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How to Photograph Flowers: A Beginner’s Guide

A guide to beautiful flower photography

As anyone who’s ever seen my work will tell you, I’m obsessed with flower photography. There’s just something so enjoyable – relaxing, even – about getting down on the ground with my camera and carefully searching for beautiful subjects to capture. Plus, flowers are such accessible subjects; you can find them practically anywhere (as long as you look in the right season, that is!).

However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 14+ years photographing flowers, it’s this: For the best flower photos, you can’t just point your camera and hope for the best. Instead, you have to use a thoughtful, deliberate approach that considers several different variables – such as camera settings, lighting, and composition – before finally pressing that shutter button.

That’s where I can help! In this article, I share my hard-won tips, tricks, and techniques for beautiful shots of flowers. I walk you through everything you need to know to get started, from the essential gear and camera settings to my favorite lighting and compositional approaches.

Let’s get started!

flower photography macro abstract - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

Can you capture amazing flower photos with a cheap camera and nothing else? Yes – but you’ll have a much easier time if you invest in some specific equipment. I’m not saying you should run out and buy thousands of dollars worth of gear, but some small upgrades can go a long way.

(If it helps, my initial flower photography setup cost around $400, including a used DSLR that I already owned; in other words, to get started shooting flowers, I spent around $200. If you’re careful in your gear choices, and you’re willing to buy equipment on the used market, you can do the same.)

There are a few types of gear to think about here: cameras, lenses, and accessories (such as flashes and tripods). Let’s go through them one by one:

1. Cameras

flower macro photography abstract red tulip - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

My camera recommendation is straightforward: the best cameras for photographing flowers offer interchangeable lenses. If you own a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, you’re basically good to go, as these models all offer great flexibility in terms of settings and have a huge array of excellent lenses available.

Which specific camera should you use? Especially if you are a beginner, it matters little. Pretty much every interchangeable lens mirrorless camera allows for outstanding quality images, whether marketed for professionals or consumers – and even old DSLRs do a great job, too. (It’s worth remembering that what is ultra-cheap and outdated in the 2020s was state-of-the-art in the 2010s!)

I used to recommend that hobbyist flower photographers use a DSLR rather than a mirrorless camera, simply because the Canon, Nikon, and Sony mirrorless lens lineups weren’t very well developed. There’s still a little bit of truth to that – you can find a wider range of close-focusing lenses if you use a Canon DSLR than a Canon mirrorless camera, for instance – but the difference is no longer as significant.

(Plus, you can always use an adapter to mount DSLR lenses to your mirrorless system. In fact, that’s how I do my flower photography these days: with a mirrorless camera and a DSLR macro lens.)

clematis flower - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers
I took this clematis photograph around eight years ago using a DSLR and a dedicated macro lens. These days, mirrorless cameras have far surpassed DSLRs in popularity, and as far as I’m concerned, either camera type will work just fine!

2. Lenses

Once you have an interchangeable lens camera, you’ll need to pick the right lens. Now, I want to emphasize: It is possible to get good images of flowers using any lens, macro or non-macro, wide-angle or telephoto. I have taken some of my best flower images using a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens.

flower photography macro abstract poppy - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers
I captured this poppy photo with my trusty Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens. A 50mm prime isn’t my favorite way to shoot flowers – but it can definitely work, and in this scenario, I used to create a freelensing effect.

The problem with more conventional lenses, however, is that they don’t focus especially close. With a 50mm f/1.8 lens, you might be able to capture a full-frame portrait of a reasonably large flower – but with a specialized close-focusing lens, you can do so much more.

Basically, the higher your lens’s magnification capabilities, the more opportunities you’ll have. You can make intimate and detailed images of flowers. You can also experiment with more abstract photography techniques.

This is why I generally recommend a dedicated macro lens for flower photography. These lenses usually offer life-size magnification, pin-sharp images, and excellent bokeh (i.e., background blur). Some of these are available for a decent price, and I have written previously about choosing the perfect macro lens.

Bear in mind that shorter macro lenses (in the 40-60mm range) are often cheaper and lighter, but to get ultra-detailed shots, you’ll need to get very close to the flower – and as a result, you may find yourself blocking out the light. I started with a 60mm macro lens, and while it worked reasonably well, I did wish for a bit more reach at high magnifications. After a few years, I invested in a 90mm lens, and the extra working distance definitely helped, though it was far from critical. A few more years went by, and I decided to try shooting with a 150mm lens, but I wasn’t a huge fan; the lens was long and bulky, and I wasn’t able to get the same intimate perspective that I could get with a shorter model.

