Photographing Flowers In Your Home
With florists in the High Street, the profusion of garden centres and even supermarkets selling cut flowers there are still opportunities for the flower photographer to get in some detailed work and practice even if you don’t have a garden or are unable due to season, weather or disability to be able to get out to the many Gardens Open to the Public. All you need is good quality flowers, a few props and a mini indoor studio.
Flowers come in all types, shapes, varieties, sizes and colours. You can get coverage from single stem cut flowers, through to small plants that will fit in a window box or indoor pot plants, or others that will go into containers as well as in your garden. Even for the outdoors there is some form of flower available all year round. Transporting a container in from outdoors is both heavy and messy, so here we are going to concentrate on photographing the indoor pot plant or cut flowers you can get from florists or supermarkets.
Supermarkets generally sell bouquets of flowers usually arranged in some manner, and you have the opportunity to photograph the full set or to take it apart and do the individual stem. The quality that you get from your local supermarket will vary with the time of day you buy them and how long they have had them on display, but generally if you can buy bouquets that have a number of buds in them as well as those already in flower, you can photograph them at this stage and in a few days, have the opportunity to photograph them again when fully out. Choosing your bouquet could be difficult with all the different colours, some will have the flowers at different stages in their lifecycle in different bouquets, so it may be necessary to buy a couple of bouquets to get the combination that you require. Don’t however get carried away and buy too many, unless you are going to photograph them over a number of days, you’ll be surprised how long you can spend photographing flowers in all their combinations.
Florists also sell bouquets, but the main advantage with a florist is that you can buy single stems, and only need to buy what you need, when you need it. You can choose the best quality stem they have and be picky, buy those that you want to photograph, have the flexibility of building your own designed bouquet or getting the florist to do the design for you. If the florist is close to you, you can buy what you need for that particular photo shoot and can buy the best specimen in full flower. You can also ask the florist what each one you have chosen is called, remember to get both it’s common name and it’s official name, especially if you are expecting to get the photographs into publications, or picture libraries who usually want this information.
Treating cut flowers when you get them home
When you get cut flowers home you need them to look good for a reasonable amount of time. So I have found doing the following steps I have been able to keep cut flowers for 3-4 weeks. You do loose some along the way, they naturally go over but others that are in bud can last this long. Take the following steps and you should end up with flowers you can photograph a number of times over a period.
Take a clean vase and half fill it with water. If your bouquet came with a sachet of plant food, then mix this in.
Diagonally cut the bottom of the stem off about 2cm up. Use a good pair of cutters/scissors so that the stem doesn’t get crushed or bruised.
Remove all foliage that is going to be below the water level. Left it will just wither and is of no use anyway.
Arrange in a suitable vase.
Place the vase in a position out of direct sunlight, away from draughts and heat sources.
When photographing them, even if doing single stems the answer is to keep them in water in between shots.
If they are still good after a week, then cut off a further 2cm diagonally, and any excess foliage below the new water line, remove any dead flowers, or petals from roses etc and replace the water, adding more plant food. You may need to change vases if the stems are now shorter than the rim of the vase you have been using. Repeat this task until you have had enough of them or they are completely gone over.
The term studio in the case of flower photography doesn’t have to be a large open space, just enough room to set up the equipment required (see below) and for you to move about. If you don’t have the obvious of a garden shed, garage or some other space that you can use then you can set up a temporary studio within your own living space. This could be a front room, conservatory, guest bedroom or any other space in your home. Unlike portrait photographers, who need a decent sized working area to get in people of all different sizes, flowers are small, so the amount of room required to set up your mini studio is not that great.
Which lens you decide to use will be down to your own choice, however you will find that a 60mm lens or setting a zoom at 60mm, which gives greater depth of field, will be ideal for indoor studio photography, particularly for doing flower displays. Larger lenses such as a 105mm would be okay for single stem and close ups of buds, flower heads, but for doing flower displays you would need a much larger working area/studio to get the correct depth of field. Zoom and prime lenses all have a closest working distance, and you may need a macro lens to get close enough to photograph flower heads or buds, I use both 60mm and 105mm macro lenses. Zoom lenses can be used, providing that you watch the minimum working distance. Besides your camera and lenses, you will also find the following useful:-
Lights – ideally would be flash lights, which can be two or more separate flash units or studio lights or even just fixed lights, like Cool-Lite’s, targeted on the subject.
