#15 in the Judging a Photograph Series
I do like taking pictures of flowers. They are beautiful, colourful, varied, and unlike my children they don’t jump up and run away. They look good in large displays or in extreme close-up. This makes them an easy subject to approach. Despite this, I do take a lot of bad photos of flowers before I get it right, especially close-up and macro images.
The tricky things about taking close-ups of photos of flowers are (1) getting the depth of field on the flower right, (2) getting the background right and (3) getting the contrast right. It’s true that these are pretty standard challenges for any photograph. The difference with flower close-ups is that tiny adjustments make a huge difference.
Depth of Field for a Flower
I love photos with a shallow depth of field but most flowers are very three-dimensional and do not fit easily into a really narrow plane of sharp focus. I get the petals in focus, but the stemen end up blurry. Or the centre of the flower is in focus, but half the petals are blurry. It’s easily done, and often it’s a mistake that I don’t realise I have made until later when I’m looking at my photos on a computer. I need to make the depth of field a bit wider.
Knocking Out the Background
A nice out-of-focus background (bokeh) with a narrow depth of field is a perfect way to set off a flower photo. However if I open up the depth of field a bit wider I can end up with blades of grass and twigs making hard lines and angles in the background. So I need to move; either take a step backwards and zoom in, or try getting closer and zoom out. It is definitely worth trying both because it depends so much on your camera equipment.
Making the Contrast Pop
Flowers in nature are usually light objects in amongst green grass or leaves which are also light. The flower might not stand out. If I can find a brown background of branches or leaf mould, the flower in contrast is going to just pop out of the frame beautifully. If the flower is in dappled sunlight and the background is in shade, this also works well.
I took these two photos of bluebells in the same woodland one morning. The first has a nice background but not perfect as there’s still a lot of texture near the bottom. The whole flower is in focus but the background is so bright that it is distracting. It’s shot at 1/200 sec f4.0 ISO200.*
Both photos are shot at 100mm* focal length but for the second one I got in closer. I found a flower in the light against a brown background and shot it at 1/125 sec on f3.5*. That’s a narrower depth of field but big enough to get the forward flowers of the cluster in focus. The shutter speed was a bit too slow but I was leaning on a log.
I still need a lot of luck to shoot a good flower photo. I can never really see what I’ve done in the viewing screen of the camera and I always forget about the contrast issue which I’ve discussed. So I am really pleased with this bluebell. I’m going to put it on my wall.
Are you drawn to take photos of flowers like me? Or what is your favourite type of photography? Please let me know in the comments.
*NB this is shot on an APS-C sensor camera and I have not scaled-up the data.
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