impenetrable key even for the seasoned botanist, something like 3,000 species and 5,000 taxa (ie species plus subspecies, hybrids and more) to lose yourself in, gives you not a lot of change from 60 pounds, and weighs a ton. Putting all that to one side, what you have here is a masterpiece, a comprehensive identification guide that covers every vascular plant (not mosses and liverworts) that the majority of flower hunters will ever hope to find. Perhaps best to start with one of the others, but to enhance your wild plant photographer credibility, it is recommended that you keep one of these on your coffee table at all times, just so you can say to visitors… ‘Yes, of course I have Stace’.
The Wild Flower Key by Francis Rose
Rose is really nice and will meet most photographers needs. It has also been known to save a lot of wannabee botanists at moments of high anxiety. It has colourful pictures, a more accessible key and is a reasonable weight. People have been known to skip the key, and instead find a comfortable position by the plant in question and look through every single page until they find a picture that looks sort of right. It’s quite a nice past-time if you don’t have a day-job. This is definitely one for the camera bag. But if someone asks you if they can borrow your ID guide, remember to deny all knowledge that you have one, and tell them you’re very sorry but you seem to have left your Stace in the car.
The Vegetative Key to the British Flora by John Poland & E J Clement
Again not really a beginners book, because this is an ID guide for those plants where the flowers are missing or rather, yet to appear. Identifying plants without flowers who would be so crazy? Well there’s some Extreme Botanists out there who just love a challenge. And photographs of plants in winter is a whole genre in itself. So if you’re going to give it a go, this is the best book to carry. Plant Curator loves this book for its artistic merit. It has a wonderful piece of art work on the cover by digital artist Niki Simpson, and is a lovely green colour. It just feels nice to have, kind of special, and makes you wish John and E J were your friends.
Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland: A Field Guide by Ian D.M. Atherton et al
If you have a penchant for mosses and liverworts then this is the best book to acquire. It’s another brick of a book, but the photography is of a high quality (not easy!) and you just feel like it’s been put together by people that really care. However, if you think identifying flowering plants is hard, then this takes the biscuit. Expect to load your macro lens with extension tube after extension tube and still not find the miniscule thing that will tell you which species it is. Like all wild plants however, close-up photography offers an intimate encounter with something that most people will never have the pleasure of experiencing. It’s a mesmerising world for sure.
Field Flora of the British Isles by Clive Stace
We have saved the best till last. One of the greatest disappointments of the the last century is that this book is currently out of print. One of greatest satisfactions of the last century is that for those of us who own one, the going rate for a second hand copy is rumoured to be in the hundreds. Once you are aware of this fact it’s impossible to pass a second hand book shop or charity shop without doing a quick scan for the blue and yellow cover. People have been known to do this as far away as Canada. Which is ridiculous because it’s British Flora, but people get attached to books, and then people travel with those books and then people die, which is the only real reason why anyone would be parted from a ‘Baby Stace’. What is so special about this book? It’s Stace! It’s abridged! It’s light! It seems more accessible although that may be an illusion. You can carry it in your camera bag and even if you don’t use it you will just feel great that it is there and you have one.