Deal 10: A hot topic, at a hot price!
In this post, Steve Berardi from PhotoNaturalist discusses eight tips for photographing wildflowers.
With spring on the horizon in some parts of the world, you may be thinking about photographing some beautiful wildflowers soon. So, here are 8 tips to get you started:
Using a tripod will help you get sharper photos by ensuring your camera doesn’t move. But, the tripod helps in another way too: it forces you to be more careful about your composition.
When you handhold your camera, there’s a tendency to just snap away, but when you add the tripod, you’ll spend more time thinking about your composition and ensuring your camera is in a very precise position.
Direct sunlight will cast harsh shadows and create bright highlights on wildflowers, causing a disaster for exposure.
So, the best time to photograph wildflowers is on an overcast day, because the clouds act as the perfect light diffuser: creating the most perfectly balanced light you can get.
If you can’t wait for an overcast day, cloudy days are good too: just wait for a cloud to cover the sun before taking your shot.
With every photo, you only get one geometrical plane of complete sharpness. So, to maximize sharpness in your wildflower photos, make sure your sensor is parallel to the flower’s most important plane, and carefully focus your lens on this plane.
The most annoying problem you’ll face when photographing wildflowers is battling the wind. So, to help freeze the action of wildflowers (which never seem to sit completely still!), use a fast shutter of at least 1/200 sec. You may need to increase your ISO to 200 or 400 to get this fast of a shutter.
When photographing wildflowers, it’s easy to focus all your attention on the beautiful flowers and forget about the background. But, a good background will help your image by drawing more attention to your subject. So, take the time to find a flower with a good background: one that’s far away (to help get it out of focus), contrasts well with the flower, and has no distracting elements.
Closely inspect each flower before photographing it, to ensure it’s not missing petals or has poor color. Some individual flowers of the same species will be more saturated in color than other individuals, so take some time to find that “perfect flower.”
A long lens will help you isolate a sharp flower against an out-of-focus background. But, make sure you use one with a short minimum focus distance (5 ft or less), to ensure you can fill the frame with the flower. You can use an extension tube to make your lens focus even closer for the smaller flowers.
When you’re outside, images on your camera’s LCD will appear much brighter than they actually are. So, to ensure you have a good exposure, rely on the RGB histogram. The histogram is a whole other topic by itself, but the basic idea is to use the histogram to ensure you’re not overexposing any of the color channels in your photo.
When photographing wildflowers (or anything in nature), it’s also important to leave no trace. That means, be careful not to step on the flowers, or disturb the ground around them (many flowers depend on the soil structure around them). And, it may be tempting to attach some kind of clip to flowers to keep from swaying in the wind, but please avoid this because it could potentially kill the flower.
So, enjoy the wildflowers, take lots of photos, but leave them just as you found them, so they can be enjoyed by the next person (or butterfly, heh) too
About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, and computer scientist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of Southern California. Read more of his articles on nature photography at the PhotoNaturalist and check out his new eBook, Digital Wildflower Photography.
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January 27, 2012 02:03 pm
Interesting informative post ... thank you. Take a look @ my site jameswillney.com under photography. Let me know your thoughts if you have a moment.
January 27, 2012 01:08 pm
Thank you for the helpful tips Steve! I have posted some of my photos at www.enjoyyourparks.com.
May 19, 2010 11:43 pm
Thanks for the great tips,my favorite trick for flowers is waiting till the sun starts to go down,the light at the end of the day produces some great effects.One more tip,don't stand between the light and the subject.l.o.l.
April 22, 2010 08:00 pm
[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixmin/559802099/' title='Osteopernum' url='http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1178/559802099_1d91416033.jpg']
April 12, 2010 01:15 pm
Had one last swing before the spring flowers withered away.
[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/46645318@N02/4513020876/' title='IMG_0277' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4070/4513020876_c5a74f55a3.jpg']
Complete set here http://www.flickr.com/photos/46645318@N02/sets/72157623710348591/detail/
April 11, 2010 07:57 pm
I have several images at jameswillney.wordpress.com. Leave a comment of what you think?
