How to Photograph Flowers

How to Photograph Flowers

I know what you’re thinking.  “Flowers?  Really?  Didn’t he just write about shooting football?”  As a matter of fact, I did.  I shoot lots of different things– a statement which frustrates the hell out of business mentors and advisers who like to talk about branding, creating your niche, and attracting the right kind of client.  And they’re right.  After all, clients want to know that you do precisely what they need you to do seven days a week and twice on Sunday.  Makes sense.  But I was a lawyer for fourteen years.  Photography was my hobby for a long time before I ever even thought of trading in my briefcase for a camera bag ten years ago.  So, yes.  We’re going to talk about photographing flowers– in many ways the ideal subject.  Flowers are pretty, but they don’t require a hair and makeup team on set.  They are neither moody nor volatile, and never cop an attitude.  They don’t require a specific brand of expensive water secretly bottled straight from a hidden stream in Madagascar, and they are never late for a shoot.  Never.

But seriously.  I love shooting flowers.  My wife is actually convinced that I buy them for myself and not her anymore.  She’s (mostly) wrong, but I do take advantage of them while I can.  As with so much of what we do in photography, there are at least two ways of going about this–  ridiculously expensive or affordable.   Guess which way we’re going.

dPS Flowers-001


“How can it not be as easy as it looks?” you’re asking.  They just stand there perfectly still.  Get them near the light, push the button, we’re done, right?  Not so fast.  I was at a seminar one time where  Joe McNally said,  “If you want to take more interesting pictures, you need to stand in front of more interesting stuff.”  While I would never (EVER) presume to improve upon his wisdom, my own personal addendum to this guideline is, “But if you’re not going to stand in front of more interesting stuff, at least pick a more interesting angle.”  Six of us can stand around in a circle over the same flower, shoot straight down at it, and end up with six almost identical photos.  Boring, right?  Of course it is.  If you are going to stand an average distance from something, shooting it at an average angle with average camera settings, you are going to get average photos.  Personally, I’d rather not settle for average.  So get down low.  Shoot across it.  Shoot under it.  I actually really like photographing flowers from behind.  It’s not a mortal sin if you take that straight-down-the-middle shot.  No long arm of a photography god is going to descend from the heavens and snatch your camera away.  But promise me that once you take that straight-down-the-middle shot and get it out of your system, you’ll get down on your knees, or into a chair, or on your back, or anywhere else you need to be in order to achieve that interesting angle.

dPS Flowers-005


You’ll see some macro photographers really go all out on these images.   While a really good macro lens or a tripod with an inverted center column can help create some truly stunning images, they aren’t always necessary.  Regular zooms can serve you just as well.  Every photo in this article was taken hand-held with one of three lenses: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 (GASP! A kit lens!), or my iPhone.  Never underestimate the value of a tripod for this kind of work.  I don’t often use one because I tend to have pretty steady hands, but having a tripod on hand is never a bad thing.  Nature tends to provide some pretty great backgrounds, but isolating a single flower on a black or white background can often make for some very compelling images.  A yard or two of black velvet from a fabric store or a poster-size piece of white foam core from an office supply store are simple, effective, and very budget-friendly options for getting that high-contrast look, indoors or out.  You could waste a lot of time creating these backgrounds in Photoshop, by why would you when the in-camera solution is so much easier?  The last piece of gear you’ll find useful is very high-tech.  A spray bottle with water will let you fake that just-rained-on look.  Just make sure it’s set to a fine mist, rather than a full spray.

dPS Flowers-002


As with any photo, finding the right angle only gets you halfway there.  Don’t forget everything you know about composition.  The usual considerations– Rule of Thirds, negative space, balance, etc.– all still come into play.  One of the advantages of a regular zoom lens over a macro is that by filling the frame with your flower subject, it becomes that much easier to blur out your background.  Start by focusing on one particular flower or a small cluster of flowers in the arrangement.  As you lock focus you will see the depth-of-field effect in your viewfinder.  Make sure that you don’t overdo it on the DOF.  Depending on your composition and camera settings, you could easily blur out your foreground.  Start with your widest aperture. but make sure you try several different combinations of aperture and shutter speed.  Your model is not going to get bored and give you a hard time.  Take advantage of this chance to achieve the look you want.  Remember that sometimes the whole is not always as interesting as its individual parts.  Focus in on details and textures.  Make it interesting.

