Flowers are everywhere, and sometimes just the thought of going out to take pictures of their pretty petals can seem downright cliché, because so many people do it. However, one reason flower photography is so popular is because these kinds of pictures can capture incredible beauty, without a great deal of effort. It’s fun to go outside and document the incredible array of colors that can be found in flowers, but it’s just as common to look at your photos later and discover that they might not be as good as you had hoped.
Fortunately there are a few easy steps you can take to not only improve your own flower photography, but help you get out and enjoy the beauty of nature while you’re at it.
Everyone has their own unique style when it comes to photography, and taking pictures of flowers is no exception. Some people like flowers in isolation, whereas some like to see a whole field of blossoms in one shot. Some like to use techniques such as over-saturation or selective coloring, while others find these approaches distasteful. Therefore the following tips are not to be considered universal, or the be-all-end-all when it comes to taking pictures of flowers. They are a few lessons I have learned over the years that work for me, and hopefully they will give you something to think about the next time you step out to capture the beauty of nature.
Give your image a clear focal point
All good photos have a subject, or something on which the viewer’s attention is to be fixed. Some pictures can have multiple subjects, but rarely will you find a good image (flower or otherwise) with no subject at all. Where flowers are concerned, you might want to focus on just one flower, or have your viewers see many of them at once, but at the end of the day it should be readily apparent to anyone who sees your photo just what they are supposed to be looking at.
For example, the following image is decent, but as a viewer it’s difficult to notice the flower in the center amidst all the other blooms in the background. In essence, there is no one clear focal point even though there is a flower in the center of the frame.
There are several things that can be done to fix the problem, but one of my favorite techniques is to simply use a wider aperture on my lens. I re-shot the same image using a much bigger aperture, which resulted in a shallow depth of field, rendering the flower in focus while the rest of the background shows up as a silky smooth blur. Looking at the second image, there is no doubt at all as to what the subject of the photo is, and what viewers are supposed to focus their attention on.
Another way to make sure your image has a clear focal point is to utilize colors that complement or contrast with one another. The purple flowers in the image below stand out because they contrast quite nicely with the green background, which draws the viewer’s attention immediately and creates a nice focal point for the picture as a whole.
You can use multiple techniques to achieve the desired effect, such as the picture below of an orange lily that stands out clearly from the background thanks to contrasting colors, while also using a wide aperture to make the background appear blurrier. Be careful not to use an aperture that is too wide, though: depth of field can be a fickle mistress, and shooting at f/1.8 or f/1.4 might seem like a good idea, until you realize that only half of your flower is in focus and the rest is a fuzzy mess.
This last picture (below) is similar to the one above, but ultimately fails because there is no obvious focal point. Notice how the flower itself almost blends in with the background, and the inclusion of two additional blossoms just behind the red one and in the bottom corner of the frame. These problems cripple the image and keep it firmly in my “Rejected” category in Lightroom, but I’m using it here as an example of what not to do.
I could have easily fixed this picture by looking at the flower from a different perspective, but alas, I did not and am left with an image that is almost unusable because the subject, what should be the focal point, blends in so much with the rest of the image that it’s difficult for the viewer to know what to see. Finding a clear focal point for your images might take a bit of practice, but the results will be well worth your efforts.
Find the right camera angle
It’s not uncommon to see people taking pictures of flowers with their cameras pointed down from eye level. While doing so may produce decent results from time to time, you will often find that selecting a different angle will yield much more interesting results. The red blossom in the picture below was a few feet off the ground so I did what most people would do: I pointed my camera down and pressed the shutter button.
There’s a couple of things wrong with this picture, but to me the most critical problem is that it’s just not very interesting. Looking at flowers from your normal eye level can sometimes produce pleasing photos, but often you will get better results if you move around a bit, and seek out a more interesting angle. After taking the initial picture I crouched down and shuffled among the plants for a bit until I found a better perspective from which to shoot the photo.
While not perfect, this is certainly a much better composition than the original shot, and it shows the flower in a whole new light. You can not only see more detail on the petals, but it stands out more from the background, and even utilizes a bit of foreground elements to add depth. The drop of water on the left side which is an afterthought in the original, is now featured quite prominently, and adds a nice accent to the rich red tones of the flower petals. All this was made possible because of a quick and simple change in my perspective. While this doesn’t always guarantee better photos it is a fun way to try something new, and even explore a bit more of your surroundings than you otherwise might.
Shooting macro-style pictures is another fun way to get creative with choosing the angles on your shots, provided you are willing to look for some unusual perspectives. My cousin Beth took the following picture of a cosmo flower with nothing more than her iPhone 5s, and a $50 Olloclip lens attachment, that lets her get extraordinarily close-up photos of just about anything. By shooting from a creative perspective instead of straight down, and using complementary colors of yellow and purple, she was able to take a gorgeous picture that might otherwise have looked quite mundane and ordinary. Her Instagram account is filled with images just like these that she took with her phone, which also illustrates that you don’t need to spend a great deal of money to get incredible photos of flowers.
Compose with the whole scene in mind
Taking good flower pictures is about more than just a few pretty petals, but everything in front of and behind them as well. Finding creative ways to avoid conflicting colors between your subject and the background or foreground is nice, but you can step things up a notch by actively using these elements to enhance your shots.
For example, I had many options available when I took the following shot of some yellow kosmeyas. I could have just focused on the flower in the foreground, but by taking all the other elements of the scene into account, I was able to create a much richer and more interesting picture. I shot into the early morning sun, before the dew had evaporated, so I could make creative use of backlighting, and was so pleased with the result that a large print of this is now hanging in my living room.
Even the background elements themselves can add interesting colors and patterns that you might not otherwise consider, as long as you pay attention when shooting, and use a careful eye with regard to composition. As I took the photo below, I saw a sidewalk running through the background, so I spent several minutes not just adjusting my camera settings, but also looking at the sidewalk and using that as an intentional compositional element. I like the way it cuts horizontally through the image and serves to accentuate the oranges in the flower at the center.
I want to leave you with one final example when I did not use this technique, and was quite disappointed with the photo that I almost got. Several months ago I spent a while following a butterfly around on a sunny day. When it finally landed on a flower and let me get close enough to take a photo, I eagerly snapped away without taking the rest of the scene into account.
If only I had scooted mere inches to the right I would have isolated the flower and the butterfly against a nice green background, but instead I did not take the whole scene into account, and got an image with no clear focal point and a big splotch of blurry orange right behind my subjects. I could have used the background elements to my advantage, but instead I was careless and overeager. This was actually a good learning experience for me though, as it helped me take much better photos in the time since.
As I mentioned at the outset, these are just a few examples and tips that you could employ to get better flower pictures but I’m curious to find out what has worked for you. What are your favorite tips and tricks to get better images of flowers? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.