Have you ever marveled at the stunning images of wildflowers in nature magazines or photography exhibits? The shots often seem simple to capture, but if you’ve tried your hand at wildflower photography, you might have found that it’s trickier than it looks; to get the best shots, you must be familiar with a variety of photographic concepts and techniques, including lighting, exposure, focus, and composition.
That’s where this article comes in. I’ve been photographing wildflowers for years, and below, I’m going to unravel the secrets of professional wildflower snappers. I’ll share:
- The best lighting to make wildflower colors pop
- A few key items of gear I recommend to every up-and-coming wildflower photographer
- The best settings for sharp photos
- A few creative techniques to level up your shots
And here’s my guarantee: If you follow these guidelines, and you put some real effort into practicing, you’ll be able to capture the intricate details, stunning colors, and unique textures of wildflowers in no time at all.
Ready to see your wildflower photography flourish? Let’s dive right in!
1. Use a close-focusing lens
Before I delve into the nitty-gritty of wildflower photography settings, I want to emphasize that a lens that can focus close to your subject is key.
You see, if you can’t focus close, then you can’t capture those beautiful details, and if you can’t capture those beautiful details, then your images will turn out rather boring. Unfortunately, most lenses fall short in this department. They do a great job when handling scenes from a distance – but try to make them focus on a flower that’s only a few inches away, and they’ll just fail.
That’s why you need a lens that can focus close. I use a dedicated macro lens, which is designed specifically for close-up work – and if wildflower photography is something you’re passionate about, I recommend you invest in one, too. A macro lens allows you to shoot at 1:1 magnifications, and it can truly revolutionize your work.
What focal length is best? In my experience, lenses in the 90mm to 110mm range work wonders for flower photography, though some photographers do prefer to use telephoto macro lenses that reach 150mm, 180mm, or 200mm. Really, when you’re just starting out, any dedicated macro lens will do a great job, so you shouldn’t worry too much about specific specifications.
Note: If you don’t have the budget to splurge on a brand-new lens, consider purchasing extension tubes or a lens reversing ring. Either of these options will decrease the minimum focusing distance of your current lens, and while you won’t gain the flexibility and quality offered by dedicated macro glass, you can still produce fantastic results.
2. Use a tripod
Capturing stunning images of wildflowers often involves focusing on intricate details, and this requires you to work at high magnifications (see the previous section!).
The problem? Even slight camera shake at these high magnifications can lead to blurry, disappointing shots.
That’s where a tripod comes in. By stabilizing your camera, it can drastically reduce the risk of camera shake, thereby enhancing the sharpness and detail of your images. It’s a simple solution that can significantly improve your photography.
Don’t just head over to Amazon and purchase any tripod, however. You’ll want to invest in a robust tripod that can get low enough to deliver an intimate perspective; I’d also recommend you opt for a model made of carbon fiber because the lighter material will make it easier to carry around.
Realistically, tripods aren’t the most convenient piece of kit. They can be heavy and a bit slow to set up. But this slight inconvenience will feel so worth it when you open up your memory card to a slew of tack-sharp photos.
That said, if a tripod doesn’t suit your style, it is possible to shoot wildflowers while handholding. Just make sure you hold your camera carefully, tuck your elbows in, and (whenever possible) stabilize your body against something solid.
3. Photograph wildflowers on overcast days
The quality of light in your wildflower photography can make or break your images. Unfortunately, many beginners take their shots during midday when the sun is at its harshest, leading to unflattering shadows.
Photographing wildflowers on overcast days, however, can be a complete game-changer. Cloud cover acts like a giant diffuser in the sky, bathing your subjects in soft, even light that brings out their colors and textures beautifully.
To capitalize on this, keep an eye on the weather forecast for cloudy days. Plan your shoots for midday when the light when the diffused light is still relatively strong. And carry a diffuser and reflector with you in case the clouds clear up unexpectedly (for more on these items, see the next tip!).
And if the sky refuses to cooperate, there’s always the golden hours – those precious moments after sunrise or before sunset. The light then is also magical, even if it doesn’t offer the level of softness and neutrality of a cloudy sky.
4. If the light is too harsh, use a reflector
As mentioned above, overcast conditions often work best for wildflower photography. But what if the clouds are sporadic or thin, resulting in unpleasant shadows that don’t do justice to your exquisite wildflower subjects?