Anyway, whether or not a longer macro lens is right for you depends on your budget, as well as the type of shots you want to take. If you’re on the fence, I’d probably just go with a shorter macro lens; these models come in handy when shooting non-macro subjects, too, so even if you upgrade after a few years, your macro lens probably won’t go to waste.

flower photography macro yellow - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers
A macro lens in the 90-105mm range feels right for me, and it’s what I used to capture this image. You, however, might feel differently!

Another option is to use a regular lens (often a telephoto lens) plus extension tubes. Extension tubes are a cheap way of reducing your lens’s minimum focusing distance, therefore allowing you to shoot at higher magnifications. The primary downside to extension tubes is flexibility.

When mounted between your camera and lens, extension tubes greatly decrease your maximum focusing distance, preventing you from quickly changing your point of focus. So with extension tubes mounted, you cannot take images of distant objects; you are restricted to only subjects within a few feet.

A third way of doing inexpensive flower photography is to freelens. By detaching the lens and placing it in front of the camera body, you can increase magnification (while also generating some interesting effects). I often do this with my Canon 50mm lens and an old DSLR; since there’s a real risk of getting dust in the sensor, I don’t want to use my main equipment.

pink coneflower - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers
Freelensing is a fun technique that you can use to capture artistic flower photos, and you won’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a macro lens to do it. I used freelensing to capture this coneflower photo – it’s how I achieve the interesting hazy effect – and by pushing the technique to its limits, I was able to get a surprisingly high-magnification shot!

3. Artificial lighting

Flower photographers often like to use artificial lighting (e.g., flashes or ring lights), especially those who regularly work in the studio.

I’ve shot both with and without flash, and I’ve tested ring lights, but I honestly prefer to shoot outdoors with natural light. It’s not as flexible as artificial light, but it keeps my setup from getting too bulky, and it simplifies my shooting process.

Plus, artificial lighting can get somewhat costly. I will note, however, that a flash can be useful in situations when the natural light isn’t ideal (for instance, when you’re shooting in bright, midday sun). I also like to use dedicated studio strobes when I’m doing indoor flower photography, though if you do prefer to shoot inside, you can definitely get nice photos with the light coming through your windows!

4. Tripods

For many serious flower photographers, a tripod is a necessity. And a tripod does have real benefits: It’ll allow you to use a narrow aperture even in darker conditions (which helps ensure that the entire flower remains in focus).

For me, however, a tripod just isn’t worth it. Tripods are bulky, and they take a long time to set up, especially when you’re working at high magnifications (as flower photographers often are!). I prefer the flexibility that comes from handholding, and how it frees me up to photograph from all different angles: flat on the ground, down from above, you name it.

white flowers - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers
I almost never photograph flowers with a tripod. That’s not to say that I’m a tripod-hater – in fact, I almost always use a tripod for landscapes and street scenes – but when I’m doing close-up shooting, I prefer the flexibility that handholding offers.

That said, if you’re looking to achieve certain effects while photographing flowers, you definitely will want to invest in a sturdy tripod. I’ll discuss that more in the next section:

The ideal camera settings for flower photography

Flower photographers generally aim for one of two looks: sharp throughout the frame (i.e., deep depth of field) or shallow focus.

The sharp-throughout-the-frame technique requires a very narrow aperture (often at f/16 or beyond, especially when you’re shooting at high magnifications). This is where a tripod is necessary.

(Why? Because a narrow aperture lets in very little light – so to shoot at f/16, you’ll need to use a lengthy shutter speed to compensate. And the longer the shutter speed, the more that camera shake will cause your flower photos to blur!)

Deep-depth-of-field flower photos sometimes also require a special technique known as focus stacking in order to prevent the diffraction that comes from higher apertures.

flower photography macro dahlia - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers
An example of a “sharp throughout the frame” look. I photographed this dahlia at f/8, which was barely enough to keep the center petals sharp from front to back.

However, my personal preference is shallow-focus macro photography. This requires no extra equipment, no flashes, and no tripod. Instead, you use a wide aperture (in the f/2.8-f/7.1 range) to render a small portion of the flower in focus. The rest of the image is blurred, which can produce unique and stunning effects.

If you look at the images I’ve included throughout this article, you’ll see that most of them use this shallow-focus approach. The aperture setting I used varied from shot to shot, but when doing this kind of close-up flower photography, I often work at around f/4 to keep a sliver of the subject sharp. (That way, the viewer has a clear anchor point for their eyes.)

flower photography macro daisy abstract shallow focus - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers
I love working at wider apertures; that way, I can keep a small part of the flower in focus, while blurring out the background completely. I photographed this daisy while kneeling on my driveway, but the out-of-focus background makes it impossible to tell!