April 9, 2010 05:50 pm
It's always wonderful to read what you write to make the people learn valuable things.I'm not a photographer but to read you and to see the photographs is a fantastic experience. Thaks a lot.
April 9, 2010 11:49 am
A few of my most recent wild flower images...
Read more: http://digital-photography-school.com/8-tips-for-photographing-wildflowers#respond#ixzz0kZ0DnII8
April 8, 2010 02:36 am
I have not photographed flowers on their own, but I have been planning to try it. After reading this page I have guidelines to follow and I will give them a try.
April 7, 2010 03:32 pm
While shooting individual flowers is interesting, spring also gives opportunities to shoot flowery landscapes, which works well on a sunny day.
We recently did a trip of southern California to shoot wildflower landscapes ..., later I realized that most of my shots were at 400mm, and it was a better choice compared to whay my kit lens would have produced.
[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/46645318@N02/4474603373/' title='Hunt for wildflowers ... standing out.' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2775/4474603373_ca4901f999.jpg']
A few more that I managed to upload in flickr is available in this set.
March 26, 2010 02:27 am
OsmosisStudios: I have a Nikon DX 55-200mm that will focus down to 39 inches...
March 21, 2010 03:59 pm
Here some of mine :
[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/hendrohailana/3551740286/' title='' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2477/3551740286_372184151e.jpg']
[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/hendrohailana/3444633896/' title='Frangipani flower' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3383/3444633896_2e209af028.jpg']
March 19, 2010 05:06 pm
love this tutorial, hope i can use these tips soon.. just a quick question, what does it mean by
"But, make sure you use one with a short minimum focus distance (5 ft or less)" in tip #7
got a bit confuse there
thanks in advance!!
March 16, 2010 01:49 pm
@pmc1 - Hope you enjoy the ebook! Sometimes shade is good too for wildflowers, and a monopod is better than nothing :)
@potterm - thanks for adding the info about the nikon lens.. I knew that if canon had a close focusing telephoto, then nikon should too ;)
@ashvin - I like to shoot in full manual for wildflowers to precisely control the exposure, but you can always do that with exposure compensation too in AV, I suppose. I'm not really a fan of using paper backgrounds, mostly cause I like to carry as little as possible, and like to keep my photos as wild as possible.
March 15, 2010 02:00 am
If you're not blessed with cloud cover when shooting wildflowers, one can use a diffuser in order remove the harshness of direct sun. I use a small, collapsible folding diffuser that I stash in my backpack or the large back pocket of my photographer's vest. It pops open into a 20 inch circle, of which I can then shade my subject.
March 15, 2010 12:10 am
Very good tips. Use of AV mode should be discussed. Some time I use soft colored paper to avoid ugly back ground. What is your opinion about my thinking? I would like your suggestions. Ashvin Patel
March 14, 2010 09:02 pm
@OsmosisStudios - the Nikkor 18-200 will close focus to 1.5 feet @200mm, so is excellent for flower photography. If taking very small flowers then you need a macro or extension tube, as the author said.
March 14, 2010 02:44 pm
Thanks Steve for the great tips. My wife and I were out today taking some wildflower photos. I haven't downloaded them as of now but I'm think and hope that I have a keeper or two. I'm going to get your ebook, my wife downloaded your free book and said there's some good info in it.
We were in the shade most of the day. When I wasn't though, and if it were possible without destrubing anything, I would position myself and become the defuser. I also was using a Tamron 70-300 macro lense and a mono pod, didn't bring the tri pod today. We're waiting for the Blue Bonnets to start blomming here in Central Texas, which should be soon.
Thanks again for the tips*
March 14, 2010 02:16 pm
Hi all, sorry for this delayed response.. I was camping in the desert the last few days, so I'm just now getting back to a computer..
@Skip - I know what you mean about sunny days in the desert :) I use a diffuser too, but a pretty simplified one: it's just a small piece of a shower curtain taped onto a wire clothes hanger.. so I don't build a dome around the flower, but this type of diffuser has worked for me pretty well I think (I used it for the second photo in this post)
@Ronnie - I do also use a macro lens, but my favorite photos are usually made with the telephoto. I probably do half my flower photos with the macro, and half with the telephoto.
@Dwight - Good point about choosing the f-number first. I do that too, and if I can't get a fast shutter with my desired f-number and depth of field, then I go looking for another "perfect flower" :)
Thanks everyone for your nice comments! Good luck with photographing the wildflowers this spring!
March 13, 2010 05:49 pm
didn't you see the butt through view finder? why didn't you take it out before click?
March 13, 2010 01:03 pm
The tip of putting your sensor on the plane of most interest to the flower is an excellent tip and something that is not intuitive even to a natural born photographer, I think.
I think a macro lens is the way to go rather than a medium telephoto lens for most cases.
I like the last tip about not damaging anything to make your flower photograph.
March 13, 2010 04:46 am
your comments help me to take a good photo.
thank U very much.
March 13, 2010 02:31 am
Great tips. have found that the morning is a really good time, and even in full sun. But to each his own!
March 13, 2010 01:20 am
Nice shots.. going to Longwood Garden next month or so where they have a slew of pretty flowers. I can't wait to exercise my SLR out there.
March 13, 2010 12:33 am
thanks for the valuable tips.
March 12, 2010 10:31 pm
Hey this is helpful. Thank you. I am going to try this out in my garden this weekend... will post my comments soon once again. Good luck to me :-)
March 12, 2010 10:26 pm
This article will be very useful to me! I liked it very much, good tips and very clearly written..
March 12, 2010 06:46 pm
I love to take pics of wild flowers and i hv learnt my lesson by using a high shutter speed .
March 12, 2010 01:24 pm
Another idea is to carry a plain mid green or black cardboard you can set behind (only if it will be out of focus) to make a clutter free background and a white card or commercial reflector to throw a bit more light if the day isn't as completely diffused as you might like.
March 12, 2010 10:29 am
I photograph alot of flowers but they are mainly garden variety so I can take them inside out of the wind. I have a Tamron SP90 macro lense but most of the time I use my Sony 18-250 which can focus down to 7 inches. Extension tubes are used when I want to isolate a part of a flower. I like to use a very small aperture e.g. f22-25 to get the whole flower sharp so 12 second exposures are common. Thats why they are hard to get outside. Remote shutter or 2 second timer is a must.
I now have a camera which is more capable of high iso so may try outside exposures with shorter shutter speeds.
March 12, 2010 09:57 am
Hi there . Loved your presentation on shooting wild flowers . I would like to suggest that an F stop be chosen first and then the appropriate shutter speed . The reason being depth of field . To control the wind factor carry a piece of plastic big enouhg to block the wind . This is just a suggestion , but it works for me . Thanks for your arcticle .
March 12, 2010 09:53 am
Thank you so much. A BEAUTIFUL tutorial!
March 12, 2010 07:47 am
Here's a couple of mine.
[eimg url='http://www.padp.com/wordpress/wp-content/themes/fotofolio-1.0.6/scripts/timthumb.php?src=http://www.padp.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/IMG_2225b.jpg' title='IMG_2225b.jpg']
[eimg url='http://www.padp.com/wordpress/wp-content/themes/fotofolio-1.0.6/scripts/timthumb.php?src=http://www.padp.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/IMG_2228b.jpg' title='IMG_2228b.jpg']
March 12, 2010 07:32 am
Really interesting tips, and the info about using a Telephoto with a short minimum focus distance was a real eye opener as i always use a macro lens and tripod. So i will give it a chance next time i am out there.
March 12, 2010 06:56 am
I agree with all your tips, and follow them, I use a Macro lens most of the time, which gives the out of focus background. I also use a child's white umbrella as a defuser, and a remote release.
March 12, 2010 06:22 am
Great tips thank you..now to try it in practise...!
March 12, 2010 06:01 am
Great article. One tip I learned is to bring a diffuser with you, whether it's a photography specific diffuser, DIY, or even a white handkerchief with material like diffuser. I live in CA. Sometimes we don't get cloud all week.
March 12, 2010 05:33 am
Wonderful article with good information. Thanks for the help. It explains to me some of the reasons why my flower photos are not quite as good as I want them to be.
March 12, 2010 04:20 am
You can use a screen on sunny days or a reflector to add light to dark spots.You can also use a plampit to hold the flower to keep it still.
March 12, 2010 03:35 am
I guess that 8 times out of ten here it would be useful to delve a bit more into the macro issue. Maybe this page about macro photography could turn out handy.
And, yes, tripod is definitely the piece of gear that makes the real difference: if forces you to stop and ponder, which is not a bad thing.
March 12, 2010 03:30 am
Many good and timely tips.
I live and photograph in the Mojave Desert in Nevada; we rarely have nice overcast days. I use a round diffuser to get around the nasty light. I use it on models why not flowers. They are inexpensive and indispensible to my work. I also carry several small pieces of paper (black, white, and light blue) to use as emergency backgrounds if needed. The white can also be used as a reflector to add light if needed. The diffuser also works great as a wind blocker. And a voice activated diffuser stand is great to have as well.
March 12, 2010 03:23 am
Very informative tips. I will have to try capturing one this weekend.
March 12, 2010 03:10 am
Agree with the LNT. I once found a beautiful spread of yellow lady slippers right off the main road. I was talking to another photographer later in the day and he asked where I found them. I reluctantly told him and then he proceeded to take a group of students and they trampled all but a few of the amazing flowers. I'll never do that again!
March 11, 2010 08:27 am
Great tips, although I love my macro lens.
Here is my nature collection on Flickr:
March 11, 2010 04:56 am
I love taking pics of flowers too!! Here are a few of mine I like.
March 11, 2010 04:38 am
Great article, I spend a lot of time, when I am not creating art images with people, in the wilderness areas of California. Most people that spend time there can see the importance of leave not trace behind. Yet they don't use that habit in the local fields and such. Any of the opens spaces that we have need to be cared for jsut as a wilderness area.
Yes a small tripod is the best, set up time is quick and easy gets you down to the level of the flower(s).
March 11, 2010 03:23 am
Thank you for these tips. With all the rain this season in the deserts of Southern California I am really looking forward to the wildflower displays in Joshua Tree National Park. Have a hike already planned for later this month.
March 11, 2010 02:52 am
@Zack - Thanks for the kind words! And, good luck on your trip!
@OsmosisStudios - Under tip #7 about using a telephoto lens, I did mention the use of an extension tube:
"You can use an extension tube to make your lens focus even closer for the smaller flowers."
The other good thing about using a telephoto lens, that I forgot to mention in this article is that it helps you keep the camera further away from the flower.. sometimes a flower is surrounded by other flowers or vegetation, and using a 50mm or 100mm macro lens would mean getting super close and then you'd end up stepping all over other flowers.. that's something I'm not willing to do.
March 11, 2010 02:49 am
Do you think we have to sharpen every details of the flower? Then how about this one? I shot this pic recently...[eimg url='http://rainna.webng.com/DSC09342%20copy.jpg' title='DSC09342%20copy.jpg']
March 10, 2010 11:41 pm
Danferno: the 4/3s sensor would give WORSE bokeh because of it's size. Smaller sensors (like those in P&S cameras) can't get shallow DoF. Nice fail though.
@Steve Berardi: If you're using extension tubes, you really should mention it. A naked telephoto, generally speaking, isn't much use up close. As I said, Macro lenses generally do much better in such a situation.
March 10, 2010 10:25 pm
I love shooting flowers...now they are just peeking thur the grow and you have the leaves. The spring flowers are so beautiful. No flower is the same..God made each one different just like people no one is the same! AWESOME
March 10, 2010 10:25 pm
Great stuff Steve! I'd highly recommend buying a copy of the eBook mentioned at the bottom of the post. It's 50+ pages of tips and post processing suggestions. My wife and I will be putting the skills we learned from it to use later this month when we head to up-state South Carolina to shoot wildflowers.
March 10, 2010 10:19 pm
"Telephoto with a short minimum focus distance? How about a long-ish Macro lens? What telephoto do you know that has a short, “workable” MFD? The popular 70-200 f/2.8s are usually in the 10ft range. That ain’t happening with flowers, sorry."
