Since I’m highlighting some of my recent Wildflower photography in this month’s issue of Show-Me Nature Photography Newsletter, I thought it would be appropriate to mention some tips/techniques for photographing flowers/plants in this month’s Photo Tips column. These tips are pretty much applicable to any flower photography, not just wildflowers. Here are some techniques I’ve found to be helpful in getting some nice flower images.
First, decide on how you want to capture the flower(s). Do you want to capture an entire group of flowers (what I call an “Environmental” shot) or do you want to focus in on a single flower (a flower portrait)? Why not do some of both? The kind of photograph you will be making will depend upon your need or want. But when I find some nice flowers, I try to do both the environmental and the portrait, especially since I never know what my needs will be down the road. If you decide on the environmental shot, it is best to shoot with a wide angle lens and to use a narrow depth of field (DOF), somewhere around f/22 usually works well. This will help assure that you get a lot of flowers in the image, and that all flowers are in focus. If you decide on the portrait shot, you will get best results with a macro lens, or a standard lens with either a close-up filter attached or an extension tube fitted between the lens and the camera body; this will allow you to get a good closeup of the flower. You will also want to shoot the portrait with a relatively large DOF, so that the background will become out of focus, highlighting your subject. By doing so, you will be able to keep the flower in focus, but remove unwanted distractions from the background. The “correct” apperture will depend on several factors, including how far you are away from the flower when you capture it, and the distance from the flower to the background distractions, etc.. To be on the safe side, I’d do a lot of experimenting with DOF, shooting at several apperture settings (maybe f/2.8 to about f/8).
Another tip for photographing flowers is to shoot either with low-angle natural lighting (early in morning or late in afternoon) or shoot on a cloudy/overcast day. This helps to eliminate the harsh lighting/shadows that are common when shooting in bright, mid-day lighting. If you must shoot when the light is harsh, you can mitigate some of the issues by using a “diffuser” placed between the flower and the sun, and close to the flower. As the harsh light goes through the diffuser, the diffuser will act as a pseudo-filter to soften and even out the light. You can either purchase a diffuser (those that fold up into a neat little carrying bag are great!) or you can make your own; by placing a piece of interfacing (used in sewing) inside a round, embroidery frame works quite well and is very inexpensive to make.
Another tip: use a tripod to prevent camera-shake. And if it is a windy day, either postpone the shoot until the winds calm down or try shooting at very high shutter speeds (~1/500 second or faster should help).
When shooting flowers, and especially for close-up portraits, try to keep the camera sensor (what used to be called “the film plane”) parallel to the flower’s plane. This will help to render more of the flower in focus when using large aperture settings.
Another thing to watch out for is the condition of the flower. Spend a little time to be sure you are going to photograph the best looking flower available to you. It is very disappointing to shoot some flowers and then download them at home to find that the flower you shot is missing a big piece out of one of the petals! Try to find the most perfect flower you can, before you photograph them.
Likewise, before shooting always check out the background. It is best to arrange to shoot a flower that has a fairly consistent tonality in the background (i.e., a consistent background of other greenery works very well). Often, you may need to take a step to the left or right, or maybe move the camera up or down a few inches. Play with this and try to find the best fit you can. This tip sounds like a pretty minor thing, but it can make or break your photo!
And lastly, always check your camera’s histogram after each shot. You cannot depend on the camera’s LCD screen to let you know if the exposure is good! By using the histogram, you will have a very good idea if you’ve attained a good exposure. And if you didn’t get a good exposure, you can use the Exposure Compensation function of the camera to help get a correctly exposed photo.
I think if you try some of these tips out, you will find you can make better flower images! And if you have any questions, please send them to me at: