How to get the best from your flower photos
By Stephen Curry – Future Proof Photography
Here we are on the May Bank Holiday, the weather is actually nice for a change and there couldn’t be a better time to get out and about with your camera.
It’s taken what seems an age, but at last Mother Nature has let go her firm grip on the cold. Tantalising splashes of colour peep amid the fuzzy green of the new leaves, letting us know that summer is near at hand. If you’re a fair weather photographer, this may be your first foray outside with the lens cap off for some months. So what do you do once you’re out there?
Spring and summer provides many prospects for perfect pictures so we thought it about time to pass on some tips to improve your time with the plants and flowers in your garden, park or if the rain clouds gather, back in the house.
You don’t have to be a pro or have pro equipment to take excellent flower shots, but the better camera and lens you can afford, the more scope you have. It is possible to take great photos with a compact camera; it’s just knowing how to get the best from it. So yes, spending hundreds or even thousands on kit is great, but if your budget doesn’t stretch that far don’t despair, most of these tips will work fine for your compact, too. If, however, you have a digital SLR and a huge interest in close ups of flowers then a Macro lens is a must, with this you can take photos at life size or even larger and really see the close up detail.
Camera settings and flash.
To begin, most cameras have a small flower symbol indicating Macro (close up) setting. Switching this on will pre set your compact camera to take photos at its closest focusing distance, using the best exposure for the subject. It can be limiting, but still gives great results if used carefully. Flash I would switch off. A blast of white light this close never looks natural and mostly bleaches out the subject. If you’re in lower light, I would use a tripod, even with a compact camera.
Use a tripod.
When you’re this close, keeping the camera still is a must. If your focusing is slightly out due to movement or keeping still with long exposure, you can’t put it right later. A tripod slows you down, makes you think about your photo and most importantly keeps the camera still.
All cameras have them, so why not use this with the tripod? Less risk of movement as you’re not pressing the button, and less risk of camera shake.
Get close to your subject.
There’s a lot to be said for wide views (more on that later), but if you want to fill the frame you need to get close, which means time on your knees and elbows or zooming in from a distance. It’s simple, but a mat makes all the difference when lying on the ground, it gets you closer to your subject (and keeps your clothes clean!).
Watch the weather.
The weather can make a huge difference to a photograph. The lightest breeze can move flowers easily and blur your shot, and contrary to belief bright sunshine isn’t ideal as results can be very harsh with bleached out colours, less detail and too much contrast. You’re best on an overcast day when the light is less intense but still bright, or in shade on those sunny days. If you’re careful, water too can be your friend, with droplets and reflections that can enhance your photos.
Take your time.
If visiting gardens for the first time, take time to assess your surroundings. Nothing beats exploring and having a good look around for different flowers, vantage points and angles. Who knows what may be waiting around the corner. Look at textures as well as colours – abstract imagery can sometimes be the most effective.
Practice makes perfect.
I’ve said this before, the beauty of digital is you can experiment and quickly assess results. The danger is taking far too many photos with slight variations and never using them. So be specific but do experiment, try changing settings and give something new a try.
It’s not all about close ups. A wide view of a building or gardens can be enhanced by flowers leading you into the picture so vary and experiment, once again looking around for extra opportunities. Don’t forget though, a cluttered background can ruin the greatest of photographs.
Focusing and depth of field.
Okay, stick with me on this one. If you’re very close to your subject, accurate focusing is critical, as depth of field (or how much of your picture will be in focus) decreases the closer you get. If you have manual controls you can change the aperture setting (how much light comes into the lens) to increase the amount in focus, but compact cameras are more limited so aim for the most accurate focus you can, holding still and slightly pressing the shutter button to lock the focus before pressing fully to take the photo. Aperture and depth of field can be confusing so if in doubt give it a try.
If all else fails, grab a cup of tea and find a nice bright spot indoors. There’s no wind and you can control your light and surroundings.That’s not a licence to pick flowers or dig up plants, but a basic bunch of flowers or potted plants can be ideal for starters.
All that remains is to find your subject and snap away. Sounds easy? It takes practice and patience, just make sure you stick to the basics and there’s no reason you shouldn’t see an improvement in your flower photography.
With thanks to Emily Hirchmann and her macro obsession for photographs: 1,3,4,8.
All other photographs copyright Stephen Curry, Future Proof Photography.
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