dPS Flowers-003


Ultimately, diffused natural light is always at the top of my wish list.  Direct sunlight is going to blow out the subtleties and textures you’re trying so hard to capture.  As with all indoor lighting, time is less of an obstacle than when you shoot outside.  Outdoor light doesn’t care if you are photographing flowers, portraits, or a football game.  Light is light and its properties don’t change.  Just like we get the best portrait and landscape light right after the sun comes up and just before it goes down, the same goes for flowers.  We really want that soft, beautiful light to enhance these images, not overpower them.  For that, nothing beats an overcast or cloudy day– Mother Nature’s very own soft box.  For inside, use the biggest window you can find.  The side-lighting it provides will add more dimension than flat lighting from above the flower.  Whatever you do, experiment with your light.  Pay attention to where it falls and the shadows it creates.  You can also be sure that patience and time spent here will dramatically benefit your portrait work as well.

DCF 1.0


As much as I try to never take my camera out of Manual mode, an argument can be made that exposure modes are there for a reason.  This would be one of those.  When shooting outside, even the slightest breeze can give you fits.  Try switching you camera into shutter priority mode and dial in a shutter speed of 1/250 or faster.  The fast shutter speed should negate the effects of the breeze.  I’m not a huge fan of exposure modes and relinquishing control of my settings (one reason why we’re not talking about your camera’s macro setting in this article), but this is a simple and effective way to remove one of the obstacles in your path.

dPS Flowers-007


My philosophy on editing these images is the same as my approach to portraits.  If you read my post on Basic Skin Smoothing in Photoshop, you know that when people look at my photos I want them to say, “That’s a beautiful ______,” not “Wow, nice editing.”  A slight levels adjustment and contrast bump should really be all they need.  Anything much stronger than that is going to come dangerously close to wiping out the texture and any of the natural feel to the overall image.

dPS Flowers-004

Now go buy some flowers and let me know how it goes.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class called: Digital Photo Challenges.

Some Older Comments

  • Amber September 13, 2013 06:36 am

    Thank you! I'm still self teaching at this point, and had to get my camera out right away to give this a try since I have flowers on hand. Any thoughts for this amateur? [eimg url='' title='1236362_576849809045262_363793168_n.jpg'][eimg url='' title='1268987_576850262378550_994987149_o.jpg'][eimg url='' title='893265_576850109045232_145362474_o.jpg']

  • Allison September 13, 2013 02:49 am
    Looking forward to more articles.

  • Allison September 13, 2013 02:48 am

  • Allison September 13, 2013 02:47 am

    Great article Jeff! I think the tips were spot on and very useful. Here are my photos:

  • Govindarajan September 12, 2013 11:37 pm

    Nice article.

    Some back lit photos of flowers also make interesting images:

  • Al W. September 12, 2013 03:09 pm

    [eimg link='' title='Natural Beauty' url='']

  • Al W. September 12, 2013 03:08 pm

    I enjoyed your article! Thanks for sharing your tips. I also buy flowers for the same reason. Please check out my photos.

  • A.W. September 12, 2013 03:02 pm

    I aman ameature photographer and I enjoyed this article! Great tips! I also buy flowers just for photos. If you could stop by my Flickr page that would be great! Looking forward to future articles.

  • Jeff E Jensen September 11, 2013 03:00 pm

    Great pointers, Jeff!

    Here's some recent floral images:

  • gmqVw6FTn September 10, 2013 07:16 am

    634541 716535Your writing is fine and gives food for thought. I hope that I?ll have a lot more time to read your articles . Regards. I wish you which you often publish new texts and invite you to greet me 356665

  • Sebastiano September 10, 2013 02:57 am

    Good article.
    What I can suggest also is to try mixing natural and flash lights.
    For example, there ( I placed my SB-600 on the left, below and near to the petal. Of course I made several shots before getting the right one.

