Friday, February 27, 2015

Spring Interlude: Flower Photography Tips

Hello all! We've had a bit of warm weather down here in Texas, so spring flowers have already started blooming. I thought I would take the opportunity to talk a bit more about flower photography basics.

Let's get started.

Step One: Think about Focus

Flowers are complicated because they have lots of parts. Think about it: there are petals, leaves, stamens, and maybe even other features designed to attract pollinators. From a nature photography standpoint, these many pieces create a problem, because each exists in a different plane of focus. The pistils and stamens leap forward, leaves droop back toward the ground, and petals hover delicately in between. You can't really capture all of these elements in crisp focus in one frame - so what do you focus on?

Take these two photos, for example. Which one do you like best? You can see that the focus is slightly different between them, with the second image focusing on the pistils closest to the viewer, rendering the center of the flower soft.

I actually prefer the first image, but I didn't know this while I was shooting. This brings me to my point about how to solve the focus problem - you should experiment in the field, taking different pictures of the same flower but changing your point of focus. Manual focus is very helpful for this.

Step Two: Corral a Composition

Flowers seem to pose one of two compositional problems for the photographer: they are either spectacularly, awkwardly alone, or are clumsily smashed together with many of their brethren. How do you address these problems?

The Awkward Loner

There are a couple ways to deal with the awkward loner. One method, as demonstrated in the photo above, is to include other elements of the plant in the picture. Here, the diagonal branch adds dynamic movement to a static picture of a red flower, alone. The small, green leaves lend contrast and extra detail that help situate the flower in its environment. In short, take a picture of the whole plant, rather than just the flower. This is also a good tip if you do not own macro equipment.

The other treatment the awkward loner often gets is demonstrated by the pictures I showed you earlier. Here, let's look at one again.

A frame-filling macro eliminates the clumsiness of a big flower on a tall, spindly stalk. The downside of this method is that it requires dedicated macro equipment.

The "Too Many Friends" Flower 

Ever try to take a group picture? How about a group picture of children? Then you already know what I'm talking about when I discuss the difficulty of achieving a coherent composition in group photos. Sometimes flowers grow in groups. They grow haphazardly, aggressively, each straining toward the sun in a different direction. It can be difficult to create a pleasing image in these circumstances.

There are a couple of things to consider:

1. Use depth of field to your advantage. You can see in the image above that the flowers in the background are in a different plane of focus from the subject flower. Thus they are softer and not as distracting.

2. Get closer. Crop distracting elements out of the frame, such as large leaves or flowers that are steadfastly not helping your composition.

3. Understand the motion of the picture. Flowers can be difficult to photograph because they are static and can become boring. A group of flowers can lend interest. Notice how the subject flower is pointing upward, while the background flowers are pointing down. This visual conflict simulates motion and encourages the viewer to keep looking.

All right! Those are my solutions to some of the biggest problems I struggle with in flower photography. Now it's your turn - what are some of your best tips for flower photography?

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