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This article was written by the New York Institute of Photography, America’s oldest and largest photography school. NYI provides professional-level training via home study for photographers who want to give their images a professional look, and perhaps earn extra income with their camera.
HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH FLOWERS - PART 1
Every year, the April showers do their job and in all parts of the Northern Hemisphere, flowers abound in May. Far to the North, spring may just be getting started, but wherever you are you'll find lots of flowers just waiting to have their picture taken. Read this article and then get going. Flowers are great subjects but they won't wait indefinitely!
When you photograph flowers, you have to make a couple of important decisions.
Let's start with the macro photo — that is, with extreme closeups. Of course, you can only take this type of picture if your lens has a macro mode. This rules out most film point-and-shoot cameras that can't focus closer than two or three feet. With a macro, you're focusing from a few inches!
While it is possible to take a good close-up photo handheld, our advice is to use a tripod if at all possible. Particularly if the flower is swaying in the wind, changing the focal point every moment, you're better off not adding the additional confusion of a swaying camera too. Use a tripod and be patient. Most often, the wind will die down from time to time and the flower will stand still and "pose" for an instant. That's the instant to shoot!
While on the subject of wind, here are some other tips: If the wind is blowing hard and steady, the flower will probably sway incessantly and fast, so that you will be hard-pressed to get the shot. Consider waiting for another time — perhaps, the next day — when the wind has died down. If you must shoot during an unremitting wind, place a makeshift shelter around the flower to protect it from the wind. A few sheets of poster board may be sufficient. (Of course, keep the shelter out of the picture!) Or tie the flower stem to a thin post (the type you will find in any garden center).
Macro flower shots can be pretty. But if you want to turn the ordinary macro shot into an extraordinary photograph, try to add something of interest. What? How about a bee gathering pollen? Or a spider crawling inside? Or a butterfly? Now you've got something to grab the viewer's attention beyond a pretty picture. This type of photograph may not come easy — you have to wait for the critter. But if you wait long enough and your patience is rewarded, you can end up with a really great photograph.
Let's move on to consider the shot of a single flower head. Much of what we said for the macro view applies here too. As before, you can't get close enough for this type of picture with film point-and-shoot cameras. Once again, you'll be better off using a tripod if possible. Remember also that you don’t have to make pictures of single flowers while you’re bent over in the garden. Over the years many great photographers have made wonderful still life studies of flowers in a studio setting where there’s no wind and the photographer has precise control over the lighting. Whether you’re taking pictures indoors or out, once again exposure will be more precise if you use a gray card or take an incident reading. And the picture will often be improved if you can add a crawling critter.
How should you decide which light is best? Easy. Walk around the flower, observing how it looks through the viewfinder from different positions. Keep a sharp eye. You may see an appealing shadow from one position. A glow of iridescence from another. Maybe you can get both together. Walk around, and then take your picture from the position that appeals most to your eye.
There's a second additional decision to make when you are shooting a single flower head. How high or low do you want the camera to be?
What about the direction of light? It still can make a difference. If you can check how the flowers look from different sides, by all means do so. Frontlighting may be all right. Backlighting — or sidelighting — may be better. Camera angle — that is, height — is usually less important in this type of long shot. (You should still stoop down to see if the image is improved from a low angle that will accentuate the nearest flowers.)
What should you look out for here? We think you should go back to the very first decision: What's your subject? A bed or field of flowers may look exquisite to your eye, but often makes an awfully dull picture. Look for something that will add interest to the picture. Something else that will draw the eye of the viewer and be the subject of your picture, with the flowers acting as swatches of color that complement it.
Chances are if you look around you'll find lots of potential targets that will add considerable interest to your photograph.
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