5 tips for great spring flower photos
Updated: Jul 20
Although I'm primarily a landscape photographer, it's always good to try other photography genres as it helps to increase your skills. During the Covid lockdown I decided to teach myself macro photography in my back garden, and it's something I still do occasionally now life is back to normal. As spring has now definitely sprung, and we are surrounded by beautiful spring flowers, I thought I would give you a few tips on how to take great flower photos.
1. Simplify your composition
Just as in landscape photography, one of the best ways to achieve a pleasing image is to achieve simplicity; so rather than having your frame filled with a random scatter of flowers and other distractions (meaning that the viewer of the photo isn't sure where you want them to look), instead try and create a simple composition. To do this, try and find one flower, or a small number of flowers which are isolated from the rest, and concentrate your composition on them (remember the rule of odds; one or three flowers is visually better than two or four!).
An alternative (and the method used for the tulip photo below) is to use cut flowers, as these can more easily be isolated from their surroundings, and placed in a vase in a pleasing way.
2. Get up close
Unless you're going for a minimalist look, with a tiny flower in lots of space, you'll want to get up close to your subject so that it makes up a big proportion of your photo. All lenses have a minimum distance at which they will focus, and this can often be quite a distance away (usually 20cm to a metre or more), so this is your first challenge to overcome if you want to make your flower the star of the photo.
The best way to be able to get close to your subject is to invest in a specific macro lens. As well as providing a suitable magnification factor (so your flower is life size or bigger), macros lenses are also designed to have a small focus distance, usually less than 10cm. This means that you can get up close to your subject and still able to focus.
An alternative is to use a telephoto lens; although it may have a very long minimum focus distance (my 70-200mm lens has a minimum focus distance of more than a metre), however, although you can't get physically close, using a telephoto means that you can zoom in, effectively making the subject appear closer and larger.
3. Find or create a simple background
You want your flower (or flowers) to be the star of your photo, and the last thing you want is a cluttered background to distract the viewer from looking at your lovely flowers! So as well as trying to find simplicity through an isolated flower (tip #1) you can take this simplicity a step further by finding an uncluttered background too. So as well as finding an isolated subject, try and find one which has a simple background (such as a fence or hedge) rather than clutter. You can also consider engineering a simple background by placing some card (plain or coloured) behind the subject.
Pro tip: In the tulip photo below, I have created my own simple background by producing a dark background myself. This was done by underexposing the photo and using a flash to add a pop of light to the flowers. The flash light doesn't travel far, and so the underexposure of the scene has created a very dark background behind the flowers, which is further enhanced to black in post processing.
4. Pro tip! Use a shallow depth of field
EIf you know how to use your camera to change the aperture, then you can enhance the simplicity of the background (and therefore emphasise the main subject) by using a large aperture to create an out of focus background. This works well, but it's very important to also know how to focus effectively so that you can make sure your flower (or at least part of it) is in crisp focus. For tips on focussing, see my blog post on focus modes, and my blog post on focus areas
If you use this technique, you will want to use a tripod to take your photos. This is because if you use a shallow depth of field, and are trying to focus close up to a subject, your depth of field (the plane that is in focus) can be extremely narrow; this means that if you focus on the front of the flower, the back of the flower may be out of focus, so you will want to control where you are focussing very carefully, and preventing camera movement by using a tripod can help. It also helps to choose a calm day so the flower isn't moving too!
5. Think about light
As will all other genres of photography, light is critical. It might seem strange, but if your photographing flowers outdoors, often cloudy days can be better than sunny ones! The problem with sunny days (especially in the middle of the day) is that the sun can produce strong contrast and harsh shadows which makes taking great photos tricky. Cloud cover on the other hand produces lovely soft, diffuse light which can be perfect for delicate flower photography. If you are photographing on a sunny day, then wait until the golden hour, an hour or so before sunset, when the light will be softer and have a golden glow.
Pro tip! You can of course manage the light yourself (as I have done in the tulip photo below) by using a flash, or a LED light to add light to the subject and overcome some of the ambient light. This takes some experimentation to get right (flash strength, direction etc) but can give great results.