As people, we are awed by nature. Despite everything we arguably do to hinder it, somehow it perseveres on, evidenced by the dandelion stubbornly reaching through a crack in the sidewalk or a tree being born from the ashes of a terrible forest fire. With that awe comes the desire to capture the beauty around us and keep it with us. And as photographers, we do this by taking photographs. Here are ten tips to help you improve your flower photography so you too can take nature’s wonders with you.
Shoot in Manual
Flower photography is a make or break art. The making and the breaking is done is the smallest increments as you slowly adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and exposure. Usually you are taking a picture of small object up close which means that missing the exposure or focus even just a little will lead to shot very different than the one you are trying to achieve. Shooting in manual gives you the ability to easily make incremental changes until you get exactly what you are looking for.
Invest in a good macro lens
If flower photography is your passion, there is a good change you are going to need a macro lens. A macro lens is a lens which has the ability to photograph something at life size which is a 1:1 ratio or magnify past the 1:1 ratio up to a 10:1 ratio. This gives you the ability to portray all the little details and idiosyncrasies that make flowers so amazing from the curl of a petal to the pollen tipped stamen.
Shoot in the early morning
Photographing flowers in the morning is advantageous for two reasons. The first is that the light is softer and less likely to produce the harsh shadows and exposure nightmares sometimes found during the middle of the day. The other reason is the morning dew has yet to evaporate. The water clinging the perfectly formed petals and slipping off verdant leaves makes for an interesting and beautiful photograph. (Or you can cheat and spray some water yourself before photographing.)
Use a shallow depth of field
A shallow depth of field simply means that only a small portion of your photograph is properly in focus. The purpose of this is the highlight the portion of your picture you want the view’s eye to focus on. In order to accomplish this you should set a wide aperture, which is denoted by a small number such as f1.8.
Using a shallow depth of focus removes much of the distracting elements from the background allowing the viewer to focus on your intended flower. It also allows you to open up to higher aperture which allows more light to hit your sensor. In turn you can bump up your shutter speed to decrease the chance unwanted blur and lower your ISO to remove undesired grain.
Wait for a cloudy day
If you are photographing flowers outside, plan to go shooting on an overcast da, especially if you plan on being in the field for more than a couple hours. Like shooting in the early morning, the lack of direct sunlight will aid you in capturing the minute details that makes flower photography so special.
Wind is another element that will combat your thirst for a crisp, perfectly focused, expertly exposed photograph. The movement from the wind is likely to cause a lack of sharpness and at times even a motion blur. Regardless, unless you are specifically looking to add that element to your photograph, a breeze can ruin your entire setup. If it is a breezy day then try and find a protected area such as a corner or a flower bed protected by a wind break to minimize issues.
Use a tripod and a remote trigger
To further enhance the change of a tack sharp image use a tripod and a wireless shutter trigger. When you handhold your camera all the micro movements you make transfer to your camera and can potentially cause blur. Usually for a typical, say, portrait it isn’t an issue but when you are shooting at a macro level even the moment caused by taking a breath can affect the quality of your photo. The trigger removes the motion that occurs when you depress the shutter to take the photo.
Bring your own light
I always suggest bringing a white reflector when doing flower photography. While you are seeking out overcast day there is a good chance that overall the light will be a good quality but a reflector lets you control that light and brighten shadows.
Hollyhock from Below #2 by Flickr user philipbouchard
Shoot from different angles. Use a telephoto lens instead of a macro lens. Shoot at night with nothing but the sparse light from a single street light. Take your flowers inside. Try to photograph a single bud. Then try to photograph an entire field of flowers. Manipulate light with a flash. Be brave. Be bold. Be stupid! Find what you love about photographing flowers by doing a little bit of everything and challenging yourself. Don’t allow yourself to get bored or complacent.
Like all photography, flower photography is a weird and wonderful mix of science and art. Science is observable and repeatable which is the consistency you should be aiming for with your photography. You will never be good or find what you love about photography without investing time, love, and mental capacity into it. So take your camera with you everywhere and dedicate long stretches of time learning to photograph flowers, but also to be patient with nature and with yourself. Go to lavender fields and botanical gardens and stop on the side of a wildflower strewn highway. Dedicate yourself to the subtle art of flower photography. As you scroll through your photographs and cull a day’s worth of shooting you will not regret the time you put into your art.
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