This write-up is not intended to be the last word on flower photography – it’s just a small collection of tips and observations.
I’m still learning to shoot flowers correctly...will be learning all my life.... I’ve learnt most of the stuff written here by observing flower photos taken by Ram and then trying some stuff out...hopefully someday my pics will be as good as his.
Sharing these tips here in case it helps others better their flower photography
The write-up does not cover advanced techniques / floral abstracts / cram-it ...you can google these terms for more details.
Every photographer has his own style & method of shooting – what I've mentioned here is based on my style and method. There’s lots of other stuff too that you can do which I haven’t covered here. Find out what works for you.
Is my camera and lens good enough?
The short answer – yes
The long answer - People have shot very good flower pics with pinhole cameras, p&s, film cameras as well as high end DSLRS, as long as you have a DSLR and a decent lens you can do some sort of flower photography.
While I’m not saying that you can shoot exactly the same pic with a kit lens that you could with a fast lens that lets you get close and gives you tack sharp images. But you can manage very good images with a basic kit as long as - you are aware of the limitations and know how to work around them.
Rule 1 – learn the limitations of your lens and camera body and learn to work around them.
An ideal equipment list for flower photography according to me would be –
1) A good DSLR
2) Fast zoom lens – to let you get those pics where you can zoom into a flower from far
3) Macro lens – for pics where you need to go close. 200mm if you’ve got lots of money. 105 / 90mm if you cant buy a 200mm. I’ve also got a 55mm macro but don’t really use it much as I prefer the working distance of a longer lens
4) Extension tubes - i prefer these to a reversal ring. Manual / auto depends on how much money you've got to spare
7) Diffuser – if you dont have a diffuser buy some sheets of butter paper and put them in your bag. Buy some clips as well
8) A “good” tripod and ball head – this should be a model that allows you to get really close to the ground. Do not buy a tripod that does not allow you to spread the tripod legs completely and lower the camera close to the ground.
9) Monopod and ball head – gives better stability than shooting handheld for those pics where you need the flexibility of being able to move the camera to compose. Its also excellent if you suffer from backache like I do
10) Knee pads – for those of you who dont like getting ur jeans dirty / knees bruised while shooting
11) Plastic sheet – in case you need to lie down for those low angles
12) Remote (no not the TV remote..the one for the camera)
13) A “good” bag to carry all of this
Rule 2 – carry everything that you can possibly carry to prevent you getting the feeling - “had I carried xyz lens I could have got this amazing pic”
What time should you shoot?
Outdoors - Early morning before the sun gets really harsh and you start getting shadows (6am to 9am if you live where I do) & Evening to sunset (after 5:30pm till it gets dark if you live where I do).
There may be people who can shoot at noon outdoors – I cant.
I’ve never been able to get decent photos in harsh sunlight.
I’ve tried everything from off camera flash to diffusing light. I’ve not been successful.
Indoors – anytime but it depends on the quality of light. I’ve found light that filters through curtains excellent even at noon.
Rule 3 – do not shoot flowers under harsh light. You’ll get undesirable shadows and weak colours.
Focus - If you are shooting with large apertures you need to ensure you focus in exactly the right place. This is usually going to be either the centre of the flower or the edge of the petal.
For doing this I would suggest you move the focus points around instead of locking focus and then moving the camera to compose the pic.
When you move the camera after locking focus you may end up moving either forwards or backwards and you'll lose focus on the part where you need it especially since most flower pics are taken at awkward angles
What i usually do is use manual focus -however move towards or away from the flower instead of turning the focus ring.
Just make sure your view finder dioptre settings are perfect.
When you’ve got the frame you need, press the shutter. This technique works even better if you are using a monopod.
Rule 4 – move the focus point around or use manual focus by moving the camera towards or away from the subject
The perfect flower - Flowers which appear to be perfect with all petals intact and no damage will usually look better than ones which have been battered, trampled and bruised.
If you’ve got a bunch of flowers – choose the one that looks as perfect as possible.
