Improve your flower photography


Now (or whenever Spring starts) is the time to improve your flower photos. Spring and

summer offer huge potential to shoot stunning plant and flower portraits. Whether it’s in

your garden, a public park or even on the side of the road, there are plenty of fantastic

photos for the taking. In this guide, there are 25 top flower photography tips for you. Use

them, and watch your photography, erm… blossom. Sorry.

1 Macro lenses

If you’re interested in close-up flower photography then you should invest in a macro lens.

Using a macro lens enables you to focus up close so you can really fill the frame with your

subject. A true macro lens produces an image recorded on the sensor at life-size or larger.

Great care has to be taken when focusing macro lenses as depth of field is very limited

when you’re so close to your subject. Without a macro lens, check how close you can get to

your flower and keep it sharp – it may make you feel the macro lens isn’t quite so vital – for

now.

2 Extension tubes

If you want to try close-up photography without the expense of a macro lens, then

extension tubes are a good alternative. Three tubes of varying depth form a set of

extension tubes. A tube or combination of tubes is fitted between the camera body and the

lens. Moving the lens away from the sensor reduces the minimum focusing distance to allow

close-up photography. You’ll probably find you need some help and advice from Henry’s or

Camera Kingston for this – buying online can be confusing.

3 Use a tripod

A good tripod is worth its weight in gold when photographing flowers – so pick the heaviest!

Using a tripod slows you down and helps you think clearly about what you’re trying to

achieve. You can fine-tune composition using a tripod and keep the point of focus exactly

where you want it. The ideal type is a sturdy tripod with legs that can splay out so you can

photograph close to the ground.

4 Remote release

In order to produce flower pictures that are pin-sharp, you need to reduce the risk of

camera-shake. With your camera mounted on a tripod, you should then attach a cable

release. This enables you to fire the shutter without risking camera movement as a result of

you pressing down on the shutter release button.

5 Go telephoto

In order to isolate a particular flower from its surroundings, you should use a telephoto lens.

A long lens when used with the camera set to a wide aperture can really throw the

foreground and background out of focus so that the viewer’s attention is held where you

want it. This is a great technique if you want to produce impressive photographs of

individual plants.

6 Wide-angle lenses have their place

If you’d like to show an individual plant or a group of plants in their surroundings, then a

wide-angle lens is the tool for the job. Using one enables you to include the plants’

environment in a photograph so there’s more information available for the viewer. Depth of

field is also increased, so your image can be sharp all the way from the foreground to the

background. While not so good for individual flowers, a wide-angle would be just the job

for whole garden areas – though you may then decide that a good stepladder is also useful.

7 Switch off auto-focus

Depth of field is so narrow in close-up photography that precise focusing is critical, even

with small apertures. To ensure your shots are sharp where you want, try switching to

manual focus and doing it yourself. Changing focus alters the magnification of the subject,

so set that first, then gently nudge the camera backwards and forwards to position the

sweet spot of sharpness where you want it.

8 Use Live View

When shooting close-ups with a macro lens, even at narrow apertures, you need to get your

focusing spot on, as your depth of field is so limited that any slight inaccuracy will result in

blurred shots. One way around this is to use Live View (if your camera has it) to focus in

manually as accurately as possible – use Live View’s zoom facility and then, as above, move

your camera back or forth by a few millimetres until the element that you want to be in

focus is pin-sharp.

9 Shoot in manual

If you’d rather take control than let your camera decide everything for you, then shoot in

manual mode. Shooting in manual enables you to choose the aperture and shutter

combination that will give you the result you want. Checking your histograms will show you

if you need to change a setting in order to produce a correctly exposed image. Bright

flowers can fool your camera into underexposing, so shooting in manual and checking

histograms can overcome this.

10 Digital camera settings for flower photography

• To achieve maximum image quality with minimum noise you should set your digital

camera to the lowest ISO setting available, usually ISO 100 or 200.

• Shoot in Raw – if you’re not frightened by it – so that the maximum amount of picture

information is stored for you to work with later.

• Set White Balance to Daylight to enable easy batch editing later (though this doesn’t

really matter if you’re shooting Raw).

• Use single shot drive mode, rather than continuous.

• Use small apertures to maximise detail – at very close range, even the smallest aperture

can result in depth of field measured in millimetres. It will slow your shutter speed down –

but you’ve got your tripod, right?

• Use wide apertures to emphasise a sharply focused subject against a blurred background.

11 Watch the weather

A forecast of wall-to-wall sunshine and cloudless blue skies isn’t ideal for flower

photography. Direct sunlight can be harsh and unforgiving, resulting in images with too

much contrast, burnt-out highlights and loss of detail in shadow areas. A bright but overcast

day can be perfect – the light’s soft and diffuse and it’s much more flattering. Early

morning and late afternoon can add even more warmth, with gentle side-lighting.

