Flowers are something that I’ve always admired. They are the perfect subject to photograph. The colour, shapes, textures and its widespread accessibility make flower photography an interesting subject for any photographer looking to improve their macro skills.
No matter how many flowers I’ve photographed, they never cease to amaze me. It always seems to me that they just stand in place, holding their pose and waiting to be photographed.
Even though it might seem like something anybody can do, it is not an easy task. Flower photography involves a lot of technical knowledge and practice to create good images.
In this article I will give you some tips that will help you improve your flower photography skills. Whether you’re a beginner or a long-term flower photographer, there’s something to learn for everyone.
Choosing the right equipment is something really personal. At the end of the day it’s about what works best for you. But that doesn’t mean we can’t help you make a wise choice.
Camera body, macro lens, diffuser, reflector, tripod and shutter release are essential pieces of gear for this type of photography. But you should also take into account portability.
Long nature walks in carrying heavy equipment are not something I like to do, so I try to reduce my gear to the minimum.
Most of the time I carry just my camera with a 100mm macro lens, a small and lightweight tripod, an IR shutter release and a couple of sheets of white and wax paper. I use these as natural light reflectors and diffusers.
Whenever possible, I try to bring more gear with me but this essential kit has never failed me.
Flower photography depends a lot on location, weather conditions and time of day. Being one step ahead and planning are key factors here.
I try to scout the place and check the weather conditions in advance. Calculating the best time of the day to photograph is also important. This will affect the harshness and colour temperature of sunlight.
Early morning and late afternoon have a softer light than midday. And the end of the day has a warmer light than the morning.
Spring is for me the best time for flower photography. The conditions are optimal, the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming.
But it doesn’t mean the other seasons can’t offer great images. This next picture was photographed in wintertime with early morning rain drops.
With such a tight framing, composition assumes a dominant role in the image. Following the rule of thirds and using negative space are great ways to create interest in your image.
Finding the right angle is not easy. I always take a look through a handheld camera and only set up a tripod when I find the right spot.
It’s also important to find the right angle to create volume. Flowers can look really flat if they are photographed from above.
Depth of field
Controlling the distance between the nearest and the farthest objects in focus on the scene provides a great way to create interest in your image. It allows for background separation and a cleaner composition without distracting elements.
Both of these images were photographed with the same camera body and lens combination. The only difference is the f stop used.
The left image was photographed with f/32 while the right image was photographed with f/5.6. This produced a shallower depth of field and better background separation. The resulting image is by far more interesting.
It might seem that flowers don’t move much. But even the slightest breeze can create a motion blur effect when photographing at such a close distance.
Even with the camera mounted on a tripod, it is really important to determine the right shutter speed to freeze the action.
Natural light control
Even though natural light is created by the sun, it can look very different depending on many factors. Weather conditions, time of the day and season can affect it.
Reflecting or diffusing are simple ways to control this light. You can do this with simple and easily available objects if you don’t have a reflector kit.
A white sheet of paper or foam board can reflect light, creating a fill effect. At the same time, translucent wax paper can diffuse the light to create a softening effect.
The next images show the difference between direct harsh sunlight (left) and that same light softened with a diffuser (right).
Manual vs Auto-Focus
Creating the right focus point on a flower photograph is not an easy task. Auto-focus often gets confused by focus points overload. And in macro photography distances a couple of millimetres might be enough to have the wrong focus point.
Manual focus is the way to go if are using a tripod and have control of the camera’s positioning.
Auto-focus is essential for handheld shots but you should use the One-Shot AF option. This is a more reliable focusing method because it locks focus, while AI Servo does not.
Even though I prefer to use natural light, sometimes sunlight is just not enough. This is when you need to resort to artificial light.
LED lighting has come a long way. Nowadays, it is the main source for continuous artificial photography lighting.
I use a light system that consists of two articulated arms with small LED bulbs.
These LEDs create precise light spots on the image. They add texture and volume to the flower making it a lot more interesting.
When LEDs are not enough, flash lighting comes to the rescue. It is a lot more powerful and offers different possibilities.
This twin light system overpowers natural light most of the time. It results in images with a more artificial look.
But it also freezes movement. This allows us to create images that would be otherwise impossible due to insufficient light.
The macro world is always a fascinating one. From insects to food, it offers endless photographic opportunities.
We can relate to things that we are able to see with the naked eyes. When we increase the magnification things rapidly become abstract to us. And that makes them interesting.
The abstract factor can be the theme for some amazing images. What starts as plain flower photography quickly becomes a work of art.
All you have to do is increase the magnification scale.
So there you have it. These simple tips for macro flower photography will for sure set you on the right track to some amazing flower images. Go out there and give it a try!
Still looking for more great tips? Check out our article on 10 macro photography ideas or editing flower photography in Lightroom.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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