    To examine in deep detail each shot I used a tripod, the USB cable attached to my laptop and the Nikon View NX SW to open the NEF at each shot.

    Yes, it took a lot of time and several adjustments and tests, but I think it worths the time spent.

    To suggest a "not so expensive but good results macro mode olso" lens I can tell you to try at least some shots with the "old" 28-105 AF-D, that is macro RR 1:2 from 50mm to 105mm.
    Using a tripod and shooting "macro mode", also the not so fast apertures like f/4 - f/5.6 can surprise you for the bokeh or the in focus details.

    Bye, Sebastiano

    [eimg link='' title='ibiscus rosa, particolare' url='']

  • Julika September 9, 2013 04:49 pm

    Thank you so much for this article. I love shooting flowers.
    You can check out my pictures in my website: (it`s in Estonian, but don`t let that stop you, let the pictures do the talking)

  • Mark Seifert September 9, 2013 10:58 am

    Some great tips, especially about shooting at different angles. And you are right about the textures... some of nature's beauties have just truly incredible textures.

    One thing I have found very helpful in shooting different angles.
    Pick up a "pool noodle". Cut it into 3 sections. A steak knife works fine for cutting.
    Then poke 2 holes through the sides of each section, so you can use a skate lace
    or piece of rope to join the sections together. You now have 3 shorter sections joined side by side.
    Makes a fantastic pad for kneeling or sitting on to get the low angle shots! And super lightweight to boot!

  • rob bates September 8, 2013 11:49 am

    Good article,but I don't know about buying flowers for shots.There is the local park,and public gardens. Unless you want something that doesn't grow locally.Here is a shot I took at my local park.[eimg link='' title='_DSC0020' url='']

  • susan September 7, 2013 05:56 pm

    As per rd Erickson's comment, I also struggle with red. I'd love a technical explanation of why the camera can't handle the subtleties of red.

  • Dylan D'souza September 7, 2013 01:25 pm

    Hi Jeff,

    Love article and tip, we are actually going to shoot some flowers today in our photography outing and will being trying the tips from your article above

  • Ashiq September 7, 2013 05:24 am

    Your article tempts me to take camera and go out right now; but it's almost midnight. Lot to learn for a photography enthusiast like me. Thank you.

  • Carmel September 7, 2013 03:11 am

    Finding these articles is great. I have opened a page on my computer and I am now cutting and pasting these great bits of advise that I want to keep. Anna's flower picture is incredible. I wish I was that good. I will watch the You Tube video for sure and try the glycerin.

  • ArturoMM September 7, 2013 02:54 am

    George, Carmel, Guyer:

    There is this guy Jeff Cable on YouTube, I liked very much his advice: almost always use Aperture priority and from there he watches where the shutter speed is going and adjust accordingly or change mode if necessary.

    Manual is good for control but takes time, you may loose an opportunity, besides most of the time you end up relying on the camera light meter wich is the same as using some automatic exposure method.

  • Crunch Hardtack September 7, 2013 01:40 am

    Adding a little bit of glycerin to the water in your spray bottle allows the water droplets to adhere better to your subjects and makes them "puff up" a bit; meaning they aren't so flattened out and have a more globular shape.

  • Heike Oelbuttel September 6, 2013 04:27 pm

    A fantastic read and perfect timing as well, we are currently in our wild flower season, so I can properly surround myself with flowers in some amazing settings. I am off to have some fun

  • ramel September 6, 2013 12:16 pm

    here is my shot...

  • Rob September 6, 2013 11:44 am

    Cineraria macro[/img]

  • Tony September 6, 2013 11:27 am

    Very nice article. I can't believe that your techniques are similar to mine. Seems like to have the contrast you have to use the black background.
    I am fascinated with the close up photography of flowers. It is almost a new world there, especially if you can capture the little bugs and of course the light that enhances the brilliant colors of the different flowers.

    Any tips to improve my skills are welcome since I am still an amateur.
    You can see some of my work at my site:
    Drop me a line if you visit it.