12 Use a reflector

A reflector is a cheap item of equipment but it can really help to boost your flower

photographs to the next level. When positioned close to an individual plant it can be angled

so that it directs light into shadow areas to reveal detail and to reduce contrast. It can also

be used to shade plants from harsh, direct sunlight if it isn’t overcast and, as a bonus, it can

work as a wind-break!

13 Flash flower photography

Used in moderation, flash can help you produce impressive images, but be careful not to

overdo it. An off-camera flash can be used to provide a subtle burst of side-lighting (to

model your subject), or backlighting (to provide a rim-light). Macro ring-flashes are ideal

for flower photography, as they produce an even and flattering light, eliminating the harsh

shadows that are characteristic of standard flash units. Macro ring-flashes are also ideal for

picking out reflective details, such as grains of pollen or raindrops.

14 Take your time

When you first encounter a beautiful park or garden it can be quite daunting and difficult

to know where to start. Try to be methodical in your approach – you’re more likely to

produce impressive photos. Don’t start taking photos as soon as you arrive unless you know

where to go to get the best shots. Have a walk around and explore your surroundings.

Keeping your camera away will help in the long run!

15 Make a note of the name

Flowers and plants in formal gardens are often accompanied by a stick, which bears both

their common and/or Latin names. If you want your images used in books or magazines

these details are vital. It can be easy to think you’ll remember it but after a few more

photos or a few days, you’ll forget. It only takes a minute to write it down. In a few years

, you could build up a library of images, with their Latin names – which is how the world

looks for flowers online.

16 Choose the best viewpoint

Portraits of people and animals often look more impressive when they’ve been taken from

eye-level to the subject. The same can be applied to flower photography to great effect.

You’re going to have to get low down quite often, so a waterproof sheet to lie on is a useful

piece of kit. (For a similar reason, you may like to use an insect repellent, to keep spiders

and ants away).

17 Kneesy does it

Because shooting flowers outdoors involves spending a lot of time on your knees and

elbows, a gardener’s mat becomes an essential piece of kit. If you plan on spending a lot of

time taking flower pictures, it will pay for itself in no time.

18 Watch your backgrounds

The background that you choose to photograph a flower against can either make or break

the final image. A plant photographed with a soft, uncluttered background can stand out; a

distracting, messy background can easily ruin what could have been a great shot if you’d

thought a bit more.

19 Behind the scenes

If you can’t isolate a plant from background clutter, an easy solution is to place a sheet of

card behind your subject: white will give it a botanical, scientific feel, while coloured

sheets can be used to complement its colours.

20 Gardening tools

When photographing plants, you need to remove distractions to improve the final shot, but

you won’t be very popular if you start breaking plant stems or pulling flowers up. Clothes

pegs or twine can be used to hold plants out of a shot without damaging them. Tweezers

can also be useful for removing small, distracting items from your subject or the

background.

21 Composing flower photos

Placing the subject slap-bang in the middle of the frame rarely works well and can result in

a flat, boring image. Composing with the subject off-centre can instantly give your images

a professional look. Many beginners to flower photography tend to compose shots

horizontally. This may be because it’s easier to hold and use the camera when held this way

rather than turning it on its side to produce a vertical composition. However, more vertical

images are used in magazines and books than horizontal ones so you should make the effort

to shoot both formats if you’d like to see your efforts published!

You may be able to tell just by looking at your subject which composition will work best. As

a rough guide, plants that are wider than they are tall will work as horizontal shots and

those that are taller than they are wide will work as vertical shots. This is a rough guide –

keep looking through the viewfinder as you move the camera to finnd the best shot.

22 Plant portraits

Consider cropping right in on a plant to isolate details. Don’t take a picture of a whole

flower bed and then crop later down to a single bloom. Look for colour and detail and what

it is that makes each subject unique: only by focusing on a plant’s character – the sweep of

a leaf, say, or the point of a petal – you’ll be able to create an image that’s more of a

portrait of the plant than a standard shot.

23 Be wary of wind

A strong wind can be the flower photographer’s worst enemy. Even a gentle breeze can

cause long-stemmed plants to bob about, resulting in blurred images that are no use to

anyone. You can use a strong wind to your advantage and record the movements of flowers

and leaves to produce an artistic image but, generally, it’s best to venture out when it’s

calm. Early mornings are usually better – and try using a clamp on long-stemmed plants to

steady them between gusts.

24 Move indoors

If you don’t have the luxury of being able to wait for a bright, overcast day with no wind,

then you can always photograph indoors. Shooting indoors enables you to really concentrate

on photography without worrying about your subject moving.

25 Just add water

It’s possible to recreate the look of a dew-covered flower by careful use of a water spray.

Adding a few drops of water can really help to bring your flower photographs to life.

-Article procured by Geoff Chalcraft

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The members of the Kingston Photographic Club, of Ontario, meet twice-monthly or more, September to May. The membership broaden their photographic interest from the knowledge of speakers, competition judges, our meetings, other members and this website.

Kingston, Ontario