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
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
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
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