Summer’s here and flowers are blooming everywhere — it’s time to go outside, grab your camera and capture the beauty surrounding us. For those who aren’t experienced photographers, it’s just as important to understand how time of day, lighting and depth of field affect your photographs as is finding the right kind of equipment.
In order to strengthen your artistic eye and truly magnify the delicacy and boldness of certain flowers, photography experts say that practice makes perfect. Here are some tips and tricks to guide you as stop and shoot the flowers.
Time of day matters
When thinking about when to take your photos, it’s important to consider the specific look you’re aiming for. For a softer setting, shoot in the late afternoon where there aren’t many harsh shadows, photographer Kurt Johnson says. “The colors are a bit more saturated. This is commonly referred to as the “golden hour” or National Geographic light.”
Another approach would be to shoot in the early morning, when dew droplets still appear on the edges of petals and blades of grass, as shown in photographer Kate Terhune’s image below.
Take advantage of natural light
It can be beautiful to capture a backlit flower with light coming from behind it. This is especially powerful when the sun is on the horizon — perhaps you’re even able to catch rays through the trees. Some of the best light for floral photography actually occurs on overcast days, as there are no harsh bright spots or shadows, leading to great exposure.
Laney Crowell, blogger at Downtown Romantic compares photographing floral subjects to actual people, and notes, “You want a lot of natural light, which is not the case with people. People look best in the shadows, when it’s a little overcast because you don’t want to see all the details.”
The same flower will appear completely different in various lighting environments. SmugMug photographer Ann McRae compares a branch of apple blossoms when backlit (on left) to the same flower under direct sunlight.
“The morning light streaming from the side of the blossoms creates a softer photo and more pleasing background. The blossoms on the right were photographed in the early evening, and while the light is softer than midday light, it comes from directly in front,” she notes. The result is not as pleasing as when the same blossoms were photographed in the morning with back-lighting.
Don’t forget to focus
It’s important to always have a focus, too. Whether you’re choosing to capture a bed of blossoms or just one flower, know what you’re photographing. “When shooting large fields of flowers or interesting foliage, I like to use a selective focus to draw the eye to a certain point, rather than seeing a sea of flowers all in focus,” Johnson says. Choosing where you want viewers to look is one of the most important decisions you’ll make.
And if you are going to show an entire field of flowers, think about having an interesting background. “Just a field of flowers is pretty … but a field of flowers in front of a mountain range is spectacular,” Rocky Mountain Conservancy nature photographer Don Mammoser says.
If you’re shooting just one flower, isolate your subject, photographer and graphic designer Lauren Powers says. “Shoot on macro mode and move the camera around until you get just the right focus. Also, don’t be afraid of taking a lot of photos. Take five in the same place until you get the focus just right.”
You can also isolate your subject by setting a contrast with its background. “If your flower is a rich, vibrant color, move your camera around until the background is plain — a dirt ground, blue sky or green grass.”
Get up close and personal
Flowers won’t bite — don’t shy away from getting too close. Sometimes filling the frame with one flower can be quite magical. But as David Burckhard, photographer and owner of PicturePoint On-line, points out, “The closer you get, the more critical focus becomes, and it might be challenging to decide on which part to show sharply.” When choosing to narrow your depth of field, he suggests focusing on the stamen and pistil, the reproductive parts of the flower. That way, the center of the flower remains crisp while the petals appear blurry.
“Use a selective depth of field, normally a large aperture like F/5.6 or F/2., to create an artistic impression of how beautiful flowers are, and show interesting lines and curves,” Mammoser says.
Think about your angle
When you’re focusing on just a few flowers, aim to “be on the same level with your subject,” says Elena Elisseeva, a photographer from Dreamstime.com.
The flower can’t move around, but you can. Change up your positioning and get down on the flower’s level. Some of the most interesting floral pictures are ones taken from strange angles, the ones that truly make a viewer think about what he or she is looking at. Here, McRae shoots a bloom from underneath, capturing the contrasting primary colors of the yellow lily and blue sky.
It’s fine to go inside
Sometimes the windy weather may deter you from venturing outside, and in that case, try setting up indoors. Gina Gelo, blogger at Pumpkin + Rose, says that when inside, shooting near a window with no artificial or fluorescent lights is best to avoid a glare. Indoors, you have most of the control — use this to your advantage. “Style your flowers at different heights, so the look is textured, natural and not so stiff. Shoot against a white or light colored background, so that the flowers stand out,” she says.
Use your surroundings
Taking photographs in a natural environment offers a great opportunity to flex your creative muscle, to truly frame the world in a unique way. Including someone’s hand or arm with a flower can be very beautiful. Further spice up an image by encompassing other parts of nature in the frame, like dangling vines or crawling insects.
“Flowers are normally surrounded by pollinating insects, and all flowers will eventually turn to seed. Show these stories when you take photos,” Mammoser says.
Ultimately, don’t be afraid to experiment, mess things up and try again — that’s the beautiful thing about photography. It’s a way of expressing your perspective and capturing what’s appealing to you. You’ll never know when the ‘perfect shot’ will appear, so keep your camera ready at all times!
Have any other tips to add? Share in the comments.