I’ve found flowers which are orange and yellow easier to shoot than red, purple and white from an exposure point of view.
Also check for a contrasting background – yellow looks good against green...so does orange.
Rule 5 – search for and select a perfect flower from the ones in front of you
I cant find a perfect flower - Shoot parts of the flower then..instead of shooting an entire flower get those achromoats / ETs out and shoot parts of the flower which are not damaged.
So, you’ve found a nice flower, sunlight appears to be perfect – what next?
Check the background. Move around and look at the flower through the viewfinder. You need a clear, clean background which doesn’t have other distractions.
No leaves in the middle, no twigs, branches or other flowers that will spoil the frame.
Avoid branches, twigs in the background - even when you use a large aperture, the brown in the background does not look as good as green or yellow.
You also need to move a bit and get the angle right so that the background is good.
At times you may have a perfect flower but a bad backgroud - dont take the pic.
If there is more than one colour in the background there has to be a proper transition in colours. This makes a stronger compostion.
Rule 6 –remember clutter free, smooth background
Do not pluck flowers and leaves which are in the way so that you get a good pic.
We’re supposed to be nature conservationists. Harming nature in any manner is not in keeping with a good photographer’s code of conduct.
Rule 7 – do not pluck leaves, branches, twigs, flowers, petals etc to improve your composition / background
Direction & Light - Avoid shooting with the sun behind the flower (meaning when the sun is in front of you), unless you know how to do this.
Back lit flowers do look good however it’s easier to shoot with light that’s behind you - place yourself in between the sunlight and flower so that light doesn't directly hit the flower.
If the light is soft enough then position yourself towards the side of the flower.
Look through the viewfinder and move around a bit to get the best angle of light.
You need light that makes the flower bright but does not result in glare.
If you want to try shooting flowers that are backlit (this is a bit difficult in terms of exposure) then choose a flower with translucent petals...if you are able to guess the exposure correctly (the in camera meter will mislead you), the light will make it appear as if the flower is glowing.
Rule 8 – place yourself between the sun and the subject if the sunlight is too strong
So whats with the butter paper? Flower pics turn out really well when sunlight is not direct. So you need light like you get during the rainy season when it’s cloudy.
The problem is when it’s cloudy and it’s the monsoon – it usually rains and you cant shoot. So thats where the butter paper comes in.
Use the clips mentioned earlier and put up the sheets of butter paper to block and filter sunlight and make the light like it would be on a cloudy day in June or July in India.
Rule 9 – use butter paper to filter light
Is setting WB important? Yes – especially if you are shooting white flowers and want them to appear white.
What angle should you shoot at? Flowers look better or different when you click them at angles that the rest of the world doesn’t see them from.
Everyone usually looks at flowers from the top down view – so avoid shooting them from this view.
Get down to the level of the flower and shoot either upwards or at an angle when you are almost at the same level.
Sit down, crawl, lie flat on the ground – thats the only way you’ll get pics that others dont.
Rule 10 – do not shoot top downwards. Try angles which give you a different view
Windy conditions - Flowers can look great in windy conditions too – use a slow shutter and get a bit creative. Alternatively wait for the wind to slow down a bit. Use some clips to keep branches from moving - take care not to damage the plant.
Isolate the subject - Shoot the flower from upclose using a macro lens so you have just the flower in most of the frame or zoom in with a long lens – use a large aperture, blur the background and make the flower stand out.
A single flower looks better than a point and shoot type of a pic of a bunch of flowers.
Rule 11 – isolate the subject
Do flower photos have to be tack sharp? Not always...it depends on the sort of output you want...at times a soft pic with pastel shades works better in conveying your thoughts than a tack sharp pic.
Its also a good trick to use if you cant find a perfect flower.
Try some vaseline on a UV filter and put it in front of the lens.
Plan the shot - Dont just take one pic and move on to another flower...you need to plan the pic.
