Close-up Flower Photography

The previous article dealt with the basic photographic concepts constantly needed when photographing plants.  This article deals with close up photography.  For this and subsequent articles I make some technical points and provide commented examples which illustrate them.  I include a couple which are not perfect pictures, but indicate how they could be improved.

Quality of Subject

If the flower you are photographing is wilting or past its best you are not going to get a striking and attractive picture.  Usually flowers grow in groups and you will have a choice of which one to photograph.  So spend some time deciding which the best ones to photograph are, and then use the questions and planning described in the second article to decide the best way to do so.

Angles of View

Pink Flower from South Africa

The easiest way to photograph a flower close-up is side on as in the case of the flower on the left.  This is relatively easy because there is plenty to see from this angle and compared with photographing from above or down the axis of the flower there is less problem with depth of field because the subject is not overly deep.  So concentrate on filling the frame, on keeping the camera steady (use a tripod if necessary) and on making sure that your exposure reproduces tones over the full range (see more on this below).


Thistle from above

The next most straightforward standard angle is from vertically above, facing towards the ground as in the example of a thistle shown on the right.  The relatively shallow globular structure of the thistle lends itself to this approach as there is no deep bowl of the flower to look into.  Thus problems of inadequate depth of field in the flower itself are minimised. The ground, relatively far below is well out of focus, adding to the impact of the picture as only the thistle then takes the attention.

 Decorative Red and Yellow TulipThe third common way is down the hollow axis of the flower (down which insects find their way to pollinate it).  Here depth of field is a much bigger consideration as you need to get enough  to cover the full depth of the flower.  There is a trade-off between getting in close enough for the flower to fill the frame and too close for depth of field to be adequate for the whole flower. 

You may have to settle for a distance further than ideal so you can get enough depth of field and then crop off unwanted edges afterwards on your computer (as had to be done in the example on the left) to achieve a good picture.

Lantana Growing Wild

A good example of depth of field trade-off is in the example of Lantana on the right.  Most of the picture is in acceptable focus, with the leaves behind providing an out-of-focus, relatively uniformly coloured backdrop, but still recognisable as leaves.  The flower in the foreground is a little out of focus (nearer than the nearer depth of field limit) but this is traded for the three flowers filling the frame, the unusual dual colour of flowers on a single stem, and the octagonal symmetry of the flower yet to open with its rectangular “packets” of florets as yet furled.

Composition and Framing

In the previous article the rules of composition and framing were covered – getting close enough to the subject to have no distractions, a plan for what you want to portray and how the picture will fit together, the rule of thirds (if applicable to the particular subject), lighting, shapes and textures.  There is much requiring your concentration and some tradeoffs must be made.  A couple of examples will illustrate this.

 Orange RoseThe rose on the left is an example of coming in close enough to show only part of a bloom.  It is the whole frame as originally photographed (no cropping) and consciously so because one or two of the outer petals were past their best and would have detracted from the overall effect.


Long Blue FlowersThree of the flowers portrayed on the right have axes close enough to parallel to allow all three to be shown axially.  This allowed the photographer to show exactly where an insect would go, and to emphasise the markings that it would see on its way in.  The out of focus other blooms facing in different directions and the contrasting out-of-focus dark-coloured background add to the impact of this picture by providing depth without distraction and a dark colour setting off the light blue of the flowers.

 Lighting, Exposure and Tones


Rose at Kew Showing Exposure Compensation

 In many cases petals will present you with areas of relatively uniform colour, which, when caught by the light will lose all detail.  These then become large “burnt-out” areas which take up image space with no interest or detail on them.  The example on the left is two pictures of the same rose taken atKewGardens under the same lighting conditions. 

 The top one used the standard automatic exposure, and the bottom one is with an exposure compensation set to an f/stop and a half under-exposure.  In the upper picture the petals around the edge of the top of the flower are burnt-out, showing as plain light pink, whereas in the lower picture fine detail is visible in them.  To emphasise this point I underexposed more than necessary – about 2/3 of an f/stop is a good rule of thumb in practice.


Yellow Flower in Subdued Light

The example on the right shows plenty of detail on the upper petals despite their large plain light-coloured area relative to the area of the whole picture.  To have caught bright sunlight or flash would have burned out almost half the picture area.  It was taken in natural, subdued light as this particular flower was shaded by others on the same bush.

The next article in the series will deal with portraying whole plants in context.