Tips On How To Photograph Spring Flowers
As I look out of my home office window I can already see spring flowers are getting established here in the UK, so it’s the perfect time to start to brush up your flower photography techniques.
Getting natural-looking images of early spring flowers is a different skill to shooting still-life flowers or even formal gardens in high summer, so here is a quick refresher of the equipment and skills you need.
Camera and Lenses
Any decent SLR or compact system camera or power compact will suffice, and in terms of lenses you have lots of options. A standard zoom, in the range of 24mm to 135mm, will prove versatile, and you can shoot at the telephoto end to help blur out the background so you better isolate the subject.
A 50 or 85mm portrait lens will come in very handy for this work too, and there will be less zoom distortion. If you want to get in more of the context, e.g. the garden or woodland, shoot at the wide-angle end of your zoom lens, and set a narrower aperture so more of the scene is in focus from front to back.
If your budget allows, you will also need a macro lens so you can get right in at 1:1 for capturing details – if you are keen to keep costs down, you can reduce the minimum focusing distance of a longer lens by buying an extension tube instead.
Other useful bits of gear include a handheld reflector for casting light back onto the subject (useful for filling in shadows in very bright sunlight), a scrim to soften the light and a Wimberley Plamp for keeping delicate plants and flowers still in the wind. Last but not least, take along your tripod.
The plant or flower isn’t going anywhere, so using one will help to keep the shot sharp and slow you down, so you are more mindful about composition.
As mentioned, use a narrower aperture if you want lots of depth of field in the image, or a wider aperture to isolate the subject against a blurred-out background.
Unless the light is really poor, set a low ISO for noise-free shots and use manual focus so you can be absolutely sure of the area you are focussing on is sharp.
Zoom in using Live View to check the area is in focus, or turn on focus peaking in your camera if it supports it. Very bright or reflective flowers can also throw off your camera’s semi-automatic shooting modes (e.g. Aperture Priority), so try shooting in Manual mode so you can set the aperture and shutter speed independently.
Get the Light Right
As any seasoned garden photographer will tell you, it’s well worth getting up early in the morning so you can benefit from lovely soft light.
This may be tricky if you want to shoot in somebody’s garden but if you offer them some images for free, you might be able to persuade them to leave the gate open.
Another good tip is to make the most of backlighting and side-lighting for interesting effects. If shadows are a noticeable problem, you can try bouncing some light back using a reflector, or use fill-in flash as a (very) last resort.
Don’t be put off by overcast or slightly wet days, as an overcast sky acts like a giant diffuser. I remember My Photo School tutor Michael Freeman telling me that the best time to shoot a Japanese garden was when it’s raining!
With flower and plant photography, you have a lot of choice when it comes to composition, as both landscape and portrait format can work well – make sure the format you choose complements the plant’s shape, however. It’s a good idea to get down on the same level as the subject for more natural looking shots, so you may need to adjust your tripod legs accordingly.
You can place the flower bang in the centre of the frame if it’s particularly eye-catching, but applying the rule of thirds and setting it to one side of the frame can work well, too.
Think very carefully about the background before you take the shot, and avoid distractions creeping in like stray twigs, leaves or bits of garden furniture.
Bust the lens aperture wide open to blur these distractions out if you can’t avoid them, or use a longer telephoto lens. Watch out for stray lighting in the background (e.g. the sun) that can also distract the viewer’s attention.
Last but not least, try to pick a perfect a specimen as possible. It would be a shame if all your careful composition and expensive lenses came to nothing as you had chosen to shoot a rather bedraggled-looking daffodil, bent over by March winds!