Lighting Stands – to hold the flash lights, reflectors etc. These are very similar to tripods and have the ability to be raised and lowered to the required height.
Light Cube – these come in different sizes and types, see Looking at Light Cubes for more on this. The advantage of a light cube is that the white sides can be used as a diffuser, generally they also come with coloured backgrounds as well as both black and white.
Reflectors – another way of moving light about, particularly if multiple flash units are not available. You can use them to redirect the light source into shadow areas. See our article on Using Reflectors.
Flash metre – when using studio flash or fixed lighting you can use a flash metre to measure the amount of light on the subject for the ISO setting you are using. The reading gives you the aperture (f stop) you need to set the camera at for the speed you want. If you don’t have a flash metre it is not essential as you can work it out for yourself by using the Flash Guide Numbers on your flash unit. If you are using the Nikon creative lighting system, your camera and flash can work out the exposure without the need for a flash metre.
Optional Wireless Transmitter – used between camera and flash lights to avoid cables running everywhere – encourages manoeuvrability on the part of the photographer.
Optional tethered or wireless operation with a computer allowing pictures as taken to appear on the computer and often for camera settings to be changed from the computer.
As well as the photographic equipment needed to run an indoor flower studio you will also need some props. These props will be used to enhance your images by allowing different background colours, having objects to support them like vases or for single stems some form of gripper/holder, alternatively if creating still life images then you may want to include more than just flowers, like fruit, objects etc.
the lights from the flash as they go off. To overcome this use a light cube and have the light come through the cloth, this diffused light gives a much softer and pleasing image anyway. If you don’t have a light cube use brollies or a reflector so you can point the light away from the subject and bounce it back or a diffuser or softbox to shine the light through.
a reflection of you taking the picture. You could use a wireless remote or remote cord to set off the shutter which would allow you to stay some distance out of the way/away from the scene. If you don’t have one of these you can use the self timer.
a reflection of the camera and lens. If you are using a light cube and a wireless remote or remote cord to get you out of the shot, but the camera is still being reflected, then use the front cover of the light cube over the camera and put the lens through the hole provided.
Water effects – adding water globules on flower heads or leaves can add depth, texture and a focal point to a close up. Water can also add sheen to something that may look a little dull. Used wisely and creatively it can look pleasing. One thing to watch out for with water globules is their reflective properties as close-ups could produce images of the camera or flash lights in the water. One way of adding the water is with a mist spray.
I hope this has provided some inspiration and ideas for you to have a go at flower photography. Also if you want some help on what you can do with the photos now you have them then take a look at our article Uses of Garden Photography, as many of the outlets here are similar.
Photographing Flowers In Your Home With florists in the High Street, the profusion of garden centres and even supermarkets selling cut flowers there are still opportunities for the flower
How to Photograph Flowers
I know what you’re thinking. “Flowers? Really? Didn’t he just write about shooting football?” As a matter of fact, I did. I shoot lots of different things– a statement which frustrates the hell out of business mentors and advisers who like to talk about branding, creating your niche, and attracting the right kind of client. And they’re right. After all, clients want to know that you do precisely what they need you to do seven days a week and twice on Sunday. Makes sense. But I was a lawyer for fourteen years. Photography was my hobby for a long time before I ever even thought of trading in my briefcase for a camera bag ten years ago. So, yes. We’re going to talk about photographing flowers– in many ways the ideal subject. Flowers are pretty, but they don’t require a hair and makeup team on set. They are neither moody nor volatile, and never cop an attitude. They don’t require a specific brand of expensive water secretly bottled straight from a hidden stream in Madagascar, and they are never late for a shoot. Never.
But seriously. I love shooting flowers. My wife is actually convinced that I buy them for myself and not her anymore. She’s (mostly) wrong, but I do take advantage of them while I can. As with so much of what we do in photography, there are at least two ways of going about this– ridiculously expensive or affordable. Guess which way we’re going.