Let me introduce you to your new best friend: a reflector.
Reflectors can help get rid of those pesky shadows and high-contrast areas, instead emphasizing the vibrancy of the wildflowers. It’s basically a mirror that helps you control and manipulate light. That way, even on a day when the sunlight is feeling a bit too strong, you can still capture eye-catching wildflower photographs.
So how do you wield a reflector effectively? Start by positioning it (roughly) opposite the sun. That way, you can bounce light back onto your wildflower. View the results through your camera’s viewfinder, then adjust the reflector’s angle and distance to fine-tune the intensity and direction of the reflected light.
By the way, if the light still feels too harsh, you can always try combining a diffuser and a reflector, though juggling a reflector with one hand and a diffuser in the other while also taking a photo can be pretty impossible. And even if you’re just working with a reflector, photographing with one free hand is tough.
Therefore, consider attaching the reflector and/or diffuser to a light stand or shooting handheld with your camera while attaching the reflector/diffuser to your tripod. If you can bring an assistant along, even better! They can hold the reflector while you focus on capturing the beauty of the wildflowers.
5. Photograph wildflowers that are in good condition
Out there in the wild, flowers face the rigors of weather, insects, and time, which can sometimes leave them looking wilted or damaged. Although this is nature’s course, these imperfections can draw the viewer’s attention away from the wildflower’s innate charm.
That’s why I suggest being a bit picky when it comes to choosing your wildflower subjects. Instead of working with just any subject, pick those in prime condition. That way, the viewer won’t be distracted by any wilting petals; instead, their eye will be drawn straight to the splendor and intricacies of the flower itself.
Adopting a patient and attentive approach can be helpful here. As you search for a subject, keep your camera away from your eye and scrutinize each potential wildflower subject for its health. Look for vibrant colors, symmetry, and completeness. And if you realize that a flower has an imperfection only after you’ve set up your camera, consider switching your subject, or at least cleverly compose your shot to hide the flaws.
And I get it: Depending on the time of year, the quest for the perfect flower can seem a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. But the end result – a visually stunning, distraction-free photograph – is generally worth it!
Plus, it’s worth noting that you don’t have to seek out perfect flowers. You can get great wildflower photos by embracing the imperfections of your subjects. Wilting flowers can add a level of moodiness to your shots, especially with the right post-processing – but if you decide to go this route, I encourage you to make that choice consciously in advance, not after you realize you have a memory card full of wilting subjects.
6. Make sure the background complements the wildflowers
While photographing wildflowers, it’s all too easy to be so mesmerized by the flower’s allure that you forget about what’s behind it. Unfortunately, that moment of oversight can result in a visually chaotic photograph, especially if the area behind your wildflower is full of sticks, bare branches, or human-made elements.
Therefore, make sure you pay close attention to both the flower and the background. A nice background can act like a canvas that enhances your wildflower’s appeal, helping it take center stage in your photograph. It’ll allow your viewers to appreciate the full beauty of the flower.
So before you start capturing photos of an interesting subject, take a moment to scrutinize the background through your viewfinder. Is the background clean and consistent, or is it distracting and jagged? In my experience, plenty of natural elements can make for great backgrounds: a patch of lush green leaves, a serene, clear sky, or even a group of flowers that echo your main subject.
On the other hand, if your background isn’t ideal, play around with your position or angle until you find a better option. (Using a wider aperture can also help blur the background, removing distractions and making your wildflowers pop.)
And if you spend time seeking out different backgrounds and you come up short, that’s when a piece of solid-colored paper or fabric can come to your rescue. Simply place it behind the flower, and voila! You have complete control over the background color and texture, and you can even tailor it to suit your specific wildflower subject.
7. Use a (reasonably) fast shutter speed
You’ve set up your tripod and focused on a vibrant bloom, but as you press the shutter button, a sudden gust of wind shakes the flower. The result is a blurry image that doesn’t quite do just to the flower’s beauty. Sound familiar?
That’s where a higher shutter speed comes into play. You see, a faster shutter speed will freeze the movement of a swaying flower, resulting in sharper, more vibrant shots that highlight every petal and leaf.
