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Depth of Field in Floral Photography

A Guest Post by Christine Havill

Nearly every person who has held a camera has been drawn to and experienced the pleasure of photographing a flower. Most photographers however, or so I have found, deem a flower shot to be a ‘cop out’ shot. Flowers are pretty and so a photo of one will be pretty right? wrong!

Blog1

A floral photograph can make for a striking, artistic and moving image. From colour popping close ups , to a sad broken rose on a memorial bench to the wedding bouquet that means so much to the bride. And although the subject matter is either meaningful, emotional or just simply beautiful, if your settings are off the photo can be appalling ruining the capture.

Depth of field is the key to capturing your floral image perfectly and turning a bland flower shot into something that stuns. This is your ultimate tool to ensure your flower or flowers are the center of attention, or not, depending on your style.

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For a singular flower shot, your background is just as important as your foreground. Even if you can’t compose the shot so that the background isn’t loud or busy, a very low f number will ensure that it is thrown out of focus, often adding to the picture with interesting bokeh that highlights your clear and perfectly focused flower.

If you are set on capturing a field of flowers, your f number will need to be a little higher to balance your focus across the whole scene. In the same respect if you feel creating a more unique effect you could throw the colourful flowers out of focus, creating a feeling of distance with the blur by using a low aperture and focusing on just one flower in the foreground will create an interesting image.

Blog4

Often use of depth of field, blur and bokeh creates the image more so than the actual subject. A rose on the ground where the foreground and background is blurred effortlessly draws your attention more than a simple evenly focused a rose on the ground.

As the aperture setting is your ultimate awesome floral photograph weapon, so be your type of lens. When used, correctly with the right aperture settings, macro lenses create wonderful floral images that may simply consist of shapes and colours, contours of petals or of fascinating close ups. A wide lens and the right f number will have you wanting to run through fields of wildflowers.

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See more of Christine Havill’s work at her site – Kiri Photography.

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  • Mark Baily

    Great post and amazing bokeh, here’s one I took on a recent shoot http://www.flickr.com/photos/chefb666/8048267902/in/photostream

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    I love clicking flowers and can’t say how many times I have forgotten to keep the f value low. I have this time tied a mental knot so that I will remember.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • DG

    Picked up a couple of large aperture legacy lenses for my EPL1 for the same low depth of field. The attached picture of a flower on my window sill was taken with a Minolta 50mm f1.4, shot at f/2 if I recall correctly. The bokeh was smoother at f/1.4, but the DOF is too small to have enough of even this small flower in focus.

    The other thing I notices about most flower shots in photography books and websites – the colour looks as if saturated to somewhat unnatural levels. Is it just me, or is it become too common not to leave it looking natural?
    http://g4.img-dpreview.com/C7B64AA8A9C448D5A7D1CC975E1FA05D.jpg

  • http://www.wildlifeencounters.eu steve

    If you can catch an insect on the flower it can add to the composition but may detract from your eye focussing on the bloom itself

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Garden-Flowers/G0000gLl1kkBxdko/I00001hC.3vv6SPM/C0000TPXfzAa3dr4

  • http://dewandemmer.com Dewan Demmer

    I have also encountered the attitude that flowers are a cop out, that a ‘real’ photographer should be photographing ‘real’ subjects, and I have always considered this approach quite silly. We are all surrounded by flowers or fauna and it makes it a great as a practice tool and once the skill develops fauna can become a real to create inspiration.
    I find going outside and just taking pictures of flowers is a great way to get the mind turning over in the right direction.
    These are some of my little variety of flower pictures, I should take more but lately I admit I have been lazy.
    http://www.dewandemmer.com/spring-bloom-johannesburg-photographer-dsd-photography/

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/mountainsplash/ Cindy-Sue Causey

    For a singular flower shot, your background is just as important as your foreground.

    Can’t agree more about the background.. Circumstances being what they are, this yard here is my entire photo op realm.. I spend a lot of time in it attempting to capture tiny bugs and equally tiny wildflowers and foliage.. Much of the effort is spent trying to capture both that single perfect point of focus AND have a background that would, well, make for a cool computer desktop image, as example. Meaning that I actively look for that angle that maybe has just the right strategic placement of complementing weeds, dead leaf cover, gravel, that kind of thing.. :)

    On a related note, about once a year my yard experiences a phenomena where the winter wind whips moisture in the air into COOL low lying ice formations around plant growth. Last year I was taking the most time and effort yet trying capture the beauty these things are which meant lying out prone on the cold, dank ground. Was bound and determined THAT year to specifically capture SOME kind of standout background that better helped bring forward just how amazing these formations are.

