Scientists estimate there are some 400,000 flowering plant species on earth. They are believed to have been essential to the evolution of many species on the planet, including ours. They are found on every continent, including two species found in Antarctica! And, every one of them has unique shapes, textures, and colors that make them great photographic subjects.
Flowers make great subjects for photographers looking to practice their macro photography skills. Their accessibility means you won’t have to go far to find a subject. Your backyard garden will do just fine, but here are 7 macro flower photography tips that can help you can get stunning flower shots:
1. Use a Tripod
If there’s one rule of flower photography, it’s use a tripod. Shooting without a tripod will simply be too unsteady since even slight movements will cause a blur. You’ll have enough problems trying to keep your subject steady as even the slightest breeze can blur your image, so don’t add to that by taking hand-held macro photos. Using a tripod will also force you to slow down and take your time getting the composition just right.
Along with the tripod, using a wired cable shutter release or a wireless trigger will allow you to take the shot without touching the camera. If you don’t have either, you can set your camera’s self-timer to take the shot, but be sure to set it to 2 seconds instead of 10 or you will feel like shooting the image takes forever.
As with any job, the equipment is half the battle. The choice of camera equipment is a personal one, but there are some general tips that can help you choose what works best for you. At a minimum, you’ll need the camera body, a macro lens, a light diffuser, a reflector, and a tripod. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not as much as you think.
You can use a couple of pieces of white and wax paper for light reflectors and diffusers. If you choose a lightweight tripod, that just leaves your camera with the macro lens attached–usually a 100mm macro lens works best–and perhaps an infrared (IR) wireless shutter release or a trigger cable. The heaviest part of your equipment is likely to be the camera (with the lens) itself.
Minimizing your equipment will help to lighten your load on those longer nature walks, but if you’re inclined to bring more, a plamp might be just what you need. A plamp, or plant clamp, consists of two clamps on either end of an articulating arm, but it needn’t be an expensive item. You can even make one yourself.
The goal is to have it stabilize your subject, in this case the stem of a flower. Two small to medium-sized clamps and about two feet of flexible wire will do the trick. One clamp is attached to the tripod leg or some other sturdy feature such as a small tree. The other clamp is attached to the flower’s stem, but be sure to use some foam material inside the clamp to keep from crushing the stem. These can come in handy as well for holding things like your light diffuser or reflector or to keep other items out of the shot, so you might want more than one.
You’ll want to consider weather conditions and the time of day that works best for your shoot. Early morning and late afternoon are times when the light is softer than what you’ll encounter at midday, but the end of the day has a warmer light. It really depends on what you’re hoping to accomplish, but these are things to consider so that you can be properly prepared.
Wintertime photographs of flowers covered with raindrops are every bit as beautiful as springtime blooms in the sun. It all depends on the mood you want to create. You can also create certain conditions on the shoot by spritzing the flowers with water. That serves to clean the flower off as well as create interesting beads on the petals. It’s an easy way to set the mood that just takes a little planning.
After the planning and with equipment in hand, you’ve now arrived at the subject. You’re ready to begin shooting. But, before you begin, you now need to consider the composition of your shots. Following the rule of thirds by offsetting your main subject and making good use of negative space can create an interesting image.
You’ll also want to consider the angle of your shot as well. You might, for example, decide to shoot down inside the petals. By increasing the magnification, you can create not just a photograph of a flower, but a true abstract work of art.
5. Light Control
Light control is one of the most important considerations for macro photography of flowers. While you can’t do anything to control the sun or the clouds, you can reflect or diffuse the available light. Camera reflector kits are inexpensive and lightweight, but if you don’t have one, you can use something as simple as a white sheet of paper or foam board to reflect light and translucent wax paper to diffuse it, thereby creating a softer light.
If sunlight just isn’t enough or isn’t quite right, you can also resort to artificial light to enhance the shot. LED lighting is now the main source for continuous photographic lighting. For the purpose of macro photography, two small LED bulbs on the end of articulating arms and mounted to the top of your camera will allow you to apply precise light spots, adding texture and volume to your flower shots.
If LED lights are not enough, you can also use flash lighting. It’s more powerful and usually overpowers the natural light, but it allows you to freeze movement, and in the case of insufficient light, you can create images that would otherwise be impossible.
6. Camera Settings – Depth of Field and Shutter Speed
Controlling the distance between the nearest and furthest objects in focus in your scene can help you create a unique, interesting image. For example, you can achieve better background separation and a cleaner composition with a shallower depth of field. To do this, you can play with your f stops to see which works best for your particular shot.
Because you are so close to your subject, you’ll usually want to stop your lens down (increase the aperture number) to f/11, f/16, or even f/22. Doing so will usually require you to lower your shutter speed or raise the ISO–i.e., your camera’s sensitivity to light–to compensate for the smaller lens opening.
Your shutter speed, however, is important for freezing the action. It might not seem like there’s much action, but even the slightest breeze can blur your image. So, you might have to play with the settings to find the sweet spot for your particular scene. For this reason, it also pays to use live view where you can see the image on your LCD screen before you shoot.
It might even be worth backing up a bit and cropping the image in closer in post-production. The megapixels of modern digital cameras allow for aggressive cropping without sacrificing the quality of the image.
7. High Dynamic Range (HDR)
Sometimes, no matter what you do, you just can’t get the right exposure, and neither can your camera. That’s where HDR photography can come in handy. It’s a function that prompts the camera to take 3, 5, 7, or even 9 images at different exposures. Then, the images are blended together in post production. If done correctly, the resulting image has the perfect exposure and it won’t even be evident that HDR was used.
The technique has received criticism, but mostly because it can be overdone and the resulting images don’t look natural. If you use it with care, however, this technique can be a great tool that gives you more flexibility in certain circumstances.
Flowers are one of the most beautiful and intriguing macro photography subjects, and while it might seem like an easy shoot, not all flower photographs are created equal. You might not even realize some of the challenges–like breezes–that can affect your images. And, as with any subject, there are tips and tricks for getting the best images possible.
Some of those tips rely on your creativity and ability to plan to get the image you want. Making sure you have the right equipment, including a tripod and light reflectors/diffusers, is essential to creating good macro images. But, your creativity in composing your shots and adding details (like water beads) is also essential. You also need to have a good understanding of the camera’s settings.
Adjusting your depth of field and shutter speed will help you create interesting images. Additionally, controlling the light by using reflectors/diffusers, and even artificial light, will add texture and volume to your flower photographs.
Finally, understanding how new techniques, such as HDR photography, can be used properly gives you an edge when it comes to getting a macro shot as beautiful as the flower itself.