A Definitively Unprofessional Guide to Flower Photography Vol. 2: Indoors Without People

Photographing flowers indoors can lead to a blurry photo due to the lack of natural light, or an uninspired snapshot if a direct flash is used.   Windows, sinks, refrigerators and china cabinets don’t make for an interesting backdrop either. But the advantage that the indoor flower photographer has is time and access to gear.

Indoor photography requires at least one of the following ingredients: a tripod, a flash, or luck. I use a healthy mix of all three, but for flower photography I try to rely less and less on luck. When I started reading photography forums 10 years ago I read some advice about purchasing tripods. It said if you’re serious about photography you should never buy a tripod that’s under $100 as a cheap tripod will either need to be replaced, or thrown away as the hobby of photography is forgotten about. Like my brothers before me, I had to learn this the hard way. You want a stable tripod and portability should not be a large factor. Maybe it can be worn as a backpack, but it shouldn’t fit in your backpack, and certainly not your pocket. Buying a cheap tripod is like asking your great-grandmother to hold a try of champagne flutes at your wedding. She’d probably do it for free, since she’s your great-grandmother, but it’s best to let the paid, and less shaky, staff handle it.

Lamp Light

Besides the tripod, my favorite gear to use for indoor flower photography is a strong hand lamp. A fancy camera store will try and sell you a fancy camera lamp but in all my projects I’ve just used a standard reading lamp. Something like this for only $10 would work just fine.

The lamp light gives the photo a dark and eerie feel, especially when it’s the only light source in the room. It’s like the flower is holding a flashlight to its face and telling horror stories. They have no shortage of horror stories as they were recently decapitated and are now being displayed in a stranger’s home until they decompose enough to no longer be desirable.

In these photos I want the entire photo in focus and crisp. With the limited light this means a very long exposure time (10 – 20 seconds). A tripod is compulsory as is a remote shutter or time delay so the act of clicking the trigger doesn’t add any unwanted shake. This batch of photos was taken using a cheap lamp:

ƒ/20.0, 6 seconds shutter, ISO 100, Reading Lamp

ƒ/18.0, 15 second shutter, ISO 100, Reading Lamp

Remote Flash

The lamp provides some directional light to a segment of the flower, but sometimes a brighter photo is desired with striking blown-out highlights. In most situation a blown-out section of  a photo will ruin the photo, but in the case of flower photography I think it’s nice. It adds a nice bright white highlight to the otherwise colorful mix.

A mounted bounced flash doesn’t quite give me what I want. I want to get them backlit, or under-lit, like they’ve just been struck by lightning. This is where I use a wireless flash trigger for the camera’s hot shoe mount. The one I use is around $15, and while I’ve broken it twice, I’d likely get a replacement again if/when I break it, again. This batch of photos was taken using this cheap flash trigger:

ƒ/5.0, 1/250 shutter speed, 100 ISO

ƒ/1.8, 1/250 shutter speed, 100 ISO, EF50mm f/1.8 II Lens

ƒ/2.8, 1/250 shutter speed, 100 ISO, EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens

ƒ/1.8, 1/250 shutter speed, 100 ISO, EF50mm f/1.8 II Lens

Macro

Macro photography is tricky and it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time on. When I first purchased a 100mm Macro lens I wandered out into my backyard hunting insects expecting to easily take photos like these. Instead, this was the best I could do. I quickly learned that one should not learn to use a macro lens on moving, and irritating, subjects.

Flowers don’t fly away which makes them the perfect intro-to-macro-photography subject. My only advice is patience. It’s not a game of inches, it’s a game of centimeters. It’s possible that the camera’s LCD screen isn’t detailed enough to see the true focus of the image. It’s best to take as many as you can with differing focal adjustments and sort through them later. It’s not preferable to have to set up the tripod again after realizing the great macro shot didn’t have quite the focus you thought it did.

ƒ/4.0, 1/200 shutter speed, 100 ISO, EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens

ƒ/3.2, 1/250 shutter speed, 100 ISO, EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens

Macro with a Squirt

There’s only so much that can be done with a flower and a macro lens so the addition of water can add another layer to the flower. Without the droplets these photos wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.

ƒ/3.5, 1/100 shutter speed, 100 ISO, EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens

ƒ/3.5, 1/200 Seconds Shutter, 200 ISO | EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens

ƒ/2.8, 1/20 shutter speed, 100 ISO, EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

ƒ/3.5, 1/100 shutter speed, 100 ISO, EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens

Or back up a bit and take the image while squirting the water bottle and using the remote flash. It looks just like a tropical rainforest at night during  a lucky lightning storm. Just like it!

ƒ/5.0, 1/250 shutter speed, 100 ISO, EF50mm f/1.4 USM

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. Dead flowers cannot tell stories, and if they did, they wouldn’t all be scary ones. I’m sure your great-grandmother means well when she says she’ll hold your tray. 

What makes a good photograph is completely subjective and the views expressed in this guide are that of the author only. 

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