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Summer Flowers Are Ready for their Portrait!

The summer flowers are everywhere, bringing color to the landscape and enticing birds and butterflies to stop by for a visit and perhaps a snack! This is a great time to get out of your summer rut, grab your camera and take some flower photographs. I know, its hot! We have had really hot and humid days here for the past 2 weeks, but its not intolerable if you get out early. The flowers will look perkier and perhaps you might get lucky and get some dew on the petals!


Here are some tips for capturing compelling flower images!


1. Look for a beautiful subject. You will probably find flowers in several stages of development, some buds, some past their prime and hopefully, a few really nice blooms. Study the patch of flowers to find that one that you want to photograph. Resist the urge to just start photographing--instead, look for a flower that has a story to tell.


2. Try to shoot in the shade. The soft, even light of shade will do a lot to make the colors pop and will avoid the glare of direct sunlight. If you arrive early in the morning, the light will be softer and you are more likely to be able to find some flowers in the shade of nearby trees or a building. You can always resort to diffusers to produce shade on your subject, but I often end up laughing as I try to balance the diffuser, figure out the composition and press the shutter! I'm not that good at multi tasking!



The soft shade allowed the colors to pop and avoided harsh shadows


3. Composition matters. Remember you are trying to entice your viewer to spend a little time looking at your photograph. Think about the rules of composition when you are photographing the flowers. I try to avoid having the subject right in the center of the shot, which is static and somewhat boring. Placing the subject to the side and allowing it to lean into the frame is a technique I often use.

You might find it helpful to have the rule of thirds grid in your viewfinder or live view, to help you with composing the shot. This is especially useful when you are learning composition, but after a while, placement will be something that "just feels right" and you won't need those lines any longer.


In the above photo of the black eyed susan, I used the left rule of thirds line to place my subject, because it was leaning towards the right. This gives it room to move into the frame and not feel crowded. I included the flower in the background, softly out of focus, because it added to the story of these flowers growing together in a patch. This is a great example of moving beyond what I call a "documenting shot" and telling a story with your photograph.


4. Camera settings. I shoot in manual because I feel like it gives me the maximum control over exposure and once I figure out my settings, I'm free to worry about everything else. But semi-automatic modes work well in even light, so they can be certainly be used when photographing flowers, especially in the shade.

Think about depth of field, how much you want to be in focus, and that will help you decide on an aperture setting. I used to shoot macro images with f22 to get the entire subject in focus, and even resorted to focus stacking to be able to have a flower sharp from front to back. There is nothing wrong with that approach, of course. But as I have matured as a photographer, I tend to match my image to the story that I am telling. To me, flowers are soft and ethereal and so I'm ok if some of the image is a bit soft! (The me of 5 years ago can't believe I just typed that sentence! LOL). I often shoot flowers at f8-f11, which when shooting close to the subject will have a fairly shallow depth of field. And I'm ok with that. Do what you want, this is your story to tell!

Shutter speed is also a consideration whenever you are dialing in exposure. If you are hand holding, be sure you have any stabilization turned on and watch shutter speeds that are too slow for the focal length you are using. In addition, there are environmental factors to consider when choosing a shutter speed. Is there a breeze that is moving the flowers around? If so, you might need to bump up the shutter speed. Then again, you may choose to shoot at a slower speed and let the breeze create an artistic image. These are creative decisions that you use to create your image. That is a big part of the fun for me!


5. Distance matters. When you are photographing a small subject, you will most likely want to fill a good part of the frame with that subject. So you are likely to move in fairly close when setting up your composition. This is a time to be very aware of the distance between your camera and the flower. Remember, depth of field gets smaller as you narrow the distance between the sensor and what you are focusing on. By moving in close, you are more likely to produce a soft, out of focus background. While I was out photographing yesterday, I took an image, checked it on the LCD and then moved ONE STEP closer to the flower and shot again. The differences are striking!




18 inches from the subject, background is very distracting

10 inches from the flowers, soft and lovely background

Try to train yourself to think about these things while you are in the field. If you aren't happy with a shot, what can you do to eliminate distractions or improve composition? Keep shooting until you get something you really like.


5. Change your perspective. We view the world beneath us from 5 feet or so, looking down. Think about what happens if you photograph from a different perspective. Your image will automatically be more compelling because it is a new and fresh way of looking at a common object. We use this when we photograph children or pets, but it also applies to flowers. Get down low and shoot from a new angle and watch how much better your images become!

In addition to unique perspective, you will also be rewarded with a better background. Low growing flowers are often just inches from the ground, so when you shoot from above, the background will likely be in focus and distracting. When you shoot from a lower perspective, what is behind the flower will most likely be much further away--instant gorgeous background!! I took two shots yesterday just to demonstrate this:



Shot from standing position.

Same flower, I didn't move my feet, I just crouched down and used the LCD to compose the shot! Look at that background!

6. Flowers are beautiful from behind! Don't neglect the back or underside of a flower! We don't tend to see flowers from this angle, so this can often produce a unique as well as beautiful photograph. I love Queen Anne's Lace, and find it fun to photograph. I remember working with a student on a workshop and suggested he photograph the underside of the lace flower, and we were both astonished at how amazing it looked! Give this a try, it likely won't be the only shot you take of a pretty flower, but it can be a fun way of looking at your subject!



Queen Anne's Lace, a favorite flower.


But how fun to photograph this beautiful flower from below and to the side!



The backside of a daisy with front lighting can be very eye catching!



7. Have fun with post processing! Flower photography lends itself to play. The fun begins when you are the field, surrounded by the beauty of the flowers. Spending a few hours in nature is always good for my spirit! But the fun doesn't have to stop there!

Look at post processing as a time to play, not just computer work. Try something new, play with multiple exposure or even introduce some blur into your background. This is a great way to learn new photoshop skills!

I love to make watercolor type images from my flower photographs. Here is a before and after of a photo from yesterday, and while I thought the original image was fine, I love what the watercolor effect did for the flower! If you want to try creating a watercolor effect in photoshop, check out my class link on the Instructional Video page of the website. It is so much fun to create these "paintings" and the class videos and downloads will be everything you need to be successful!




The soft nature of the watercolor effect really plays to the beauty of this flower!

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