What shutter speed is necessary for wildflower photography? That depends on a few factors, including your lens’s distance from the subject, the lens’s focal length, and the strength of the wind. However, I’d recommend 1/200s as a starting point for most scenarios, assuming you’re using a lens in the 50mm to 110mm range. If you’re working with a 150mm, 180mm, or 200mm, I’d recommend boosting your shutter speed even further – try 1/320s, then check the results on your camera’s LCD and see what you think.
One additional tip I can share from my own experience: If a day is extremely windy, simply avoid wildflower photography entirely. Trying to photograph flowers as they wave past your camera can be a very frustrating experience – certainly not one that I recommend!
8. Experiment with soft-focus effects
Let’s face it: Conventional wildflower photography can sometimes feel a little overdone, making it hard to stand out from the crowd or feel inspired. That’s where soft-focus effects come in handy.
Thanks to this creative technique, you can infuse your photos with a dreamy, almost ethereal quality. It’ll lend your images an artistic touch that certainly sets them apart from typical wildflower shots.
To achieve a soft-focus effect, start by widening your lens aperture (f/2.8 is a good starting point). This creates a shallow depth of field, blurring the background and the near and far edges of the wildflower while keeping your subject – a petal, the flower center, or even a single anther – sharp. You can then play around with the focus, drawing attention to different parts of the flower while letting the rest go out of focus.
One caveat to bear in mind, however: Even if you do an amazing job with your soft-focus shots, you’ll still run into viewers who prefer crystal-clear images. But don’t let this deter you! For one, the artistic potential of soft-focus photos is amazing – and photography is about expressing your own vision, not tailoring it to others’ tastes.
9. Regularly use manual focus
In the world of wildflower photography, relying on your camera’s autofocus can sometimes lead to less-than-perfect shots. Often, high magnifications confuse autofocus systems, resulting in frustratingly blurry images (or a complete refusal to lock focus!). To overcome this, I highly recommend you turn to manual focus.
Although it might feel a bit intimidating initially, manual focus allows you to exert complete control over the sharp and blurry portions of your images. You can select your points of focus precisely, ensuring sharp, detailed images that highlight the beauty of every petal (or, if you’re using a soft-focus effect, a single petal!).
If you’re new to manual focus, go grab your camera, mount your closest-focusing lens, and try it out. Pick a basic subject, then gently turn the focus ring on your lens until that subject becomes clear. Alternatively, set the focus for a close-up shot, then subtly move your camera back and forth until the subject appears sharp in the viewfinder.
Manual focus demands precision, and it’s also slower than autofocus. However, the increased control makes it an invaluable technique for photographing wildflowers – and I promise you: With a little practice, you’ll wonder how you ever worked without it!
10. Do wildflower photography from creative angles
One common mistake in wildflower photography? Shooting from the same comfortable angle over and over again. More often than not, beginners instinctively shoot from a standing height, resulting in photos that, while nice, lack a unique perspective.
This is where being creative with your angles can breathe new life into your wildflower photography. For instance, you can get down low and snap a picture on the flower’s level for an intimate view. Or you can try shooting from directly beneath the flower, which can yield a striking image against a bright sky. A top-down angle with the flower dominating the frame can be surprisingly dramatic, too!
Finally, remember that different lenses can help you achieve different perspectives. While I generally recommend using a macro lens for wildflower photography, a wide-angle lens can capture an entire field of wildflowers, and a telephoto lens can help isolate a single distant bloom against a blurred backdrop. These possibilities shouldn’t be neglected. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different lenses and angles to discover your unique wildflower photography style!
Wildflower photography tips: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’ve learned plenty of techniques to enhance your wildflower photography – and you’re ready to start taking shots that are extraordinary!
Though working with some of these techniques might seem challenging at first, with a bit of perseverance, your results will be outstanding. At base, it’s nothing too complex; it’s just about using the interplay of light, subject, and camera settings to work in your favor.
Now it’s your turn! Grab your camera, head out into nature, and start exploring some fields of wildflowers. Apply what you’ve learned, but don’t be afraid to experiment! Happy shooting.
Which of these wildflower photo tips do you plan to use first? Do you have any tips of your own that we missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
A note on authorship: This article was updated in July 2023 based on original contributions by Steve Berardi, a naturalist, photographer, and computer scientist. Read more of his articles on nature photography at the PhotoNaturalist and check out his eBook, Digital Wildflower Photography.
Table of contents
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- 8 Tips for Photographing Wildflowers
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES