Tips for Taking Better Flower Photos

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There may be several things that tempt you to take a photo of a flower, whether it’s the vivid color, elegant form, or the striking patterns of its petals or leaves. However, all too often the results turn out to be disappointing. It’s easy to end up with a lackluster snapshot—a record shot—with little artistic merit. How can you avoid that? This article aims to improve your flower photos and increase your chances of an occasional masterpiece.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

The Art of Flower Photography

Perhaps we should discuss artistic merit in relation to flower photography. Many people look at flowers and admire them, and a lot of people photograph them, so what can you do to make your flower photos stand out? The biggest mistake you can make with flowers is assuming they’ll automatically make a good photo. Some subjects have more potential than others, obviously, but you still need to find a way of taking an effective picture.

To create a satisfying flower portrait, think about what it is that’s drawn you to the subject. Then set about emphasizing its qualities. Keep the composition simple and avoid any extraneous detail. Even with this careful approach, you’ll often be disappointed with the results, but it gives you a fighting chance of something special. Spend time with your subject and take several pictures. That will help your ideas evolve and your photos to improve. Try not to be rushed.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

Choosing Gear

The only thing you ideally need for flower portraits is some form of a close-up capability. I survived for ages at a serious garden photography level, armed with little more than one or two SLR bodies (crop-sensor or full-frame), a 90mm macro lens, and a tripod. I sometimes used other lenses, but 70-80% of my horticultural photos were of plants taken with that one macro lens.

Be aware that manufacturers misuse the term “macro” for marketing purposes. A true macro lens usually offers 1:1 magnification. Which is to say that, at its closest focusing distance, the lens will produce a life-size image on the film or imaging sensor.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

Crop Sensor versus FullFrame

About crop sensor versus full frame cameras; if you were to take an identical flower photo with a full frame and crop sensor camera, you’d have to be farther away from the subject with the crop-sensor camera to achieve the same composition. Since the camera-to-subject distance affects depth of field, this means you effectively get more depth of field with a crop sensor camera. This is neither good nor bad, it’s just a real-world difference between one camera type and another.

Close-up on a Budget

There are cheaper ways of taking flower close-ups than buying dedicated macro lenses. Close-up filters, extension tubes, and reverse-mounted lenses are all options. Most compact cameras and Smartphones also allow close-up shooting. The only downside is that this is nearly always at a wide angle, which distorts the subject and doesn’t give much control over the background. Still, you can take flower photos with any camera. Specialist gear will broaden your creative palette, but it isn’t essential for good photos.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

Using  a Tripod

The last piece of advice I’d give on gear would be to invest in a tripod if you can afford it. This isn’t compulsory by any means, but carrying a tripod is a bit like carrying another two or three lenses. It gives you more artistic choice and improves the technical quality of your photos.

Don’t be intimidated by using a tripod in public places. Once you’ve set up, you’ll start to lose any inhibitions and begin to concentrate on taking photos. Sometimes you’ll need a permit to use a tripod in botanical or horticultural society gardens, so always check to see what’s possible before visiting such places.

Choice of Subject

How to Take Better Flower Photos

Choice of subject is an important aspect of flower photography that many casual photographers overlook. A pro garden photographer will never just stroll up to a flowerbed and start snapping away.

Instead, there is a careful process of looking for a good specimen to photograph, which means the flower is not badly damaged or decaying. Minor damage to a flower can be “repaired” in Photoshop, but it helps to look carefully at your subject before setting up a picture. Some species do not stay at their best for long and will present you with more difficulty than others in this respect.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

Where to Focus

Rules are made to be broken, but generally, when photographing a flower, focus on the stamen. This is a bit like the rule about focusing on the eyes in a human or animal portrait. It works well most of the time but isn’t by any means mandatory.

Control the Background

I can’t emphasize enough how important the background is to a successful flower portrait. It has the power to make or break your photo. You’ve always got to watch and control it when composing a flower photo.

There are various ways to control the background of a flower portrait:

Depth of Field

A shallow depth of field blurs the background and makes it less distracting, though you must still watch for bright highlights or attention-grabbing colors. A preview button on your camera enables you to see the depth of field and its effect on your composition before taking the photo. You can adjust the aperture of your lens while holding this button down to optimize depth of field (ideally this needs the camera to be on a tripod).

Note: Mirrorless cameras show the preview live on the LCD screen, exactly as your image will be captured when you press the shutter button.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

A focal length of 172mm and a relatively wide aperture of f/4 helped me achieve a good background in this photo of Angel’s Fishing Rod.

Longer Lens

A longer lens has a narrower field of view, which makes it useful for picking out a plain background. A wide-angle lens gives you less control over the background. This is fine for taking a picture of a flower in its environment, but it’s not so good for an isolated portrait.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

An Olympic Flame Tulip photographed with a long 200mm lens, which helped me to isolate the against a plain background.

Fill the Frame

With larger flowers, it’s easy to fill the frame with the subject and miss out the background altogether. This is an easy remedy to background problems and often makes for a dramatic photo. People like to see close-up detail in flower photos since it’s something they wouldn’t necessarily appreciate or be able to see for themselves.

Use Your Own Background

The possibility always exists of introducing your own background in the form of a piece of colored card or similar. This is more practical when photographing flowers in your own studio or garden, where you can take more time and space in setting the shot up.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

Sunflower close-up shot indoors against a blue card background.

Shooting Angles

The shape of a flower will affect the way you approach and shoot it. A daffodil, for instance, which has a lot of depth, is difficult to photograph close-up from the front. Doing so results in much of the flower being out of focus, which normally looks like a mistake. Taking the same subject from the side gives a cross-section of the flower in sharp focus and is generally more effective.

But, a relatively flat flower like a daisy can be photographed head-on without a problem. Even in that instance, you might want to take the picture from an angle to include the stem. Flower portraits without the stem sometimes look odd, creating a floating effect that seems unnatural.

This whole issue becomes less critical when you step back from the subject and increase the depth of field, in which case you also include more background detail.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

Ideal Lighting

In garden photography, a bright day with a thin veil of cloud cover is ideal. The light should be diffused. A hot day and a cloudless sky might be great for visiting a garden, but the resulting harsh light creates a lot of contrast and reflections, which aren’t great for showing off a flower’s color. On the other hand, you can use direct sunlight to your advantage if you look for backlit subjects. Backlighting emphasizes form, so look for subjects with interesting or delicate shapes.

How to Take Better Flower Photos backlighting

Backlighting shows off the shape of this Origanum calcaratum flower.

There are tools you can use to control light in the field. One of these is a diffusion panel, which counteracts the adverse effects of harsh light. The diffuser comes in the same format as a reflector, except the material is translucent so light passes through it. This is something you can try to make yourself using a semi-opaque material like baking paper or muslin.

Small reflectors are also useful in flower photography. They help cast light onto the shaded side of a subject to soften contrast and show more detail. Use everyday items like tin-foil cartons or food packaging to save money (smoked salmon is usually backed by reflective card).

Flash

Flash is another potential tool in flower photography. In my early days of close-up photography, I attached two small manual flashguns to the front of a macro lens. The extra light enabled me to use more depth of field while maintaining a fast enough shutter speed for handheld photography. Later, I used a fancier TTL speedlight to achieve the same, but eventually abandoned these techniques and stuck to natural light and a tripod.

There are always photos you could create with different gear, but the trick is to make the most of what you have. Even a little pop-up flash is sometimes useful for fill light, lifting the color and detail of a flower that is lying in shade.

How to Take Better Flower Photos orchid flash close-up

This orchid was photographed with a TTL flash, enabling a handheld photo with a small f/32 aperture and a shutter speed of 1/90th.

Dealing With the Wind

The worst enemy of the outdoor flower photographer in terms of weather is, of course, the wind. Perhaps you’ve carefully framed a photo with the camera on a tripod, only for the subject to be constantly gusted right out of the frame. It is frustrating, but I rarely dealt with it in any other way than waiting for the breeze to stop.

In windy conditions, it’s always worth taking multiple photos to increase the likelihood of you getting a sharp picture. You can preview image sharpness on the camera’s LCD (zoom all the way in), but technical differences between photos are more obvious when viewed later at 100% on a monitor.

There are also techniques you can employ to combat the wind. For a start, it’s reasonable to just freeze the moving subject with a fast shutter speed. The only thing wrong with this plan is that picture-taking descends into a ridiculous game of trying to capture the flower in mid-flight. Plus, you can’t focus accurately enough on a moving subject for 1:1 macro photos.

Other ways of combating the wind include:

  • Block the wind with a barrier of some description or a purpose-made shield or diffuser.
  • Use a clamp or “Plamp” (Plant Clamp) to hold the subject in place.
  • Take pictures early or late in the day, when wind speeds tend to be lower.

Studio Flower Photos

A beautiful aspect of garden photography is that it gives you a reason to be outside and enjoy nature. Nevertheless, you’ll gain control over every aspect of flower photography if you shoot inside a studio. Not least, you don’t have to fight the weather. Simple backgrounds can be made from colored card or other materials, and you have unlimited time to get the picture right.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

Color Saturation in Flower Photos

Once you get your flower portraits into Lightroom, Photoshop, or a similar editing program, it’s tempting to boost the color saturation. However, you need to be aware that if you overdo this, you’ll “clip” color and lose textural detail in the subject. You’re likely to be doing this if you see the levels data banking up on the far right side of a histogram.

Luckily, there is now a Vibrance control in many editing programs. This focuses most of a saturation adjustment on less saturated pixels and is more refined than a regular saturation adjustment. Nonetheless, it’s still wise to pay attention to the histogram and the effects of your edits.

How to Take Better Flower Photos

Final Words

Many thanks for reading this article, which I hope has been of some use to you. Ask me any questions you like on flower or garden photography and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Please share your own flower photos in the comments below as well.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Glenn Harper is a writer, photographer, and all-around good guy. For almost 20 years, his photos have been licensed and syndicated through European photo libraries, resulting in publication all over the world. In the early 2000s he dabbled in writing for UK photo magazines, but then lost track of time. He’s okay with a camera, knows a fair bit about stuff and is here to help. Check out Glenn’s website here.

  • Renee Spiess

    Glenn, this article came at the perfect time. I am heading to Crested Butte, CO to hike and photograph the wildflowers. I will for sure use all of these tips.

  • Bruvyman

    Great article. You covered all the basics and more, but there was one aspect of flower photography you left out which is black and white.

    It can seem a wasted to get rid of all of those beautiful colours, but that will often show off forms of the flower you may not otherwise have even seen.

    Selective colouring is also fun and can give you the best of both worlds.

    Here’s a Dahlia in b&w and a selectively coloured Allium as it emerges. (Both taken in my garden, of course!)

    ….. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ad3a4438c2d08efa436bd8df9e93301c549a6351b904be981acd8269d6f217cd.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7b3738dc3dceb16e7db68f0f0a4cdc63d51f52a3c9b4ad520d806feda86d5b06.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1556e8dde4cb86cefa41846522a2cf8c5e39a9ddeee449259d8bb89626f18a9b.jpg

  • Harilal

    Thank you Glenn for this inspiring article. As a beginner its upgraded me to the next level of taking floral photos. I have Rebel T4i camera and a 70- 300 usm lense only.

  • Ian Davis

    Like everyone here, thanks a bunch for your excellent article. Very basic yet important tips!

    One subject that wasn’t touched upon was lens quality. I’ve read articles on astrophotography and the common mantra is using the best glass you can get your hands on. Tiny bits of lights perhaps? With flowers or birds, some photos taken by the “pros” seem unbelievably sharp with INCREDIBLE detail. Is this because of the lens? Or is it possible that the photographer crops very little in Lightroom? My picture was taken with a Sony A6000 (APC-S) thru my 40-year old, manual focus 55mm Mamiya SLR lens at 100 ISO, f/1.8, 1/200 on a tripod. (I used an adapter for the old lens). I cropped the 6000×4000 down to 2049×1066 then exported to a 900×600 jpeg. How much should a serious flower photographer invest in their lenses? Is there a sweet point or point of diminishing returns for the price of a lens?

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fd6c17f841c5ef99d11b381377c8e54fc3ed49ccc8864b80a2d3e4d8be99593b.jpg

  • Ian Davis

    Very nice. Unless you click on the “thumbnail” you miss the very important leaves.

  • Ian Davis

    Beautiful. How did you control the side backlight and the pure black background…high speed sync?

  • Ian Davis

    Holy S#$@!! Stunning, What was your set up? Super clarity and detail…very impressive.

  • https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/18ef1b486b27b2af02276a697c1d9d9ad72488f4ae8741a72d930845d40163d7.png Thank you… regarding missing the very important leaves… that’s a disqus issue… the truncated the image, so you have to click the image or click “see more” Saludos from Chile… JB

  • Ian Davis

    You’re welcome from Canada. My son spent nearly a year living in the Santiago area as an exchange student. Sadly, his Spanish language skills are greatly diminished.

    That’s quite a bit of impressive gear you have. I notice that the lens is for an APC-S sensor.

  • james pullinger

    Hi, as a budding wildlife photographer, I was wondering if anyone has any tips for a 14 year old using a canon eos 1100d?

  • What year was your son here? I’ve lived here since 2009. I have been shooting with Fuji since the beginning of 2015… first with the X-T1 and now, its predecessor, the X-T2.

    Here is a gear shot… I’ve got a prime 23mm f/1.4, a general purpose XF18-135mm f/3.5-5.6, and the one that I shoot floral photography amongst other things and, at about 1 kilo in weight, I call it the “beast”… a 50-140mm f/2.8 in which I usually use with 1.4X teleconverter. (see https://flic.kr/p/Pi48bj )

    The XT series is well thought-out, with a retro layout with the most controls on top… (see https://flic.kr/p/NB7qdJ )

    If you are on Flickr, hook up with me there… https://www.flickr.com/people/jax_chile/

    What do you shoot with?

    JB

  • I found a better shot of the lens… https://flic.kr/p/L5keaL

  • Ian Davis

    He was there in 2007/2008.

  • Ah, so he was here while I was busy staking out the joint! Cool!

  • Luc Waumans

    Great tips. Now you can show how beautiful flowers are in your photos. Thanks

  • Wildijck

    Hi Glen,
    I find it very difficult to get a nice picture of bright red and yellow flowers. The colour seems to ‘float’ and sometimes the stamen even disappears by this. How can I overcome this problem?

  • Chuang Lim

    The photos were shot without flash at a flower show held indoors. I shot with Fujifilm X-T2 at 840mm (400mm + 1.4x teleconverter x 1.5x crop factor). I looked for a slightly dark background and used exposure compensation to make it pure black. There happened to be some side lighting which was a bonus.

  • Leyden

    I appreciate that the ‘wild life’ didn’t result in the first one being trashed. Great shot!

  • Glenn Harper

    Hi Ian. Thanks for your comment. I used a Tamron 90mm lens most of the time, from the early manual version to later AF versions. I swapped that for a 100mm Canon macro for a while, which was superior in some respects, but optically I always felt the Tamron had a very slight edge – not only bitingly sharp but also a tad more pleasing in its rendition of defocused areas (aka “bokeh”). That point is open to debate, but it was cheaper, too. A lot of my other lenses were ‘L’ series Canon lenses, though I never owned a great many at any one time. Certainly it’s true that any serious photographer intending to sell work will always invest in optical quality, if for no other reason than they can’t afford to put themselves at an immediate disadvantage – technical quality has to be there.

    All that said, content is king. Picture buyers are looking for a particular image, first and foremost. A picture library would reject images that didn’t meet the required technical standard and it would be unwise for anyone selling their own work not to do the same. There is certainly a point of diminishing returns, however, because photos only have to be technically good enough for their intended use. Splitting hairs between top-quality lenses is more likely to be for the photographer’s satisfaction – unlikely to make a difference in sales. As for cropping: occasionally I might crop an image, but it would be a rarity and would never be a heavy crop. One thing that helps sell flower photos is rich color. Dating back to when Fuji Velvia slide film appeared on the scene, sellers (i.e. libraries/agents) and buyers of garden and wildlife photos have wanted richly saturated colors. In financial terms, garden photography is more accessible than some areas of wildlife photography, which might require a substantial investment in glass – especially long, fast lenses.

  • Glenn Harper

    Thanks, Luc. Glad you liked the article.

  • Glenn Harper

    Hi Wildijck. Thanks for your question. The problem you’re describing, if I understand you correctly, is not unusual, but the explanation is fairly complex. This phenomenon is called “posterization” or “banding” and causes detail to be lost in your photos, often replaced by ugly blobs of color with no detail. There are perhaps three ways of avoiding this:

    1) Pay close attention to the histogram when you’re taking the photo and try to avoid overexposure. If you see a lot of data banked up on the right of the histogram, it’s being overexposed. A polarizing filter or a diffuser can help even up the exposure and make it less vulnerable to reflection and glare.

    2) It’s a good idea for so-called “serious” flower photographers to shoot raw files (not sure it’s possible with your camera since I don’t know what you’re using). This, in simple terms, helps preserve certain colors that are immediately compromised by JPEGs, and it’s especially useful with yellows. Saturated yellows are quite likely to cause problems unless you take the purest editing route possible, which means raw files and then 16-bit ProPhoto RGB TIFFs (or PSD files) if you edit the photos in Photoshop. The reason deep yellows cause problems is that they are not contained by sRGB or Adobe RGB color spaces, so all the detail effectively gets lumped into one tone and the textural detail is lost. For further reading, you could try this: http://schewephoto.com/sRGB-VS-PPRGB/

    3) As mentioned in my article, be very careful when boosting saturation in editing programs such as Photoshop. Overdoing this will create the problems you describe and cause areas of detail to basically disappear. To help in this, it’s useful to learn how to use the “clipping display” in levels, which shows you exactly where and how your edits are potentially damaging the photo. Naturally, the larger the area that is being harmed, the more noticeable it will be in the final photo. On a histogram, you’ll know that you’re losing detail in a yellow flower if the data is banked over to the left in the blue channel.

  • Glenn Harper

    Hi James,

    I was also an aspiring wildlife photographer once. One of the problems I encountered was that it was hard to achieve a high standard in the time I had available to me, particularly when up against an army of full-time professionals. This was especially true of the bird and mammal photography I wanted to do originally. I also couldn’t afford long telephoto lenses costing thousands of dollars. My advice therefore is this: choose a subject that you have easy access to and take lots and lots of photos. Compare your photos to those of photographers you admire and ask yourself how you can improve. Being objective is crucial – never be too easily satisfied with your own work and keep searching for ways to get better. Having something to focus on can help you improve, whether it’s a photographic qualification or a personal project based on a particular theme.

    Photography is partly about probability, even for the best photographers. In other words, you have to shoot a lot of pictures to build a modest collection of good/great ones – if you work at it, you’ve a good chance of getting there.

    As I mentioned elsewhere, garden photography is accessible and you can potentially compete at a high level with any reasonable camera body and a decent macro lens. What’s more, you still get to see a lot of nature, albeit usually in a controlled environment. Good luck!

  • Glenn Harper

    Thanks Bruvyman. I only missed out black and white flower photography because I haven’t done much of it, but I am a fan of B&W photography in general. I recall a photo teacher once questioning my choice of black and white in wildlife photos (a portrait of a jaguar, for instance). I didn’t agree with her, and photographers like Nick Brandt have since shown what can be achieved with that. It shows personality in the same way it would a human. Similarly, Robert Mapplethorpe produced inspirational B&W flower photos. With my flower pics I was mostly aiming for publication in gardening mags and papers, where the photos aren’t always artistic but are mostly in colour. A lot of the black and white photography I’ve produced has been architectural or street photography. I like the dahlia photo – thanks for posting.

  • fiat76

    Glenn, this article was informational and inspirational! The icing on the cake was your responses to the folks who posted images, equally enlightening. Your tips and critique are most welcome to those of us who are striving to rise above mediocre photography!
    This is an image of a peony I shot a while back. After reading your article, I did a close crop. I welcome CC. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8d9552f23acf66a201ccee44452213b449bd8828b0e388b19d253b7c5e473d76.jpg

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