Tips for Flower and Garden Photography

This winter was cold and snowy and lasted far too long but it’s Spring now and we have months of warm weather and colorful flowers ahead of us. We can hardly wait for the first tulip to bloom or the rose bushes to hang heavy with flowers.

It’s easy to get lost in time photographing flowers and that’s just one of the reasons why flower photography is so popular. What’s not to like about photographing something so lovely and fragrant, full of color and tiny details? It can be wonderfully therapeutic. 

LIGHTING is important in any photography but especially in flower photography. Direct sun is usually undesirable as it creates harsh contrast, overexposed bright areas and dark shadows. A cloudy day is ideal because the light is evenly diffused.  If you have no choice but to shoot in sunny conditions, consider using a diffuser. Made of milky white translucent fabric, it acts as a cloud, softly spreading out the light.

On the other hand, a flower in a shady spot may benefit from a little light bounced in with a reflector. These can be purchased from a camera store but can also be as simple as tinfoil over cardboard or in a pinch, a white piece of paper tilted toward the flower reflecting light onto it.

Early morning the best TIME OF DAY, the flowers are fresher, we often find dew on the petals, and as a bonus, most bugs are either too cold or have a bit of dew on them so they can’t fly away.

There are no limits to what you can do with COLOR in flower photography. Mix bold complimentary colors or compose with a single color. Consider black and white even. Experiment, try new things, and use your own creative vision to compose with color.

BACKGROUNDS can make or break a great flower photo. Too much detail behind your flower can be distracting. To avoid this, use a wide aperture such as f2.8, f4, f5.6 and either get close or zoom in tight for a blurred out, dreamy background.

Composing a garden shot can make a lovely photo but don’t forget to also move in and GET CLOSE with a Macro lens.  Although pricey, these lenses offer superior image quality, edge to edge sharpness and and allow us to get very close to capture the intricate details not easily seen with our eyes or our normal lenses. 

    • A true macro lens, sometimes referred to as dedicated, will give you a 1:1 reproduction ratio, meaning the image on the sensor is the same size as the subject itself. Some lenses on the market may claim to have macro capabilities but they are not true macro lenses. Before you purchase one, check the lens specifications for the reproduction ratio.

    • Another important factor to consider is the minimum focusing distance (MFD). This is the closest distance your lens can be from a subject and still achieve focus. With a true macro lens, you can get much closer than with a non macro lens of the same focal length.

The focal lengths of macro lenses vary, usually anywhere from 50mm to 200mm. The difference represents how physically close you can be from your subject and still maintain a 1:1 reproduction ratio. The larger the number, the further away you can be. If you’re photographing flowers, 60mm, 90mm or 105mm may work fine, but if you need more distance, say for butterflies that will fly away if you get too close, or snakes for example, a 180mm or 200mm macro lens would be better.

In addition to close-up photography, macro lenses can be used for distant subjects and general photography as well.

Other options for Macro are extension tubes or close-up filters.
EXTENSION TUBES are less expensive than macro lenses. These are hollow tubes are placed between the camera body and lens and allow you to focus closer to your subject. Because there is no glass in the tube, there is no loss of quality, although with some brands you may need to manually focus.

CLOSE-UP FILTERS (sometimes called diopters) are another option. These filters screw onto the front of the lens just like other filters, and allow you to focus closer to your subject. Think of these as a magnifying glass for your lens. They’re found as 1X, 2X, and 3X - the larger the number the stronger the filter. These can be stacked allowing you to get even closer, but you may want to avoid using more than 2 to maintain a sharp image. Because of the shallow depth-of-filed with these filters, experts say it’s better not to set the aperture smaller than f11 or larger than f8 when using them.

When shooting with a Macro lens, extension tubes or close up filters, it may be awkward using a tripod but learn to work with it because it’s essential to capture a sharp, in-focus subject.

The season is just beginning, so here’s hoping you enjoy many months filled with beautiful flower and garden photographs!

Consider a few of the classes listed here to help you with your flower photography.

April 22: Spring Tulips at Sherwood Gardens
May 7: iPhone Walkabout at the U.S. Botanic Gardens
May 13: Rock Creek Park Adventure

All photos by Marie Joabar

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