  • Bob Bevan Smith September 6, 2013 10:54 am

    Another useful accessory is a piece of black card, say about 150mm square, which you can slip behind the flower head, to cut out annoying backgrounds. And if you are photographing small wildflowers, don't be afraid to pluck out grasses and remove other things like leaves which may detract from the composition.

  • Carmel September 6, 2013 10:21 am

    George taking your camera off manual is not stupid. I have just started to learn that my lens are a lot better than I thought they were because I have started to take some control of them. Instead of buying a new lens I am getting better and better pictures with what I have.

  • Vanita September 6, 2013 10:04 am


  • Vanita September 6, 2013 10:03 am

  • Colin Burt September 6, 2013 09:19 am

    Like Jim Donahue, I am an ancient and mostly take photographs within a half hour walk from home. Like this White Bauhinia . And a few others on my Flickr page

  • Rob September 6, 2013 07:45 am

    Can I be brutally honest, these images may be technically perfect, but they are a little, umm, boring!
    Ok, I quite like the ones and the tulip, but I'd like to learn how to do something like this:

  • Anna Pham September 6, 2013 06:29 am

    Hi Jeff, agree with you on Auto/Manual part.
    I only shoot auto when I need a "quick snap" or in the condition I know that my camera can make a right decision in order to save time, otherwise I switch to manual for better control to achieve the exposure I want (over/under base on the scene).
    I used to shoot flowers with macro whenever possible but like you said, tele can blur background amazingly great especially shooting lotus or lily when flowers are far and in the middle of the pond.
    Lots of great tips on your article. Thanks for sharing.
    [eimg link='' title='Honey bee.' url='']

  • Francis September 6, 2013 06:23 am

    Unfortunately my last post didn't go thru correctly. So trying one more time..

    Here's a pic of a flower during winter and snow

    [eimg link='' title='Chicago Botanic Garden' url='']

  • Robert Frederick September 6, 2013 05:04 am

    I always attempt to capture images of flowers in subdued light to exemplify their essence, sometimes using a manual strobe set on lower intensity rounds out ambient lighting well; by using a tack sharp zoom with 1 or several extension tubes both minute & larger flowers can be explored; controlling the background is often difficult with "in situ" shots, composition is often helped by selective snipping of offending clutter. When effective aperture use fails I sometime resort to serial captures & macro stacked focus. Here's a few examples of my favorite captures:;;;

  • DougS September 6, 2013 05:01 am

    Here is one I took while walking around at work one day.

  • marius2die4 September 6, 2013 04:56 am

    Good written article!

    Some of my picture with flowers:

  • Patricia Pope September 6, 2013 04:36 am

    Thank-you so much, Jeff Guyer, for this article on photographing flowers. I have made many photos of my flowers, especially of orchids..and I must say...I don't think I'm shooting them as good as they deserve. I
    will certainly incorporate your tips into my fun photography excursions.

  • Cheryl Garrity September 6, 2013 03:18 am

    Thanks for you article. I especially like the 1st and 3rd shots. I don't always remember to get a different angle, but these two shots clearly make the case for a creative angle. I shoot landscapes and some flowers. I mostly shoot while outside on a hike or walk. The wind is not always my friend. Aperture priority is a choice I don't always remember. I will try it more often. You can see a few of my blooms here if you wish.

  • Laurie September 6, 2013 03:10 am

    I love shooting flowers! I tend to be stuck at home much of the time so I need to work with what is close at hand and we have some pretty amazing flowers in our yard. I still long to get more of the big landscapes and do when I can, but am very thankful for the beauty and opportunity provided by flowers. These 2 are my favourites (so far).

  • Tony September 6, 2013 03:06 am

    I am glad that there are some other photographers that share my interest. Flowers and the light through them always fascinated me.
    You can visit my site and drop me a line if you like.
    I always appreciate a feedback.


  • rd Erickson September 6, 2013 03:02 am

    I've taken a few, depends on your definition of few, photo's of flowers - I generally have only one real problem - perhaps two - and they deal with color - as in red flowers and white flowers. and for me - it's sometimes hit or miss - red is sometimes more trouble - but white or the barest glimmer of a shiny spot is murder. I don't use PhotoShop - although I do have a photo manipulation program that I use to perhaps adjust the level and crop with.
    Nice images by the way.