Look through the viewfinder and imagine how the pic would look when you post it or print it. -
Is the flower good enough? - What about the colours? Do the colour of the flower and the background go well with each other? - Is the light good? Do i need to diffuse it a bit more? If you've left the butter paper at home, use a handkerchief - What about the angle? which one would look the best? Would this flower look better at a different angle?
Take a pic and check – make corrections or changes and then press the shutter again. Move on to another flower only when you are sure that you’ve got the pic you wanted.
Rule 12 – plan the shot
Getting Sharp Images - As long as you know how to focus where you need the focus and know how to sharpen images correctly during post processing you should end up with reasonably sharp images.
However its quite difficult to judge image sharpness in the field by looking at the LCD and I've often ended up kicking my self later when I've seen the image on a large monitor back home.
So if you need a tack sharp image – zoom into the flower petals and check.
Unless you zoom in and check the petals properly you will end up with an image that looks soft on the monitor back home.
Rule 13 – remember to zoom in and check for sharpness after taking the pic
Can I shoot flowers in monochrome? Flowers look great in colour. Black and white will look good if you are able to get the shadows, highlights and tone right.
Any other creative ideas without resorting to post processing? Well....you can try something like this :p
What if I can’t find great looking flowers this time of the year? Go to the nearest florist and buy some....then take them to a garden or some place where you have a green bush in the background.
Set up the flower with a distance of approximately 3 feet between the flower and the bush.
Use a large aperture and try some pics.
The trick here is to know what flowers to buy.
I also do not shoot flowers when they are set up in a floral arrangement like a bouquet as it looks very artificial.
I would suggest you remove the flowers from the bouquet before shooting them.
How do you get that glow sort of an effect in flower photos? It’s called the Orton effect and was invented by a guy called Michael Orton using slide film. If you are using Photoshop on Windows here’s what you need to do in the digital world – Open the flower pic Press control + J to duplicate the layer Change blend mode to “screen” – this will make the pic brighter than it is (its replicating the overexposed image that you would need if you are shooting film). Adjust the opacity a bit if its too bright however keep in mind that you need an “overexposed” look. Merge layers. Press control + J again and duplicate the layer Go to Filter – Blur – Gaussian blur (adjust the slider a bit ) – the pic should now look a bit blurred (this will replicate the blurred pic that would be needed if you shot film) Change blend mode to “multiply” Merge all layers
Rule 14 - learn to shoot with all the rules mentioned above...and then learn to shoot by breaking all the rules
Additional Inputs from Ram.
My 2 Cents (difficult to add much to a comprehensive coverage by Ayaz) :
1. Most people would have seen almost all the flowers we shoot - just a few of what we shoot may be new to people.
So its important to present Flowers (which are usually very static things) in a way people usually do not see them - Shoot from the back, bottom, show just the petals in a wind-blown fashion, abstracts, with a lot of dew or raindrops (spray using an atomizer if you like) etc etc.
If you are shooting Flower exactly the way people see them, make sure the frame is impeccable - perfect in all respects.
2. Use Complementary colors.
One advantage of shooting in a large established garden is that the folks already know the theory of complementary colors and plant accordingly.
You will always see Blue/Purple Flowers along with Yellow/Orange as these colors are complementary to each other.
A Yellow Flower on a Blue Background looks far better than on a green background.
If that is not possible, at least make sure the background supports the main subject (does not always need to be super smooth and blurred) and does not detract.
3. Use Reflectors when needed. This is most useful when you have backgrounds brighter than the main subject or your strategy is to use backlighting.
Reflectors manage the dynamic range well while putting a "zing" into your subject. If you are skilled at using flash, it can substitute the Reflector.
4. Composition makes or breaks the photo. Learn to compose creatively. Look around to see the work of other photographers and borrow ideas. Take a photo that you really like and analyze why you liked it. Do not copy (OK initially) but develop your own style.
5. To the equipment list Ayaz shared broadly, I will add, a Neutral Density Filter for any Panning you may want to do and also a Lens Baby. A CPL will also be handy if the petals/foliage have a lot of glare or water that is highly reflective.
I personally do not use any other filter --> Just a ND and CPL.