Flower Photography Cheat Sheet
Now that Spring is officially here, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about ways to improve your flower photography. My gardens are already beginning to sprout here in New England, and it won’t be long before flowers are blooming and vibrant colors are swaying in the gentle summer breeze.
Summer color loves diffused light
I’m often asked how it is that I get the flower shots that I do. What is it that I look for and what does my creative eye see? I’m happy to share that information with you and offer some helpful tips on how to improve your flower photography. First, however, let’s look at where you might be going wrong.
There are several mistakes that new photographers often make when shooting flowers:
- Shooting down on a flower from a standard viewing distance produces a typical “snapshot” image.
- Shooting at high noon in bright sun produces harsh lighting and washes out color.
- Not removing distractions, such as dead leaves or stray twigs.
- Always shooting from the same angle or perspective.
- Not thinking through the overall composition.
- Cropping too tightly in camera.
- Shooting too close with the lens you are using and thus being unable to focus.
Answer This Question…
Do I think of my camera as taking great pictures, or do I think of myself as creating great photographs? There is definitely a difference. Your answer determines where you go from here.
12 Helpful Tips
If you want to be in control of the images you capture in the garden, but aren’t quite sure on how to do that, perhaps the following tips will be of some help.
Tip #1 — The 360 Rule
Really evaluate your shooting perspective. Basically check out the flower from every angle, including above and below, as well as by circling its circumference. Light, shadow and background all change as you move around the flower, as do the intricate details of the flower itself.
The back of a flower often has interesting detail all its own
Tip # 2 — Composition
When you see a group of flowers, study them collectively as well as individually. How flowers are positioned and grow in relation to each other can often be the foundation of a nice composition.
A flower's position in the garden can influence composition
Tip #3 — Selective Focus
Decide what element you want as the primary point focus. With a tight group of flowers, you might want to draw the viewer’s eye to a specific flower. I chose to do just that with this image, by creating a shallow depth of field for the background, and soft focus for the surrounding outside flowers.
Keeping one flower in sharp focus draws the viewer's eye
Tip #4 — Depth of Field
Controlling the depth of field (that which remains in sharp focus) makes all the difference in the world to flower photography. Therefore it’s important to remember these four factors that affect depth of field:
- Your f-stop number (The smaller the number, the less that is in focus; the larger the number, the more that is in focus.)
- The focal length of your lens. (When you’re zoomed in, you’ll have less depth of field. When you’re zoomed out, you’ll have more depth of field.)
- Your distance to the subject. (The closer you are to the subject, the less that is in focus; the farther away you are from the subject, the more that is in focus.)
- The subject’s distance to the background. (The further away the subject is from the background, the less that is in focus; the closer the subject is to the background, the more that is in focus.)
Note: All four of these factors interact with each other to affect depth of field. Consider them when composing your shots.
A shallow depth of field showcases the flower and blurs the background
Tip #5 — Close-Up & Macro
Flowers feature very intricate details. What better way to showcase these details than with a close-up or macro shot. It’s important to note that while a macro lens can really up your shooting game, you don’t need a dedicated macro lens to get a close-up or macro image. You can always crop an image afterwards to create a close-up or macro perspective.
The details of small flowers are not always seen by the naked eye
Tip #6 — Welcome The Rain
Don’t be too disappointed when the rain comes to spoil a sunny day. On the contrary it may be exactly what you need for a special shot. Sometimes you don’t need a steady rain. I’ve found that a quick passing shower can really enhance things.
Sometimes a spring shower can be your creative friend
Tip #7 — Spot Focus
What to focus on when shooting flowers is only limited by your imagination. You can shoot an overall garden scene, a group of flowers, a single flower with a shallow depth of field, or you can really call attention to the finer details by spot focusing on a single point to draw the viewer’s eye. That was my thought for this image, as the colors of the flower were the perfect frame to showcase the texture of the stigma.
Spot focus can draw the eye to a specific detail
Tip #8 — Fill The Frame
Certain images deserve to fill the frame during composition. Such was the case when I saw this large sunflower. I loved everything about it — the color, the texture, the background, the curve of the petals. I chose a square crop to showcase this pristine, symmetrical flower. It proved to be a good call, as I later had this image made into a large ceramic tile. The dimensions were perfect.
Fill the frame with the most important elements
Tip #9 — Flower Stages
Flowers grow in stages. That makes for multiple photo opportunities. I like to continually check my gardens to see what stage a particular flower is at. Do you have any idea what this emerging bud later turned out to be? If you guessed sunflower, you’d be right!
Different stages offer multiple shooting opportunities
Tip #10 — Top Down Perspective
As previously mentioned, shooting down on a flower from a typical viewing distance can produce bland, boring images. However, getting close to the flower (either physically or by zooming in) can totally change the composition and make for an interesting photo. The striped, curved petals on this variegated crocus guide the viewer’s eye to the central point of focus.
Shoot top down to showcase pattern and detail
Tip #11 — Soft Focus
In the garden certain flowers by their very design are a perfect match for soft focus. The shallow depth of field in this image again helped to showcase the flower, but it was soft focus that complemented the natural softness of the delicate petals. Everything working together is what makes this image interesting.
Certain details are meant for soft focus
Tip #12 — Incorporate Garden Visitors
We are not the only ones who wait for the gardens to bloom. Some winged friends become the perfect accent to a colorful flower. Dragonflies are some of my favorite visitors to capture. I actually think they enjoy my company, for they follow me around the garden all summer long.
Garden visitors love the flowers too
It’s early in the season, so you have plenty of time to practice these tips. You can even get a jump on things by picking up a potted plant such as tulips, positioning it in the garden, and experimenting. Best of all, you can then transplant the tulips as a colorful addition to your garden.
Bonus Tip! Keep practicing and don’t get discouraged. Every photo teaches you something. What better classroom to practice in than the garden on a nice, warm day. Sounds good to me!
~ Liz Mackney
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