  • Jayasree September 5, 2013 03:54 am

    Nice article. I try macro on flowers, sometimes they come out good but sometimes they look OK.
    Here is the link

  • Francis September 4, 2013 11:25 pm

    Here's a pic of a flower during winter...

  • Juan Castillo September 4, 2013 10:33 pm

    I LOVE shooting flowers! And these are some great tips. Im also glad you mentioned using your zoom lens as opposed to the macro lens. I find it so much easier to blur out the background with the zoom.

  • Rona September 4, 2013 04:56 pm

    Hi Jeff

    Thank you so much for all your tips! It definitely isn't 'as easy as it looks'.

    Up until a few years ago, I only had a point and shoot camera. Then when I started my blog, I realised how important beautiful images are, so I bought a digital SLR...and have found a new passion in photography.

    Now, I love 'escaping' into the beautiful world of flowers and capturing blooms, both inside and outside...

    Best wishes

  • Mei Teng September 4, 2013 10:57 am

    Beautiful flower photography

  • raghavendra September 3, 2013 12:06 pm

    Flowers are beauty's of nature. Here is a close shot of lily flower in pond.

  • Tony September 3, 2013 12:02 pm

    Here's some of what I've done this year:


  • Pocatello Photography, Cramer Imaging September 3, 2013 07:09 am

    You're completely right about the branding part. I've been doing some reading about that lately. I decided some time ago that part of my brand was going to be the landscape and natural type work. That is the great thing about branding, you can create what you want.

    Those are some gorgeous shots of flowers. I hadn't thought of some of those ideas before. I've been using the built in macro setting on my Tamron 70-300mm to go for some of those shots. I will try some shots without the "macro" that isn't really macro and see how they turn out. Too bad the season is beginning to turning away from having wildflowers to shot for several months. Maybe I'll go buy some flowers to experiment with.

  • Jeff Guyer September 3, 2013 01:10 am

    Hi, George. For me, it's not about smarts. The camera is programmed to respond to vast quantities of information, but it rarely ever "sees" a scene the way our eyes do. What it does not have programmed into it, however, is any kind of creative vision or intent. When I take a photo I want it to reflect my vision-- not the camera's. For that, Manual mode is essential.

  • Filipe Sena September 2, 2013 10:22 pm

    I dont know where you live, but its really funny when you say buy flowers to photograph them. I live in portugal

  • Scott Lyons September 2, 2013 09:56 pm

    Brilliant article!

    I totally agree with shooting from different angles where flowers are concerned. It's so easy to be tempted into just taking a shot of the flower from front on and then leaving it there, but they are such intricate things that have some great features on from different angles.

    This is one of my favourite examples that I've taken of a different angle.

    Echinacea White Swan

    * Sorry for the shop link but I haven't got the image at hand right now to add to my comment.

  • Steve September 2, 2013 05:27 pm

    The background should be chosen carefully to contrast with the bloom and not detract from it

  • George September 2, 2013 03:03 pm

    Manual is stupid. Why do you assume you are smarter than the camera. Chose what you want, speed or depth and let the camera decide the other. EV and ISO leaves you with other decisions to make without trying to outsmart the very smart camera not to mention the lose of time in triying to do it.

  • Mridula September 2, 2013 02:50 pm

    The last image is so beautiful, all of them are but the last one specially so. I am also going to try out the different angle and shutter speed you recommend for the wind. Thank you.

  • Jeff Guyer September 2, 2013 01:05 pm

    Jim-- be sure to let me know how it goes!

  • Jim Donahue September 2, 2013 11:30 am

    Fantastic Article. I am a senior citizen who can get around much anymore except I do live where there is a lot of garden flowers and I am going to try and follow your advise as much as I can. ESP different angles.

  • Chris September 2, 2013 10:53 am

    I really enjoy shooting macro images of flowers, as you can see:

    or on Flickr: