Flowers are bright, colourful and readily available. No wonder people are photographing flowers all the time.
This article has all you need to know for amazing flower photography.
From macro flower photography to lighting tips.
Why You Don’t Actually Need a Macro Lens
If you have the budget, a macro lens will make your flower photography experience hassle-free.
But if you’re not ready to invest yet, you can always buy cheap attachments to replace those macro lenses. Bellows, extension tubes, and reversing rings are all helpful and cheap.
I took most of the photos for this article using a reversing ring made for Nikon. I bought it online for five dollars.
This accessory allows ordinary lenses to be screwed on backward. This makes shooting macro possible.
How to Keep Your Subject in Focus
Since you have to take photos at close range for macro shots, it can be challenging to keep your subject in focus.
But your lens allows you to change the depth of field (DoF) to improve focusing.
By choosing the appropriate f-number, you can control how deep or narrow you want the focus to be.
To make focusing easier for you, choose a smaller aperture such as f/5.6 or f/8. Doing so will create a deeper DoF yet still keep the background blurry.
If you select a wide aperture such as f/1.8 or f/2.8., you’ll have a hard time keeping your subject sharp. The area in focus will be too narrow and you won’t capture beautiful flowers.
Use Single Point Focus for Sharper Photos
Focusing can be challenging due to the shallow depth of field produced by your macro lens. Even slow movements can throw it off.
Try using single point focusing when taking flower photographs. This allows you to pinpoint exactly which part of the subject you want in focus.
But this isn’t foolproof. There are times when your camera will struggle to focus. Especially when the subject moves too much.
Disable your camera’s auto focus and switch to manual. You don’t have to worry about your lens focus-hunting, anymore.
To help you ensure that your image is in focus, use the zoom button. By looking at your subject closer on the screen, you can better see whether it’s sharp or not.
Use Focus Stacking for Your Flower Photography
Despite using a small aperture, your lens will still produces a relatively shallow DoF. This is due to the close shooting distance. And it will lead to some blur in your image.
But what if you want your entire subject to be in focus? Then you’ll need focus stack. It’s a technique that involves you taking photos from different focus distances.
You then stack these images together in post to create a single sharp image.
How to Minimise Shake
As mentioned, due to your lens’ shallow DoF, you don’t want to be taking photos when it’s windy. A small breeze alone could throw off your focus, so choose a place that’s relatively calm.
The slightest movements you make with your camera can also affect the focus, so keep your hands as steady as possible. To add stability and minimise camera shake, you can use a tripod and trigger your shutter using a remote or a timer.
Apart from that, it would also help to choose a high shutter speed (at least 1/125th) to avoid motion blur. This will help you get those close-up images, like of flower petals or water droplets.
Bring a Helping Hand (No, Not Your Friend)
A helping hand is the Swiss Army knife of macro photography. This tool has two adjustable arms with clips. You can use it for a variety of tasks.
It can double as a stand for a small reflector to provide fill-in light in poorly lit locations. Clip your reflector (in my case a tiny flash reflector) to the helping hand and you have a light bouncer.
Need to make sure your setup is catching the sun at the right angle? Move the adjustable arms until the light is hitting the right spot.
You can also use this tool to “pose” your flowers if they’re standing at a strange angle. But you need to prevent the clip’s sharp teeth from damaging the plant you want to shoot.
Wrap a small piece of paper towel around the stem and attach the helping hand onto the paper.
Then pull it towards your preferred position.
This technique is perfect for making withering plants stand more upright. It also works for isolating subjects from the background.
Why You Should Compose Your Shots Like Portraits
Creative flower photography can present some challenges when it comes to composition. Where do you place a single flower in your frame? How about a group of flowers?
The secret is to think of the flowers as human heads. Visualizing your images as portraits instead of flower photographs will help you a lot with your composition.
Similar to portrait photography, look for a flower’s distinct features.
Focus on the most beautiful parts of the flower such as the petals or the stamen. Doing so will make your viewers engage with your photo better.
You should also use composition guides such as the Rule of Thirds. Turn on your camera’s grid-line and place your subject where any of those lines intersect.