    Halfway last year’s session, I hear a car pull RIGHT up next to me on the driveway.. Turned out the three ladies had driven by several times and decided I was probably in need of rescuing/medical assistance.. No joke, I think they left mad at me out of embarrassment for themselves when I rolled over and they saw the camera in my hand.. Meanwhile I was genuinely grateful…. but laughing at the whole scenario. Still am grateful and still do… laugh pretty hard over the whole thing. :))

    PS.. Maybe this year I’ll finally get the sought after background. SERIOUSLY considering putting up a hand painted “photo session in progress” sign this year, though. :))

  • af

    Useful summary nicely illustrated. Another useful trick is to combine these techniques with flash in order to “stop” the wind.

  • http://www.portraitinspiration.com Jai Catalano

    I enjoyed the last one. There is nothing interesting about the others but I think there is a story here if it were done differently.

  • http://www.pdf34.wordpress.com Badflea
  • Scottc

    Defnitely not a “cop out” subject. The background is critical, regardess of the DoF used.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5606268384/

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/spikeey/6808865015/in/photostream mike
  • Barry E. Warren

    Taken photos of plants are interesting, They are a class of there own.
    http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8030/8065075935_aecaa46254_z.jpg

  • Sue

    Excellent article and photos. Would have been more helpful if you published the settings used on each photo.

  • http://www.piotrhalka.com Piotr Halka

    I have few examples of floral bokeh, made by Minolta 50/2.8 macro lens.
    Have a look http://piotrhalka.com/forest-bokeh/

  • Jay

    Nice photos. Bokeh was one reason, but the color choices ( red/ yellow subjects against green/bluefish backgrounds) help too.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Best
    Jay

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    I agree with some others have mentioned above, that with shallow DoF flower photography, how the bokeh looks is nearly as important as the flower itself. In this series I have examples of how bokeh effects cosmos shots:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2011/4/5/cosmos-flowers-of-tachikawa-japan.html

  • Daniel Scott
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenklassy/ Ken

    Taken in Borodino Russia, weekend get away.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenklassy/8062294204/in/photostream

  • http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/ marius2die4
  • Tod

    depth of field flowers shots are a good way to practice technique. When i recently purchased my first SLR a friend had me practice with flowers (with manual focus) and it has helped my general technique a lot. I also have some amazing flower shots to show for it

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosespink/ azzra

    Piotr Halka : i admire your blog..all photo so adorable n nice editing..

  • http://www.skop-photos.de Stefan
  • ccting

    beautiful..

  • http://www.ggmachcha.com Anand Machcha
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/gabbie24/sets/72157626375655825/ Grey Girl

    I really enjoyed the information and comments, and try to take them all in. I am fairly new at all this and I find taking photos of flowers extremely satisfying – and isn’t that what it’s all about? Whether others think it’s a cop out doesn’t bother me but I object to being criticised for being a ‘purist’ in that I don’t photoshop my photos – the most I do is crop them. I think with the quality of the cameras available today, especially if the user knows how to get the best out if their camera, and I admit that I don’t, then we can all take great photos and enjoy the results of our efforts and hope to learn more as we do along – and for me, capturing the colours that are all around us, be it in flowers or whatever, is what it’s all about. Obviously I’m not a professional, but hey! I’m happy! I have included a link to my Flickr flower photos if anyone would care to take a look,

  • http://icelandaurora.com/blog/ tony prower

    Wonderful bokah is some of these. Expert focusing.

  • neville goldsmith

    Consider using a focus rail and focus stacking amongst your photgraphy. take control of D.O.F. and still create bokeh.
    also checkout macrostop.com for inspiration and techniques.
    cheers

  • Vipul

    Great stuff. Love the bokeh in floral photography.

    One of my floral clicks :
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/vipulvaibhav/7912321274/

  • Ross C

    Ok, what is bokeh, or what is it the abreviation of, Please ?
    Cheers

  • http://allanmuturi.wordpress.com/ Allan
  • http://kiriphotography.com/ Christine Havill

    Thank you for all your comments and for posting your great images too! Please let me know if you would like the Exif info on each photograph!

  • http://kiriphotography.com/ Christine Havill

    My apologies, the best way to explain bokeh is the blur in the out of focus areas of an image. Some examples below:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kirif1/4813639048/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kirif1/7355813550/in/set-72157630016882368
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kirif1/5816811866/

  • Vipul

    Hi Ross C, Bokeh is simply the stuff out of focus . It’s a japanese term for “blur” .
    You can read more about it here :
    http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/bokeh.htm

  • Daniel

    My picture is better than yours because I have a butterfly :)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/36921275@N08/5737599844/

    Thanks for your tips!

  • http://weddingphotographerdevon.wordpress.com/ PaulB

    Now this is something I’ve a lot of, best tip is to move in and out with the camera to get the best dof effect. Easier than trying to manually focus.

Some older comments

  • PaulB

    October 22, 2012 04:07 am

    Now this is something I've a lot of, best tip is to move in and out with the camera to get the best dof effect. Easier than trying to manually focus.

  • Daniel

    October 18, 2012 10:21 pm

    My picture is better than yours because I have a butterfly :)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/36921275@N08/5737599844/

    Thanks for your tips!

  • Vipul

    October 15, 2012 06:01 pm

    Hi Ross C, Bokeh is simply the stuff out of focus . It's a japanese term for "blur" .
    You can read more about it here :
    http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/bokeh.htm

  • Christine Havill

    October 15, 2012 06:41 am

    My apologies, the best way to explain bokeh is the blur in the out of focus areas of an image. Some examples below:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kirif1/4813639048/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kirif1/7355813550/in/set-72157630016882368
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kirif1/5816811866/

  • Christine Havill

    October 15, 2012 06:36 am

    Thank you for all your comments and for posting your great images too! Please let me know if you would like the Exif info on each photograph!

  • Allan

    October 13, 2012 03:15 am

    here was a shot that I got using D90 and 15-105mm lens. http://allanmuturi.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/ab2_2871.jpg?w=510
    Another one here
    http://allanmuturi.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/dsc_8982.jpg?w=510

  • Ross C

    October 12, 2012 09:57 pm

    Ok, what is bokeh, or what is it the abreviation of, Please ?
    Cheers

  • Vipul

    October 12, 2012 02:23 pm

    Great stuff. Love the bokeh in floral photography.

    One of my floral clicks :
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/vipulvaibhav/7912321274/

  • neville goldsmith

    October 12, 2012 11:14 am

    Consider using a focus rail and focus stacking amongst your photgraphy. take control of D.O.F. and still create bokeh.
    also checkout macrostop.com for inspiration and techniques.
    cheers

  • tony prower

    October 12, 2012 09:15 am

    Wonderful bokah is some of these. Expert focusing.

  • Grey Girl

    October 12, 2012 07:55 am

    I really enjoyed the information and comments, and try to take them all in. I am fairly new at all this and I find taking photos of flowers extremely satisfying - and isn't that what it's all about? Whether others think it's a cop out doesn't bother me but I object to being criticised for being a 'purist' in that I don't photoshop my photos - the most I do is crop them. I think with the quality of the cameras available today, especially if the user knows how to get the best out if their camera, and I admit that I don't, then we can all take great photos and enjoy the results of our efforts and hope to learn more as we do along - and for me, capturing the colours that are all around us, be it in flowers or whatever, is what it's all about. Obviously I'm not a professional, but hey! I'm happy! I have included a link to my Flickr flower photos if anyone would care to take a look,

  • Anand Machcha

    October 12, 2012 04:19 am

    I liked the way the importance of DOF is explained in this Tutorial...
    I had taken couple of shots,
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151064912351053&set=a.10151057823951053.417352.701101052&type=3&theater

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151064913196053&set=a.10151057823951053.417352.701101052&type=3&theater

  • ccting

    October 11, 2012 05:42 pm

    beautiful..

  • Stefan

    October 11, 2012 01:14 am

    http://www.skop-photos.de/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/againstthesun2.jpg

  • azzra

    October 10, 2012 04:16 pm

    Piotr Halka : i admire your blog..all photo so adorable n nice editing..

  • Tod

    October 10, 2012 10:16 am

    depth of field flowers shots are a good way to practice technique. When i recently purchased my first SLR a friend had me practice with flowers (with manual focus) and it has helped my general technique a lot. I also have some amazing flower shots to show for it

  • marius2die4

    October 9, 2012 04:41 pm

    Nice photos!Some of mine:
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2011/12/cateva-floricele.html

  • Ken

    October 9, 2012 04:06 pm

    Taken in Borodino Russia, weekend get away.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenklassy/8062294204/in/photostream

  • Daniel Scott

    October 9, 2012 04:04 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dnjscott531/7769658454/

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    October 9, 2012 03:59 am

    I agree with some others have mentioned above, that with shallow DoF flower photography, how the bokeh looks is nearly as important as the flower itself. In this series I have examples of how bokeh effects cosmos shots:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2011/4/5/cosmos-flowers-of-tachikawa-japan.html

  • Jay

    October 9, 2012 02:45 am

    Nice photos. Bokeh was one reason, but the color choices ( red/ yellow subjects against green/bluefish backgrounds) help too.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Best
    Jay

  • Piotr Halka

    October 8, 2012 10:45 pm

    I have few examples of floral bokeh, made by Minolta 50/2.8 macro lens.
    Have a look http://piotrhalka.com/forest-bokeh/

  • Sue

    October 8, 2012 02:16 pm

    Excellent article and photos. Would have been more helpful if you published the settings used on each photo.

