Digital Photography 101: How to photograph flowers
From delicate blooms to fields of wildflowers, here's how to capture nature's colorful floral displays
Flowers are pretty. But like that sentence, pictures of flowers can be a little boring -- yet another picture of a lovely rose, ho hum! Much like photographing sunsets, it's easy to take a mediocre photograph of a flower and have it still look pretty. Taking flower photos that are both unique and beautiful requires a little more thought and preparation.
A lot of the techniques we discussed aboutmacro photography apply to photographing flowers, but there are some specific considerations when shooting these petaled beauties. Your camera's macro setting will probably give you the best results, though you should experiment with other settings as well.
Pay attention to the details
The first thing to think about when photographing flowers is to choose your specimen carefully. Ask yourself what sort of image you're going for -- soft and delicate, or abstract? Highlighting the perfect bloom, or the imperfections that make it interesting? The similarities between all the daisies in a field of daisies, or the differences between individual flowers?
Composition is key
The key to interesting photographs of flowers is composition. Decide whether you want to crop your image in close to the subject (or even just a portion thereof) or if you'd rather take a wide-angle shot with the flower as the focal point of a larger scene. Generally, photographs of flowers work best with a shallow depth of field, using lovely, softbokeh to keep the viewer's attention on the subject.
Consider the angle of your shot as well. A perfect rose framed in the center of the photograph may be beautiful, but it's not very interesting. You might try shooting at an unusual angle -- from below, perhaps, or from the side. Beware of distracting elements in the background of your shot, which will detract from the flower itself. If you're shooting in a garden, keep an eye out for things like sheds, tools, or even people who might wander into your shot. Move them or adjust your framing as necessary.
Focus on depth of field
When you're shooting a close-up, be very aware of both your focus and the depth of field. Remember that the closer you are to your subject, the more a slight adjustment in either the lens focus or the depth will impact your final image. Using depth of field to highlight just a certain area of the image makes for an interesting compositional trick. If you want the entire flower to be in focus, you might need to use a smaller aperture or move further away to achieve a larger depth of field.
You also need to be aware of the minimum focus distance of your lens. All cameras and lenses have a focusing range, beyond which anything closer or farther away will simply never be in focus. This point varies by camera/lens combination, so play around and find that sweet spot with each subject and keep your flowers farther away than that!
Another thing to bear in mind is the wind, which may ruin an otherwise perfect shot by causing the flowers to move, blurring your image. If bringing the plants inside is impossible, consider carrying a large piece of cardboard to use as a wind shield. Just be sure not to put your subjects in shadow! You could even kill two photographic birds with one stone and use a white sheet of cardboard as a reflector to direct even more light onto your flowers. Try to arrange your outing for morning or evening, when not only will the wind tend to be less of an issue, but you'll also get beautiful golden hour light.
Tricky lighting tricks
Lighting flowers can be tricky. Your camera might think it should use a flash, but built-in flashes tend to wash out the colors of things like flowers. Using a reflector to aim more natural light at your subject goes a long way. Also try using a diffuser over your camera's flash. Even a piece of tissue paper taped over the built-in flash might help give you the indirect glow you're looking for. Try using different colored reflectors (again, even a piece of cardboard can work here), and see what sorts of effects you can achieve.
Thinking outside the flowerbox helps when considering lighting. In general, backlight will eliminate most of the color from a flower photograph, but that in and of itself can be an interesting choice (especially if you're shooting a flower with translucent petals). If you're able to get underneath and shoot into the light, you could achieve a beautiful glowing effect.
Flowers provide endlessly interesting and beautiful subjects for photographs. The next time you're trying to think of something to shoot, try looking in your own garden!
[Writing credit: Katherine Gray. Image credits: K. Gray]