My 40-150mm zuiko lens has a MFD of what, 3ft? And because of the micro 4/3rds sensor, the zoom/bokeh effect is even bigger.
March 10, 2010 01:27 pm
@OsmosisStudios - My favorite lens for photographing wildflowers is Canon's 70-200 f/4L IS, which has a minimum focus distance of 3.9 ft.. add a 25mm extension tube to that, and you'll get about another foot closer. I've found that this is close enough, even for the smallest of flowers.. I shot this photo of a small Monkeyflower (about 1" wide) with the 70-200 + extension tube:
Despite the small size, I was still able to fill the frame with a full frame sensor..
The first flower photo in this post was also taken with the 70-200 f/4L.. and, I do use a macro lens as well, especially when photographing flat flowers (like the second photo in this post).
@josh - not sure how all those question marks got in there.. I emailed Darren about it, so hopefully he'll have a chance to take them out.
@Perry - haha, I usually work in the reverse: I'll be reading a natural history or wildflower book, spot one I think looks interesting, then go on a mad hunt to find it :)
@PotatoEYE - I usually don't use too small of an aperture--mostly f/5.6 or f/8. I've found that aligning your camera properly really helps avoid the use of a smaller aperture.
@Karen - good point, I think I agree now that sometimes you can photograph a flower in direct sunlight, as long as it doesn't have any really harsh shadows across it :)
March 10, 2010 10:42 am
Thanks for the tips! I purchased my first tripod recently....so I will be shooting flowers with it soon. I do agree that shooting with a tripod forces you to think more about composition versus handholding the camera.
March 10, 2010 08:25 am
Great tips! Wildflowers are one of my favorite subjects. I especially like the overcast tip. Thanks!
March 10, 2010 07:06 am
Yes, it almost that time of year. Some good tips here. I don't necessarily agree about the cloudy day though. By shooting for the highlights on the flowers, especially white ones, you can darken a busy background. As you say, do not interfere with the ecosystem.
Another issue this time of year is that many wildflowers are tiny or on long stalks and it's usually windy. I have been know to use a flash to freeze the motion.
And also, I've moved twigs and dead leaves from behind them. Maybe I should carry a tiny backdrop instead but I don't really disrupt the natural environment too much.
I especially agree about finding the perfect flower. If nothing else, you spend a lot of times outdoors breathing nice spring fresh air. And if you go in the early morning, when btw there is more diffused light and less wind, you might also get some dewdrops on them.
March 10, 2010 05:08 am
Fantastic tips. Most of my photography is of flowers and I'm quickly learning that a tripod is a must. I'll keep this list in mind when I'm taking shots this weekend.
That is a beautiful shot, Russell.
March 10, 2010 03:40 am
I enjoy taking flower shots and few of these points are good tips. I hope to try them out next time I am at our arboretum.
March 10, 2010 02:53 am
Just forgot one important point - aperture
You have to close down quite a bit to get the sharpness in the whole flower. This adds another light loss challenge (especially with the point of 1/200s shutter)
March 10, 2010 02:02 am
I love the overcast day tip - nature's equivalent to a softbox.
March 10, 2010 01:40 am
I thought I'd share one which I took recently, and - although I didn't use a tripod - think I covered each of the points off! The only thing which I had to do a bit of post-processing on was to remove that cigarette butt at the top (but thought I'd share the original with you guys!)
[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/russell07/4333115612/' title='Power Plant' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2781/4333115612_aee3970399.jpg']
March 10, 2010 01:28 am
Photographing wildflowers is so much fun! Especially with the right lens.
You're right though--too many wildflower photographers shoot without a tripod and capture poor images. You need a super sharp image to capture wildflowers correctly.
My favorite part of photography wildflowers is later identifying them!
If you're ever in Glacier National Park or the Rocky Mountains, check out this Wildflower Identification guide to help you identify your new pictures!
March 10, 2010 01:19 am
Telephoto with a short minimum focus distance? How about a long-ish Macro lens? What telephoto do you know that has a short, "workable" MFD? The popular 70-200 f/2.8s are usually in the 10ft range. That ain't happening with flowers, sorry.
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