Guide to Choosing Subjects and Compositions for Flower Photography

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How does the budding flower photographer go about selecting subjects and choosing compositions? In this article, I will give a detailed answer to this question. First, I will discuss the different types of flower photography subjects. Then I will give guidelines for creating stunning compositions.

All throughout this article, I will emphasize producing clean, dynamic images.

flower photography macro tulip

Subjects

Choosing a subject in flower photography may seem easy – flower photographers shoot flowers, right?

While this is true, it’s important to consider several factors about any particular flower. Among these is the color of the flower, the condition of the flower (is it dying and/or dirty?), and the shape of the flower.

flower photography macro yellow orange abstract

Color

Considering color is simple. The more colorful the flower, the more interesting the image is going to be (generally speaking, of course). I like to use bright colors, placed before a brightly colored background.

flower photography macro tulip abstract

It can also be useful to think in terms of complementary colors. These are the red/green, blue/orange, and yellow/purple combinations. When they are placed together in the same frame, the results can be powerful.

Condition

Another important consideration is the condition of the flower. Before taking your photograph, you should inspect your potential subject carefully.

flower photography macro backlit

Ideal flowers are at peak bloom: petals spread wide, edges crisp and unblemished. I try to avoid photographing flowers that are on their way out because more often than not I’m disappointed with the resulting images.

The best flowers are also free of dirt. I often wipe dirt off carefully with my finger. If there are insects, I gently blow them away from the flower center. Another tactic is to obscure the blemishes or dirt by shooting soft-focus images or silhouettes.

flower photography macro silhouette

This flower wasn’t in peak condition, so I chose to shoot a silhouette, emphasizing the shape over the condition.

Shape

This final aspect of flower photography is more difficult to explain, but it is important, so I’m going to give it a shot. Certain flower shapes are better than others for flower photography.

More specifically, the flowers that will get you the most pleasing images are often those with clear patterns and bold, dynamic shapes.

Consider the rose. It is one of my favorite flowers to photograph. Why? The petals are dynamic, flowing and changing. They also have a clear pattern, and therefore imbue your images with a sense of organization.

flower photography macro rose

Another flower that I love to photograph is the tulip. Its structure is simple but bold, and it has large petals that curve slightly. It isn’t chaotic or messy. The viewer’s eye can easily trace its shape without getting lost.

flower photography macro tulip

The rose and tulip sit in contrast to flowers such as zinnias, which are rather chaotic and therefore difficult to pin down in an image. Which is not to say that a good zinnia image is impossible; it’s just a lot more difficult.

Compositions

When composing flower photographs, it is a good idea to keep a checklist in the back of your mind. In every flower photography image, try to incorporate at least a few of the guidelines provided below.

Simplify

My first tip is the most important – simplify!

Figure out what it is about the flower that you like, and focus on that, removing any extraneous elements, be they extra flowers, stems, petals, etc. Make sure that any distracting elements are not present.

flower photography macro pattern abstract

Use Symmetry

While you shouldn’t always strive to use symmetry in your flower images, it can be a good starting point. Flower centers are often symmetrical or nearly symmetrical. This is something that you can use, composing with the flower smack-dab in the center of your image, anchored by its center point.

flower photography macro symmetry

I used this flower’s symmetrical center to create a bold composition.

Have a Clear Point of Focus

Without a clear point of focus in your images, the viewer will be lost. Their eyes will wander from place to place without really being drawn into the image.

How do you create a point of focus? You ensure that at least one part of your image is sharper than the rest. You also compose with this point of focus in mind, making sure that the rest of your image merely complements this point of focus (rather than dominating it or detracting from it).

flower photography macro abstract

Here, the eye is drawn straight to the in-focus petals of this flower.

Use a Clean, Pleasing Background

Above, I discussed the importance of colorful subjects. But the subject isn’t the only thing that should be colorful. It’s also important to have a colorful background, or at least a pleasing one.

This can be a bit of a balancing act because you don’t want the background to overpower the subject. White and black backgrounds can work well, as can backgrounds that are a colorful but uniform wash.

macro photography flower trout lily

I aimed for a uniform, calming background when taking this trout lily photograph.

Tilt the Camera

One last tip for creating dynamic compositions is to try tilting the camera.

Rather than having the flower sitting statically within the frame, by tilting the camera, you communicate a sense of movement. The flower seems to be emerging from the frame in a very pleasing way.

flower photography macro black-eyed susan

Notice how tilting the camera to shoot this Black-Eyed Susan resulted in a more energetic image.

Conclusion

When doing flower photography, it is important to carefully consider both the subject and your composition. By keeping your subjects colorful and clean, and by aiming for simple, clean compositions, your flower photography will instantly improve.

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Jaymes Dempsey is a macro and bird photographer from southeast Michigan. To see more of Jaymes's work, check out his website or his blog.

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