It’s finally summer – though I don’t know how the weather is in your neck of the woods, but it’s been unseasonably cool and rainy here. I suppose it has been nice to not to worry about watering the garden, and it’s been quite a savings on the water bill! What better way to celebrate the summer solstice than with a post on summer blooms!
Although I think my garden is about two weeks behind where it was last year, and I lost several plants to the harsh winter and surprisingly harsh spring, I keep reminding myself that plants are hardier than they may appear and they are programmed by nature to grow, grow, grow. I was particularly excited to see my clearance table Miss Apple Siberian irises that I planted last fall, bloom for the first time this past week. In fact, they bloomed while we were away for a few days on vacation so when I got home, what a welcoming sight they made. You can definitely count on me grabbing my iPhone and my DSLR to capture some flower shots in the garden. I kind of sheepishly admit that a big part of my interest in gardening is so I can take pretty photos. On my iPhone alone I’ve taken 1517 photos this year of my garden and it’s just the first day of summer season!
With that, I’d like to share with you some of my best tips for photographing flowers. Given that I probably photograph flowers every day, I think I’ve gathered some pretty good tips to share!
Tip #1: What’s the weather? For flower photography weather can be a bigger factor than with other subjects. If it’s windy out it can be hard to get those flowers to stay still for a crisp shot. Also, as with other photography such as portraits of people, bright sunshine at high noon is probably not going to get you the best results. You’ll get weird shadows or washed out colors which are both not ideal for flower photos. Early in the evening or early the morning are more ideal times to capture flower shots. Typically overcast days are better than sunny. You might think rain would be a bad thing, but after a shower, water droplets on flowers and foliage lend a lot of interest. Puddles can create opportunities for interesting reflections. In any event, if you’re finding that your photos are overexposed and you are losing detail, use the exposure compensation dial on your DSLR. It is a +/- symbol on my camera. I turn it down a couple stops to control washed out highlights.
Tip #2: Get wide shots and close ups. When it comes to flower photography I like to grab both wider shots and close ups. Wider shots give you an idea of the plant’s surroundings and how it relates to the rest of the garden, and it also gives you an idea of what the flower looks like as a whole. I’ve become an avid gardener in the last couple years and I find it odd when I look online at garden catalogs and only see close up shots of flowers and not of the foliage or plant as a whole. For those of you who garden, you know that for a good part of the season there may be no flowers – just greenery, so how a plant looks when it’s not in bloom is pretty important. This is probably less of a photography tip and more reflects my bias as a gardener rather than a flower photographer but for what’s it worth that’s my two cents! Show me the whole plant! LOL.
Tip #3: Blur the background. Below are some closer up shots which highlight the star of the show. You can see that I’m using background blur (also known as bokeh) to isolate the flower as the main subject. You do this by setting your camera’s aperture to a lower number. The lower the aperture setting, the more blur you will get. My gear for this shoot is a Nikon D7500 with a Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR lens. The ones you see below range from f 4.8 to f 5.6. I am hoping to get a macro lens sometime this year as that type of lens really lends itself to flower photography, but for now I think I’m getting some really nice shots with my zoom lens. Blurring the background cuts down on distractions and tells the viewer what you think is important.
After I get my shots of the blooms as a whole then I try to push myself to get a little more creative. I know that my style leans more photojournalistic which is probably no surprise since I got my undergraduate degree in journalism, but I’m always pushing myself to go outside my comfort zone and try some more artistic shots.
Tip #4: Approach your subject from a different angle. This next one isn’t really pushing any boundaries but I like it because I’m getting a shot of the side view of a partially opened bloom. It looks interesting and different. One of the worst mistakes you can make is staying upright at eye level all the time. You need to move around a bit. Get lower, get higher – try a different perspective than the norm. Your photos will be more interesting.
Also, I want to use this shot to discuss composition. Compare the one above with this one below.
In terms of composition which one do you prefer? I like the first one better. I notice that with my flower photography, tilting the camera so the flower is not straight up and down gives the composition a little more dynamism. I think it also gives the flower a more delicate look. These two shots may not be the best to illustrate this point, but I think you get the idea. Of course this is subjective so you may feel differently. Also, there may be some subjects (even flowers) where you would want to emphasize strength or verticality so a straight up and down composition may work best. I find that when I shoot both and then compare them later, the one with a slight tilt usually wins out 99.9% of the time.
This next photo is looking down on the flower from above. By the way these are some lovely yellow irises that volunteered themselves to my side of the fence from the neighbor’s yard. They’ve been slowly creeping over and this year is the first year they’ve made it over the fence in significant numbers. (Like 30 of them! Yes I counted LOL.) Sharing flowers is better than sharing weeds don’t you think?
Tip #5: Don’t forget the pollinators. I love capturing bees, butterflies and other insects on flowers – well, the beneficial insects that is (not the pests)! They are the reason why we enjoy beautiful blooms so let’s give them some credit! Get close and then get closer. This is where a zoom lens is beneficial – you can get a close up shot without physically moving in and potentially scaring your flying friend. I recently bought a hummingbird feeder! If I can catch some shots of a hummingbird – that would be my “nature photography dream”! I will keep you posted!
Tip #6: You don’t need a DSLR to capture great flower shots. I hope all this talk about DSLR settings hasn’t made you glaze over. You can get amazing flower shots with just your camera phone. You can still use many of the tips I’ve shared above. Most of the time I’m out in the garden with just my iPhone. Camera phones are simply getting better and better and offer more and more features. Here are some shots of the same subject using my iPhone X.
These next two shots show iPhone’s version of blurring the background. Using the “portrait” setting, the iPhone captures two images. One is the standard shot and the second is the shot with the background artificially blurred. It doesn’t always do the best job as sometimes I can detect a very harsh transition line between the in focus and blurred areas, but most of the time it does pretty good.
Hope you find this post helpful and I hope it encourages you to get out there and photograph some summer blooms! Feel free to share your flower photos and any tips you may have in the comment section below.