Note that in both of the flower photography approaches I discuss above, it’s the aperture, and not the shutter speed or ISO, that’s important. The aperture sets the window of focus; I encourage you to start there, and then proceed by choosing a shutter speed and ISO to create a good overall exposure.

Just remember that it’s difficult to capture sharp handheld photos below 1/100s or so – and when you’re shooting at high magnifications, handholding at 1/100s becomes risky, especially if your camera and lens don’t include any image-stabilization technology. I only drop my shutter speed below 1/160s when the light has really started to fade, and in such scenarios, I always capture plenty of additional shots in the hopes that one will be relatively sharp.

Shallow-focus tulip

Before I move on, I want to mention three additional settings tips.

First, only raise the ISO if you absolutely have to. The higher your ISO, the more your files will be plagued by unsightly noise effects – so when possible, keep the ISO in the 100-200 range.

Second, in order to use the flexible settings approach I described above, you’ll want to use Aperture Priority mode or Manual mode. I like Manual mode because it forces me to be aware of all my settings all the time – but Aperture Priority mode is a perfectly legitimate option, too!

How to use lighting to improve your flower photos

High-key poppy flowers
By paying careful attention to the light, I was able to create this high-key poppy photo. Note that the background is actually just the bright sky!

I am going to primarily discuss natural light for photographing flowers. That’s not because artificial light in flower photography is useless, but because I think it’s much more enjoyable to experiment with the light that’s available.

My first piece of lighting advice is to shoot on overcast days. When the sky is cloudy, the light becomes diffused. The flower will be evenly lit, and the soft light will make colorful petals pop.

tulip flower photography abstract macro - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers
This tulip abstract was taken on an overcast day, which produced deeply saturated colors!

My second piece of lighting advice is to shoot in the morning or evening when the sunlight is golden. This prevents strong sunlight from falling on the flower and can generate some outstanding images.

flower photography macro evening light - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers
The golden hours are great for flower photography, though you do have to be more mindful of your shadow – especially when shooting with the sun coming from behind you, as I did for this photo!

I also like to shoot in the shade with the sun behind me, so that the bright sunlight is falling behind the flower (but not on it directly). One way to ensure this lighting is to find a flower that is in the shadow of a tree. Another is to cast the shadow yourself, by using your head, arm, or even your camera bag.

flower photography macro hyacinth - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers
I cast a shadow over this grape hyacinth in order to avoid the direct light of the sun.

Enhancing your flower photos with powerful compositions

flower photography macro abstract - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

A final aspect of flower photography to consider is the composition. This may seem daunting for the beginner, but there are a few simple compositional guidelines that will help you take better flower photographs instantly:

Fill the frame with your subject

In flower photography, you rarely want to have a lot of empty space in your frame. More empty space means more opportunities for distraction, for confusion, and for loss of impact. So instead of leaving space around the flower, move in closer to fill the frame as much as you can.

flower photography macro tulip - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

The more colorful, the better

When photographing flowers, you often have a whole palette of colors right in front of you. Use it to your advantage!

Put color in the background by placing another flower behind your main subject. Add color to the foreground by shooting through several other flowers.

macro photography flower colorful abstract - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

Keep things clean

In flower photography (or any type of photography, really), it’s important to have a point of emphasis (or a focal point). This can be the edge of a petal, the flower itself, the flower plus its environment, but regardless, you must ensure that the viewer’s eye is drawn to this spot.

One of the easiest ways to guarantee a strong point of focus is simply to have little else but that point of focus. I hope this sounds simple, because it really, really is. Hence, before taking a photograph, rid your potential composition of all distracting elements. This includes out-of-focus stems, as well as bright colors or dark spots in the background that don’t fit the image as a whole.

Think about simplicity.

macro photography flower abstract rose - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers
The eye immediately focuses on this rose stamen.

Go capture the beauty of flowers!

If you’ve made it this far, then you’re ready to head outside and take some beautiful flower photos! Yes, there are a few elements to consider – gear, settings, lighting, and composition – but if you remember the advice that I’ve shared, and you’re willing to put in the time, then you’ll be taking strong floral shots in no time.

One more thing:

As you’re photographing the flowers, make sure to have fun. Enjoy the visual spectacle of the flowers, the feeling of being outside (even if you’re just in your garden!), and the sense of wonder that comes from viewing breathtaking details up close.

Now over to you:

Any questions about photographing flowers? Share them in the comments below!

macro photography flower colorful abstract - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

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Jaymes Dempsey
Jaymes Dempsey

is the Managing Editor of Digital Photography School, as well as a macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. To learn how to take stunning nature photos, check out his free eBook, Mastering Nature Photography: 7 Secrets For Incredible Nature Photos! And to see more of Jaymes’s work check out his website and his blog.

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