How to Take Incredible Photographs of Flowers | Light Stalking

How to Take Incredible Photographs of Flowers

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This is a guest post from Izabela Korwel. Check out Iza's amazing macro photography on her blog, follow her on Twitter, Facebook and also on Google +!
Flowers are the easy subjects to come by and to photograph, even close to home. You can go to local park or find a flower bed downtown or at the mall. You can visit a botanical garden, there is one in every major city. You can ask the neighbors if you can photograph in their garden. You can also just go the flower shop and buy potted or cut flowers, and set them up in your living room.

The easiest way, as I discovered this year, is to plant small flower garden in front of your house. Even for the sole purpose of having a photographic subject handy, they do not require that much work, especially if you choose the local wild flowers. The diversity in types and colors will help keeping you interested and returning often to add to the collection of images. Each day, the flowers will looks different, some will be already dying, and some will just start to bloom. There are new and different photos to be taken each and every day.
Don't Forget to Check The Weather!
Weather is going to be your worst enemy. Sun and wind are two ingredients you need to be aware of at any moment.

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They say that macro photography of flowers (and other plants) is the one type of photography allowed in the midday harsh light. Don't believe it. It will at times create as much contrast between your highlights and shadows as for any other subject. Unless of course your flower subjects are in the shade or under a scrim. Pay attention to the light, and either photograph during “golden hour” or at times when the sun in on opposite side of the house. It will create far more beautiful images.
It is going to be quite difficult to avoid the wind. Even a small breeze can shake high stem flowers enough to result in blurry images. Especially if you photograph in the shade, with stepped down aperture (large f/ stops) for increased depth of field, the shutter speeds will be slow and the slightest movement of the flower will be magnified in your photograph. There is not much you can about it. Check the wether and pick the day of the week and the time of the day with the calmest conditions. Pick the side of house for your garden opposite to prevailing wind direction in your area. But also, you can just incorporate the movement into your photographs for fresh, creative look.
What Gear Do You Need for Flower Photography?
Photography of flowers is oftentimes at borderline of close-up and macro work.

If you have a point and shoot camera, many have excellent macro mode, which will allow you to get close. Turn it on.
On a dSLR, you will get the best results from dedicated macro lens. They come in few focal lengths, which vary by manufacturer. I found the Nikkor 85 mm works well for me and my shooting style. In fact, all images in this post but one were take with this lens. You can rent and try different lenses from one of several reputable online services (like BorrowLenses.com, LensRentals.com, LensProToGo.com) or check in local camera store before investing your money in one. Also consider that many all-in-one zoom lenses, like the Nikkor 18-200 mm or Sigma 18-300 mm I use, will allow you to focus from just few inches away. Other options include extension tubes and macro filters. This last option is the least recommended, but the least expensive at the same time.
Use These Settings for Best Results
The camera settings you choose will have strong effect on the final image. Play with them, if your camera allows it.

The ISO is best left alone on the highest setting you are comfortable on your camera. The higher the ISO, the shorter your shutter speed will be, but the more noise you will get. On most dSLRs, 400 or 800 is the best choice.
The other parameter you probably don't need to worry much is the white balance. First, most dSLRs are quite good on the Automatic mode. Secondly, if you shoot RAW, you will have the most flexibility to change it afterwards. Third, the flower images are usually fine art not documentary, and as such are subject to artistic freedom. You might even try changing the white balance to warmer or colder for some artistic reason.
The Aperture priority or Manual mode will give you the most control over remaining settings. But stay away from really wide open apertures like f/1.8, or even f/5.6. Many beginners enjoy the shallow depth of field, especially shortly after upgrading from point-and-shoot which typically have unlimited depth of field. When you are close to the subject, the depth of field is too narrow and just not enough for any part of the flower to be in sufficient focus. You will quickly realize that anything starting from f/11 or even f/14 gives enough depth of field to avoid the feeling of out-of-focus, blurry image. Many times it is best to go as high as lens allows, up to f/22 or f/32 depending on the lens. Be also careful in how you position the camera in relation to the flower. The more parallel the sensor and the part of flower you want in sharp focus are, the easier it will be to achieve crispy look.
At the same time, the stepped down aperture might cause your background to come in focus and make the image too cluttered. To avoid it and have more control over the aesthetic of your background, replace it with your own. Take several different out of focus photographs- of cloudy sky, trees in several shades of green etc. If it is not single, solid color, it will look more natural. Print them as 11×14, and glue them onto foam core for more sturdiness and use as on-demand background. The more color choices, the more flexibility.
Getting Better Flower Photos With Precision
The last two pieces of advice in this post are going to have the most impact on your flower photography. These are also the two things too many of beginning photographers ignore, thinking they will be just fine without them. The results are mediocre instead of excellent.

First, put the camera on tripod. Really. It does not need to be fancy setup with ball head and removable center column, although it helps. What it has to be, however, is sturdy enough to keep the weight of the your camera. I am using Manfrotto 055XPROB with 488RC2 ball head. I went through several cheap, plastic tripods before giving up and finally investing into it. Avoid my mistake.
Secondly, use manual focus. Even with stepped down aperture, the depth of field will still be narrow. With the stabilized tripod, now you can make the decision if the middle of the flower or the petals are where you want viewers to look first.
I hope those few basic tips will get you interested in finding some flowers now and photographing them. Be creative. Have fun. And if you feel there is anything important I forgot, please ask a question or add your tips in the comments section.

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    Iza Korwel

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