  • Barry E. Warren

    October 8, 2012 12:07 pm

    Taken photos of plants are interesting, They are a class of there own.
    http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8030/8065075935_aecaa46254_z.jpg

  • mike

    October 8, 2012 09:14 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/spikeey/6808865015/in/photostream

  • Scottc

    October 8, 2012 05:56 am

    Defnitely not a "cop out" subject. The background is critical, regardess of the DoF used.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5606268384/

  • Badflea

    October 8, 2012 05:15 am

    Ok are leaves... not flowers...

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/autunno-fall/

  • Jai Catalano

    October 8, 2012 03:10 am

    I enjoyed the last one. There is nothing interesting about the others but I think there is a story here if it were done differently.

  • af

    October 8, 2012 01:16 am

    Useful summary nicely illustrated. Another useful trick is to combine these techniques with flash in order to "stop" the wind.

  • Cindy-Sue Causey

    October 8, 2012 01:09 am

    For a singular flower shot, your background is just as important as your foreground.

    Can't agree more about the background.. Circumstances being what they are, this yard here is my entire photo op realm.. I spend a lot of time in it attempting to capture tiny bugs and equally tiny wildflowers and foliage.. Much of the effort is spent trying to capture both that single perfect point of focus AND have a background that would, well, make for a cool computer desktop image, as example. Meaning that I actively look for that angle that maybe has just the right strategic placement of complementing weeds, dead leaf cover, gravel, that kind of thing.. :)

    On a related note, about once a year my yard experiences a phenomena where the winter wind whips moisture in the air into COOL low lying ice formations around plant growth. Last year I was taking the most time and effort yet trying capture the beauty these things are which meant lying out prone on the cold, dank ground. Was bound and determined THAT year to specifically capture SOME kind of standout background that better helped bring forward just how amazing these formations are.

    Halfway last year's session, I hear a car pull RIGHT up next to me on the driveway.. Turned out the three ladies had driven by several times and decided I was probably in need of rescuing/medical assistance.. No joke, I think they left mad at me out of embarrassment for themselves when I rolled over and they saw the camera in my hand.. Meanwhile I was genuinely grateful.... but laughing at the whole scenario. Still am grateful and still do... laugh pretty hard over the whole thing. :))

    PS.. Maybe this year I'll finally get the sought after background. SERIOUSLY considering putting up a hand painted "photo session in progress" sign this year, though. :))

  • Dewan Demmer

    October 7, 2012 08:17 pm

    I have also encountered the attitude that flowers are a cop out, that a 'real' photographer should be photographing 'real' subjects, and I have always considered this approach quite silly. We are all surrounded by flowers or fauna and it makes it a great as a practice tool and once the skill develops fauna can become a real to create inspiration.
    I find going outside and just taking pictures of flowers is a great way to get the mind turning over in the right direction.
    These are some of my little variety of flower pictures, I should take more but lately I admit I have been lazy.
    http://www.dewandemmer.com/spring-bloom-johannesburg-photographer-dsd-photography/

  • steve

    October 7, 2012 06:47 pm

    If you can catch an insect on the flower it can add to the composition but may detract from your eye focussing on the bloom itself

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Garden-Flowers/G0000gLl1kkBxdko/I00001hC.3vv6SPM/C0000TPXfzAa3dr4

  • DG

    October 7, 2012 06:40 pm

    Picked up a couple of large aperture legacy lenses for my EPL1 for the same low depth of field. The attached picture of a flower on my window sill was taken with a Minolta 50mm f1.4, shot at f/2 if I recall correctly. The bokeh was smoother at f/1.4, but the DOF is too small to have enough of even this small flower in focus.

    The other thing I notices about most flower shots in photography books and websites - the colour looks as if saturated to somewhat unnatural levels. Is it just me, or is it become too common not to leave it looking natural?
    http://g4.img-dpreview.com/C7B64AA8A9C448D5A7D1CC975E1FA05D.jpg

  • Mridula

    October 7, 2012 04:51 pm

    I love clicking flowers and can't say how many times I have forgotten to keep the f value low. I have this time tied a mental knot so that I will remember.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Mark Baily

    October 7, 2012 09:36 am

    Great post and amazing bokeh, here's one I took on a recent shoot http://www.flickr.com/photos/chefb666/8048267902/in/photostream

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