As with many endeavors, photographing flowers can be done “by the book” or in the more creative “thinking outside the box” approach. There’s a reason traditionally accepted conventional wisdom is a great place to start—because these techniques work. But sometimes to break through to a result that’s truly special you’ve got to swim against the tide, challenge the conventional wisdom and look for more unique approaches to handle typical situations. It’s the origin of the saying, “no risk, no reward.” To that end, here’s a look at some of the conventional ways to photograph summer flowers and how you can break the rules in an effort to make better flower photos, whether you’re photographing columbine blooming on a mountain pass or petunias growing in your own backyard.
Lens Choice Matters For Better Flower Photos
Yes, a macro makes sense, of course, but so can a wide-angle lens—particularly if you’re photographing flowers out in the world. The macro lens allows you to get up close and fill the frame with a single bloom, but a wide angle allows you to bring in context—particularly helpful if you’re someplace where the larger view is especially interesting. If you’re going to showcase your flower or blooming bunch in the context of a pastoral scene or a mountain peak background, a macro lens makes that difficult. Instead, consider breaking with the conventional wisdom to try a wide-angle view from a 35mm or even shorter lens. The wider you go, the larger your depth of field will appear, so if you’d like to showcase foreground flowers with a background view, a wide-angle lens is the only way to go.
Sure, you might find a nice view of your flowers as they reach to the sun by shooting straight down from above for nice, symmetrical compositions that show petals to pistil and all. But consider reversing your perspective by getting down low and shooting up toward the flowers—particularly if you’re using the aforementioned wide-angle lens and incorporating the flowers into a larger landscape scene.
With your camera below the flower, you can isolate a bloom against a blue sky—a great way to show the shape of the flora. With the sun in the background (out of frame, of course) you can pick up on the translucence of a delicate flower, and with a broader landscape included in the background, you may be able to give your foreground flower the bold and dynamic appearance of being larger than life. Plus, any time you can change your viewpoint from standard to unique, you tend to take the resulting photos through a similar evolution as well and make better flower photos.
What About Wind?
When working with flowers on a windy day, the traditional thought is “don’t.” Or at the very least, to use a fast shutter speed to freeze their motion or even to consider using devices such as a plant clamp to stabilize those flowers however possible. But what about another option—instead of fighting the wind, what if you worked with it? What if you tried using a very slow shutter speed to create a motion blur photo and turn a bunch of flowers on a windy day into a big blur of color? The slower the shutter speed, the more abstract the resulting image will be, and the closer the camera is to the subject, the more pronounced even the slightest movements will be. If you’d really like to try for a special effect, mix this long shutter speed and motion blur with a flash fill in order to have some shapes sharp to contrast with the colorful blur.
Choose The Right Light For Better Flower Photos
The conventional wisdom says that outdoor photos almost always look better when the light is low in the sky. That means early mornings and late evenings are best to have the most interesting and attractive illumination. That’s certainly true when it comes to flower photography, as the warm light of a low-hanging sun can add a beautiful glow, but I say don’t hesitate to shoot your favorite flowers at all hours of the day.
For instance, even if you’re stuck photographing a flower at high noon, you can still make interesting images. You can use a large diffusion disk to put your subject in softly illuminated shade, a great way to minimize contrast and allow color and detail to come through. Even without diffusion, a midday lighting scenario doesn’t have to be disastrous. You can position yourself so that the subject is front-lit for strong color, or side- or back-lit to enhance the shapes and textures—and even sometimes the translucency that some flowers reveal.
You can also use your body to make a strong shadow behind the subject so the brightly illuminated flower stands out against a darker background or, if you’re lucky, you might even find such a scenario in the wild. You can lie down on the ground and aim up at the underside of a flower or flowers that are directly backlit by the sun in order to create a unique composition that certainly isn’t the standard but can definitely lead to better flower photos.