This will make your image look balanced.
Try Different Perspectives for More Unique Shots
Don’t just stick to eye-level shots. Strive to be unique.
Think of a butterfly’s point of view and shoot from a higher angle. This is actually quite easy to execute. Especially since you’re taller than most flowers.
But be careful not to do it all the time. It’s a convenient perspective, but it can get boring.
Imagine an insect’s point of view and go lower. You’ll have to stay really close to the ground, but the shots you get are definitely worth it.
To help you stay clean while shooting, bring a rag or an old yoga mat you can lay on.
Light Up Your Flower Photography With Fill Flash
When you work outdoors, you won’t always have good lighting. If your location is a little too dim for your liking, use an external flash to add light.
Pop-up flash won’t work for macro photography. Apart from blowing out your exposure, it also doesn’t provide the best angle.
The best place to position your flash is usually beside the subject and off-camera. Since the unit can’t stand on its own, install it on a mini tripod to keep it stable. Feel free to add a diffuser to make the light look less harsh.
Since the flash is not attached to your camera’s hot shoe, you’ll need a remote trigger to fire it. Wireless flash trigger kits usually cost a few hundred dollars. But you can buy cheap versions for about $20.
All you have to do is attach the transmitter to your camera’s hot shoe. Then attach the receiver to your flash unit. Once installed, the flash will fire in sync with the camera.
Keep the Background Classic or Make Your Own
Just because the background is blurry doesn’t mean you should ignore whatever is behind your subject altogether. People will still notice distracting visual elements. Whether they’re in focus or not.
So you might as well make sure it looks tidy.
An excellent backdrop has to be simple and should direct the viewer to the main subject. Try to incorporate elements that provide the viewer some clue where you took the shot.
You’ll be shooting outdoors. Try to include other plants or the sky in the background to add authenticity to the image.
When you’re outside, there’s a good chance you might find a good subject in a terrible location. This can be the side of the road or even beside a trash bin.
If you find yourself in that situation, create a fake background. Use decorative paper, or even just plain white or black cardboard.
Clip the cardboard onto the helping hand, and you got yourself a beautiful background.
For the image above, I used glitter paper to create eye-catching bokeh.
Liven Up Your Flower Pictures With Butterflies and Other Bugs
If you want your macro flower photography to look even more natural, include butterflies or insects.
Admittedly, it can sometimes be challenging to look for insects interacting with flowers. Occasionally, you get lucky and find bugs flying around flower beds.
Most of the time, there’s a good chance you just won’t find any at all.
Photo by Yuichi Kageyama
Thankfully, you can always use bait to attract tiny critters in your garden. One effective solution is by spraying sugar water onto your plants.
For a more organic approach, use smashed fruits, instead.
If you don’t have time to get sugar water or fruit, try using perfume. The only downside is that this method also attracts mosquitoes, so use it with caution.
Once you find a critter crawling on a flower, don’t make any drastic movements. Just walk up slowly and don’t disturb the insect.
Once you’re in position, use Burst Mode and shoot a sequence to make sure you get at least one good shot.
Try Indoor Flower Photography
If you want to learn how to photograph flowers, try shooting indoors first. That way, you don’t have to deal with all the variables of shooting outdoors.
Your house is the perfect place to practice manual mode, experiment with lighting, and learn how to compose shots.
Buy a bunch of flowers at your local supermarket and put them in a vase. Depending on your preference, you can either place them near the window or beside a lamp. Then set up your camera on a tripod and start taking photos.
Even if you’re an experienced photographer, shooting indoors is ideal if you want more control over lighting.
You can shoot in your room or studio and try different lighting variations to create dramatic effects. For instance, you can use a spotlight or a softbox to illuminate flowers.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can experiment with gel flash to achieve different colours and moods.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. After all, you are in a controlled environment. You can create consistent results since you can manipulate your lighting and your subject.
Shooting flowers isn’t difficult at all. Since they’re static subjects, you can always keep shooting if you’re not satisfied with your images.
Try these macro flower photography tips next time you go out. Have fun and surprise yourself with the results.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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