Flowers are nature’s gift to photographers. They are all different, and they are just sitting there at knee level waiting to be captured and social media’d. A fixed 50mm lens is perfect and cheap for this. Find a flower, have a small child touch it, and save room for an inspirational quote about following your dreams. It’s a sneeze away from a viral photo.
But after a decade of flower photography I have some ideas of what works best. There aren’t many ways to ruin the photo, but there are techniques to improve the already photogenic blossom. You’re probably on the right track, unless you miss the flower altogether.
Or point the camera the wrong way…
Or forget the camera completely, but still follow-through with the motion for some reason as if no one noticed…
Taking Advantage of Natural Lighting
Mid-day sun creates the most true-to-life photography. The popularity of photoshop shows that people generally don’t want their photos to look exactly like they do in real life. They want something better.
But they pop a bit more when they are kissed by dusk’s golden hour sun. (yes, I know they aren’t the same flowers as the ones above)
And when taken at sunset it doesn’t even matter if the flower is actually just corn-stalk-looking beach brush.
But all is not lost if the only time for photography is between 10AM and 2PM. I will often use the sun to highlight a flower by placing the flower directly between me and the sun. It gives it a dark and vibrant glow while producing a halo around the flower itself. The danger is getting the sun in your eyes too many times. From what I’ve read it’s fine for the camera, but it’s not great for your eye sight.
Adding some sun flare will make any flower photo seem interesting. It’s all about trial and error, and often times, lots of sun in your eyes. I just do my best to keep the sun just out of frame and wiggle it around until a cool flare comes up. This photo would have been thrown away if it wasn’t for an interested sun flare.
A Sea of Flowers
A rose garden can appear to go on forever and the temptation is to try and catch that endless sea of flowers in a single shot. A photo never does the real thing justice and a photo aimed at this sea has the tendency to focus in on a subset or single flower, or capture some non-flowery stuff as well. All of that can be good, but the low barrier of entry means that extra care is required to take a shot worth sharing. The comparison to shooting fish in a barrel is not wrong; it would be very hard to miss the flowers in this case. To get an intentional and interesting shot can take patience.
While I don’t purposefully have any what-not-to-do photos in my collection, my shots from 2009 remind me of how far I’ve come. Flowers are a perfect place to start for a new photographer hungry for photos that showcase their new camera’s ability to shoot with a small depth-of-field. But there always needs to be a reason for each photo, and to say ‘look there’s flowers’ isn’t quite enough.
This first photo is from 2009 and looking back at it now, it’s very confusing. The yellow flower is the only one in focus, but it’s tucked into the bottom left corner of the photo.
But I liked where I was headed. My favorite flower photos in the “Sea of Flowers” section are the ones that single out a small number (or 1) flower with many others in the background, or foreground. In the following small set there’s clearly many flowers, but the eye, and camera, focuses on a single, well-framed, blossom.
While the single-among-many shot shows depth, it doesn’t suggest to the viewer that the sea of flowers goes on past infinity. The focus can move away from a single flower and onto an aesthetically pleasing grouping. I feel it’s still important to keep two-thirds of the frame blurred to give it depth leaving the middle third in focus. The depth also keeps it looking semi-professional, and not like a snapshot.
The eye isn’t drawn to any particular flower in these shots. It’s drawn to the center, in-focus section, which helps create the infinity illusion. Cropping does help here if an accidental end to the sea of flowers was captured.
When a bug enters the flower photo, the flower photo is now a bug photo. While the bug doesn’t need to be the only thing in focus, the bug itself cannot be out of focus. And because of this, certain above-established rules are relaxed considering the time-sensitive nature of bug photography (i.e. they fly away). The only other reliable time to photograph a bug is on feces, and my Definitively Unprofessional Guide to Poop Photography is still in draft form.
This ball flower is otherwise boring, but with the three bugs it’s considered high art.
The white space in the below photo would be obnoxious but the presence of the bug gives it a feeling of loneliness.
A Wider Angle
A wide angle lens is not a typical lens to use for flower photography, but it has its niche uses. The flowers are still the main subject in these shots, but there’s a lot going on; an interesting sky, a building.
Weird (to me) Flowers
Walking around New England in the spring exposes me to pansies, hydrangeas, tulips, and lots of other flowers I can’t think of, and could not identify if questioned. But sometimes I just run across flowers that I don’t see everyday and just like a bug/flower photo, the rules can again be relaxed when a flower is considered weird to the photographer.
This is of course different for everyone depending on their location and definition of weird. If I flew to China or Hawaii I’d probably share a nauseating amount of flowers that were poorly framed with questionable focus. The fact the the following photos aren’t that weird shows that my travels haven’t lead me too far from home. The weird flower section is mostly based on a conceptional theory without a lot of peer-reviewed evidence, yet.
All photos by Jason McGorty. This entry is one of a larger set of Definitively Unprofessional Guides to niche photography subjects.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is for general information purposes only. All flowers are beautiful, as are people, and therefore all flower photographs and flower photographers are beautiful. I am not a botanist, and to call a flower ‘weird’ is clearly a reflection on the the author’s inexperience.
What makes a good photograph is completely subjective and the views expressed in this guide are that of the author only.