In part 1 of this article I delved into three important principles of flower photography: slowing down and learning to see, recognizing good light, and working your subject with different compositions and angles. Let’s look at three more important aspects of flower photography that will help you create stunning and impactful portraits of flowers.
Experiment with Aperture.
If you are new to macro or flower photography, the best way to advance your learning and to understand what your lenses are capable of is to experiment with aperture. Depth of field is one of the most important elements in learning macro photography. Depth of field is determined by your aperture, how close you are to your subject, how far away your background is, and what lens you are using. There is no cookbook method to teach what aperture is going to work best to bring your vision to life. It comes from a lot of experimentation and experience. I tell beginning macro photographers to shoot a flower in a range of apertures and study the results. As you do this, you might begin to see that you enjoy shooting in the lower apertures (f/2 – f/6.3) using selective focus to bring one element of the flower in focus – the edge of a petal, a ruffle of an orchid.
Or, you might find you prefer having the entire flower in sharp focus. For this approach, choose a higher aperture (f/11-f/22) and try to align your camera so that it is parallel with the flower.
There is no one right way or right aperture to photograph a flower. Shoot in a way that brings you joy, that conveys the feeling you want to convey and brings your vision to life. Much of my flower photography is done with Lensbaby lenses, shooting in apertures between f/2 – f/5.6 to get the beautiful effects these lens are known for. This is a way of shooting that excites me and brings creativity to my photography.
That being said, there are times when I want to capture each and every detail of a flower and shoot in higher apertures to achieve that. Again, by asking yourself those important questions of what drew you to the flower, how does it make you feel, and what do you want to convey will help you determine aperture. Experiment!
Your Background is Just as Important as Your Subject.
Good, clean backgrounds are essential to a beautiful flower portrait. A messy, distracting background can ruin an image and pull the eye away from the main subject. New photographers are often so entranced with capturing the flower itself, they forget to pay attention to the background. Many people find this aspect of photographing flowers the most challenging. Here are a few tips for getting it right in camera so you don’t have to do a lot of post processing magic to correct a bad background. 1) Learn to position yourself. Before you set up your shot or put your camera on a tripod, look through your lens and move around. Watch what happens to your background. By moving just a fraction of an inch you can completely change a background, eliminate a bright spot of light or distracting elements. Choose flowers that have darker foliage and cleaner backgrounds or backgrounds that are in a distance.
2) Use aperture to control your background. This can require a bit of experimentation and knowledge of your lens. It’s a matter of choosing just the right aperture that will get the important elements in your flower in focus and keep your background a creamy blur – the lower your aperture, the more blur you will have in your background. Practice bracketing your apertures and then examine them on your computer screen. 3) Choose a lens that will help you create a beautiful background. This is one of many reasons I love shooting with Lensbaby, in particular the Velvet 56mm and the Velvet 85mm. The art effect built into the lenses create beautiful, effortless backgrounds. The same concept applies to using a longer focal length macro lens such as a 180mm. I often reach for my 180mm to create beautiful backgrounds that might be harder to control with my 100mm macro.
4) Lastly, simply move in and eliminate your background altogether. As a macro photographer I enjoy working very close to my subjects to bring the eye to the tiny details of nature. I will move in close and eliminate all background from the image. By moving in, I am helping to direct the eye to what I want the viewer to see and this can create a very impactful image.
To Tripod or Not to Tripod?
That is the question! This may seem like a silly question, as many photographers feel it is essential to be on a tripod to produce good macro images. Many people are surprised to learn that I do a large percentage of my work hand-held. I am blessed with a steady hand and I am often working in the lower apertures where plenty of light enters my lens, which means high shutter speeds and less possibility of camera shake. I love the freedom of hand-holding so that I can easily get into difficult positions and angles. I do not recommend hand-holding to everyone, however. Certainly if I am working in lower light situations or in higher apertures, I always use my tripod. A good, sturdy tripod is absolutely essential to macro flower photography, whether you use it all the time or part of the time. I recommend that all beginning photographers work on a tripod. It slows you down, helps you compose more carefully and thoughtfully, and allows you to experiment with aperture easily. When using a tripod, use a shutter release cable and Live View to manually focus. Zoom in through Live View and focus on the area that is most important in your composition. Once you are completely comfortable with using your camera and lenses, try hand-holding to see if it works for you. As a rule of thumb, you should use a minimum shutter speed equal to the focal length of your lens. For example, with a 100 mm lens, use a shutter speed of at least 1/100th. Having a lens with image stabilization will help, as well.
I hope these tips will inspire you to get out and try some flower photography. Flowers are readily available and beautiful, joyful subjects to photograph. I look forward to sharing lots of other ideas with you in future posts.