What is flower photography?
In a nutshell, flower photography is taking photographs of flowers and plant life. Because flowers and plant life are abundant and found everywhere, and because flowers and plant life don’t move, they make good subjects for new photographers to hone their photography skills.
However it is not only beginners who like flower photography, as there are many experienced and professional photographers who also like to indulge in a bit of flower photography.
Flower photography isn’t difficult although it will take some time, effort and practice to nail individual and creative photographs. Flower photography involves many photography skills such as good composition, focusing manually and how to manipulate light sources.
Flower photography – The photographic equipment you need
The best digital SLR camera lens for flower photography is a macro lens, such as the Canon EF100mm f2.8. Flower photography usually means close up and macro images and whilst there are many different cheap macro photography accessories available, such as close up filters and extension tubes, you really need a proper macro lens to get the best image quality in your flower photography. The focal length of macro lens is down to personal preference. Insects shy away and run from a digital SLR camera. Because of this, a longer focal length macro lens is best as this gives more room in which to work. The same does not apply to flowers so you can easily make do with a 50mm macro lens, which will be cheaper than a 100mm macro lens.
Flower photography is not fast moving or dynamic therefore you have the chance to carefully set up your shot and ensure your camera, the light source and the subject are all in the right place. Setting up a shot takes time and you need to lock the camera in place, therefore a good and sturdy tripod is essential. A tripod is even more necessary in flower photography if you are taking close up and macro shots. A tripod means you can use any shutter speed and still achieve pin sharp shots time and time again and when you consider that close up and macro shots will result in exposure times that will make it impossible to get sharp shots handheld it is easy to see a tripod is an essential piece of photographic equipment.
Flower photography relies on good lighting to create stunning flower pictures so you need to consider the light. Many people will use ambient light only in their flower photography, which is fine but you will need a series of reflectors, The best ones are the collapsible type that are available in gold, white and silver. These reflectors are large but as well as filling in the shadows, they provide a windbreak so your image won’t be blurry because the flower moved during the exposure.
Flower photography doesn't just have to be about pretty flowers and all types of flora make for excellent images. Flower photography relies on good light and the image below is a prime example of this. This reed bed was bathed in golden sunlight whilst the rest of the scene remained hazy and washed out.
Using ambient light can provide many challenges and it is advisable to have an external flashgun for your digital SLR camera. If your digital SLR camera has a built in flash it will be weak and useless in flower photography. An external flashgun allows you to take the flash off camera and move it around the subject, which gives you total control over the direction of the light source. An alternative to a standard flashgun is a ring flash, such as the Marumi ring flash. With a ring flash you get even illumination and eradicate those unsightly shadows from your flower photography images.
There are many times in flower photography when you will find a gorgeous flower against a cluttered and unattractive background. To overcome these situations you need to carry some small, but clean photographic backgrounds to use as a backdrop for your image. Photographic backdrops can be made out of material, plastic, card or any other item you can think of. Photographic backdrops are very useful for flower photography and should always be to hand.
The weather plays a large part in flower photography and it is something we cannot control or influence. The slightest breeze can make the subjects blow about and when using slow shutter speeds you will get blurry photographs. A good way around this is to have a portable studio or a light tent that you can place over the subject to shield it from the wind. The light tent will also create a clean and uncluttered backdrop.
Flower photography – taking the images
Flower photography will involve a lot of close up and macro work, therefore you will need to brush up on your close up photography and macro photography skills. When taking macro shots the depth of field is very small and accurate focusing becomes critical. In these situations the autofocus feature on your digital SLR camera lens will struggle to get a lock and will continuously hunt. When taking macro and close up shots you need to turn your autofocus off and rely on manual focusing techniques. Learning to focus manually will take time and practice but it is worth it in the end.
When composing shots in flower photography you should use the live view mode of your digital SLR camera. Using the live view allows you to zoom in on the part of the frame you want the sharpest and alter the focus accordingly. Before taking the shot use the mirror lock up feature of your digital SLR camera and use a remote shutter release to ensure you don’t knock your digital SLR camera and create a blurry image. If you don’t have a remote shutter release use your digital SLR camera’s self timer.
When taking pictures of flowers you don't have to isolate a single flower or ensure the image is totally sharp throughout for it to be effective. In this image I shot wide open to create a soft image that showed the vibrancy of the pink flowers. I did not want to isolate any individual flower head.
When taking pictures of flowers many photographers will simply go for the close up shot of the whole flower or take a macro photograph of a very small part of the flower. These type of flower photography images can be very successful and lead to some stunning digital photographs, however it is important not to only take close up and macro shots of flowers. For something a bit different why not take a wide angle lens and capture a flower or a bunch of flowers against a nice background? Try taking an image of a poppy field, or a Woodrow of bluebells and include some sky, trees and whatever else is in the scene. Flower photography doesn’t have to consist of extremely detailed and close up images.
Flower photography doesn’t just mean taking photographs of bright coloured flowers. Flower photography involves taking photographs of all kinds of plant life, so never ignore plants that are plain and ‘drab’ colours. With the correct lighting these plants can create some stunning photographs.
Flower photography – The final word
So, get the right kit, learn how to focus manually, don’t just concentrate on close up and macro shots and you will start to produce some great photographs of flowers and plants. To get some stunning images of plants and flowers that are unique and really stand out from the crowd you are going to have to devote time and effort, but it is all worth it in the end.