IT’S NOT AS EASY AT IT LOOKS
“How can it not be as easy as it looks?” you’re asking. They just stand there perfectly still. Get them near the light, push the button, we’re done, right? Not so fast. I was at a seminar one time where Joe McNally said, “If you want to take more interesting pictures, you need to stand in front of more interesting stuff.” While I would never (EVER) presume to improve upon his wisdom, my own personal addendum to this guideline is, “But if you’re not going to stand in front of more interesting stuff, at least pick a more interesting angle.” Six of us can stand around in a circle over the same flower, shoot straight down at it, and end up with six almost identical photos. Boring, right? Of course it is. If you are going to stand an average distance from something, shooting it at an average angle with average camera settings, you are going to get average photos. Personally, I’d rather not settle for average. So get down low. Shoot across it. Shoot under it. I actually really like photographing flowers from behind. It’s not a mortal sin if you take that straight-down-the-middle shot. No long arm of a photography god is going to descend from the heavens and snatch your camera away. But promise me that once you take that straight-down-the-middle shot and get it out of your system, you’ll get down on your knees, or into a chair, or on your back, or anywhere else you need to be in order to achieve that interesting angle.
You’ll see some macro photographers really go all out on these images. While a really good macro lens or a tripod with an inverted center column can help create some truly stunning images, they aren’t always necessary. Regular zooms can serve you just as well. Every photo in this article was taken hand-held with one of three lenses: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 (GASP! A kit lens!), or my iPhone. Never underestimate the value of a tripod for this kind of work. I don’t often use one because I tend to have pretty steady hands, but having a tripod on hand is never a bad thing. Nature tends to provide some pretty great backgrounds, but isolating a single flower on a black or white background can often make for some very compelling images. A yard or two of black velvet from a fabric store or a poster-size piece of white foam core from an office supply store are simple, effective, and very budget-friendly options for getting that high-contrast look, indoors or out. You could waste a lot of time creating these backgrounds in Photoshop, by why would you when the in-camera solution is so much easier? The last piece of gear you’ll find useful is very high-tech. A spray bottle with water will let you fake that just-rained-on look. Just make sure it’s set to a fine mist, rather than a full spray.
As with any photo, finding the right angle only gets you halfway there. Don’t forget everything you know about composition. The usual considerations– Rule of Thirds, negative space, balance, etc.– all still come into play. One of the advantages of a regular zoom lens over a macro is that by filling the frame with your flower subject, it becomes that much easier to blur out your background. Start by focusing on one particular flower or a small cluster of flowers in the arrangement. As you lock focus you will see the depth-of-field effect in your viewfinder. Make sure that you don’t overdo it on the DOF. Depending on your composition and camera settings, you could easily blur out your foreground. Start with your widest aperture. but make sure you try several different combinations of aperture and shutter speed. Your model is not going to get bored and give you a hard time. Take advantage of this chance to achieve the look you want. Remember that sometimes the whole is not always as interesting as its individual parts. Focus in on details and textures. Make it interesting.
HOW AND WHEN TO LIGHT IT — INDOORS AND OUT
Ultimately, diffused natural light is always at the top of my wish list. Direct sunlight is going to blow out the subtleties and textures you’re trying so hard to capture. As with all indoor lighting, time is less of an obstacle than when you shoot outside. Outdoor light doesn’t care if you are photographing flowers, portraits, or a football game. Light is light and its properties don’t change. Just like we get the best portrait and landscape light right after the sun comes up and just before it goes down, the same goes for flowers. We really want that soft, beautiful light to enhance these images, not overpower them. For that, nothing beats an overcast or cloudy day– Mother Nature’s very own soft box. For inside, use the biggest window you can find. The side-lighting it provides will add more dimension than flat lighting from above the flower. Whatever you do, experiment with your light. Pay attention to where it falls and the shadows it creates. You can also be sure that patience and time spent here will dramatically benefit your portrait work as well.
TAMING THE WIND
As much as I try to never take my camera out of Manual mode, an argument can be made that exposure modes are there for a reason. This would be one of those. When shooting outside, even the slightest breeze can give you fits. Try switching you camera into shutter priority mode and dial in a shutter speed of 1/250 or faster. The fast shutter speed should negate the effects of the breeze. I’m not a huge fan of exposure modes and relinquishing control of my settings (one reason why we’re not talking about your camera’s macro setting in this article), but this is a simple and effective way to remove one of the obstacles in your path.
My philosophy on editing these images is the same as my approach to portraits. If you read my post on Basic Skin Smoothing in Photoshop, you know that when people look at my photos I want them to say, “That’s a beautiful ______,” not “Wow, nice editing.” A slight levels adjustment and contrast bump should really be all they need. Anything much stronger than that is going to come dangerously close to wiping out the texture and any of the natural feel to the overall image.
Now go buy some flowers and let me know how it goes.
I know what you're thinking. "Flowers? Really? Didn't he just write about shooting football?" As a matter of fact, I.