Photographing Flowers - Part 2
by Kev Vincent
The polarizing filter. Some folks on the internet say that polarizers help improve flower photography...in so much as they intensify the color of foliage, leaves and help reduce things like blue skylight reflection off of berries or small blooms, etc.
Well, I've experimented with one for the past 8 months or so and I'm not convinced that they actually offer any true benefits. In fact, often I find that the polarizer will change the "color hue" of the bloom somewhat and create a different, or even fake looking tone. My Nikon Polarizer II Filter works great for things like skies, water, glass and other outdoor or landscape type situations, but I've chosen not to use it with any of my flower shots, simply because I have not liked the effect it produces. However, as I only shoot on a bright/cloudy day, I don't find reflections or glare to be an issue.
Composition and Crop
Composition and crop are both very important aspects of flower photography. Having a good 'eye' is always a great skill to have...but then again, this would apply to any subject matter, not just plants.
I'm not sure if one can actually teach others to have a 'good eye', it's probably an inherent natural ability that one simply has - or doesn't have.
All I can suggest here is that people photograph things that they feel a very strong emotional connection with.
That way, I believe, there is more likelihood that this inner, latent, subjective, talent will float to the surface and ultimately create a work of art, rather than merely record an event, object or whatever.
With regard to a compositional tool I like to use the Manfrotto 488RC4 Ball Head with my tripod. It has a very smooth action and allows me to get the camera into just about any position I want. Whether one uses a ball head, geared head or 3 way head is just a personal preference. I find this unit works well for me and the included quick release plate is a handy safety feature that I couldn't do without. It's also quick to operate. In just 15-20 seconds I'm usually good to go for the shot...or at least in the relaxed position, before spending a bit more time on the final touches, etc. Combined with the 0X55PROB it only weighs about 6lbs in total, which is a breeze (excuse the pun) to lug around outdoors. There are smaller ball heads out there but I like this one coz it's got that nice solid feel to it. The same applies to my tripod, I specifically chose an aluminum one, instead of carbon fibre, because I wanted a somewhat heavier, more rugged piece of kit.
Something that won't blow away in a sudden gust of wind :-)
My approach is to generally shoot quite close, especially with the larger flowers. Like I said, I view the bloom as the 'face' of a portrait. It's the main character profile, so it needs to be center stage. Upon analyzing my entire flower collection (using Exposure Plot) I see that the majority of my shots are in the 70mm - 85mm (35mm film equiv) focal range. I never use anything close to the 17mm wide angle on my DX format zoom lens for flower pics. It's portrait style most of the time, except for things like delicate arrangements or spring blossoms, which do require a slightly wider frame or further distance from the subject.
As you can see with my Tree Peony photo here, it's a full on, heads up, kind of persona. A very large, deep bloom, so I will nearly always use an f/22 to obtain the greatest DOF possible. The crop is evenly balanced, creating a uniform framing effect around the picture.
Flowers don't have to always be centered of course (just like with my rose shot at the top of this blog) by using the popular standard rule of thirds, quadrant, or diagonal guidelines many unique, different and interesting combinations can be achieved.
However, whatever route you choose to take, do be careful to "balance" the overall frame well. Don't chop off leaves or petals abruptly, let the photograph breathe. I also like to incorporate the 'almost square' viewing ratio, instead of a more traditional portrait of landscape format. This is because it brings the flower more up front and creates a greater binocular sensory presence.
Many people seem to like the 'blurred bokkeh' (background) effect with flower photographs. I too prefer this on occasion, although not always. This is of course merely a human-created visual effect, as everything in the universe is actually 'sharp' unto it's own self. In reality there is no 'depth of field' - this is just how our species perceives the outside world.
The one conundrum that often arises in flower shots is when we want to obtain a large DOF across a flower/plant but also wish to create that very desirable 'blurred' background as well. ie: a 'separation' effect. IF we use an f/22 aperture (for example) in order to capture a good depth across the entire subject, we then also need to position our self so that the background will be a considerable distance away (say 20-30 feet) from the plant. This way both a deep DOF across the flower and a blurred bokkeh can be had.
In the Sir Matt Busby Fuchsia example here we can see this. The bloom itself is very sharp with plenty of critical detail, and the background is blurred adequately enough to create an appealing isolation effect.
One more important thing to consider is optimal subject quality. Always make sure to take pictures when the flowers, leaves, foliage, plants, etc., are looking their very best. This is usually when the flowers are fresh, newly blossomed and in full season.
You wouldn't take a portrait of someone who just crawled out of bed, or who was disheveled, dirty, or had their clothes all messed up, so why consider taking a flower shot in the same manner.
Also, just one more thing before I sign off for now. Prior to pressing the shutter, do carefully survey the complete frame in the viewfinder for any unwanted funky stuff, ie: dead leaves, dried up bits of plant, or even things like dog hairs, litter, and other such items that will just spoil the picture. We are all probably guilty of not doing this at times but a little extra effort sure goes a long way, and it's always a lot easier to fix it right there in real time, in camera, than afterwards in Photoshop.
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Other tutorials in this section
A few tips for the budding wildlife photographer.
Lighting and perspective.
What you need and what to watch out for.
All the settings you need.
Photograph flowers like a professional, what you need to know.
For when you need extra depth of field.
How to get those ultra close-ups in focus.
Shooting a panned sequence of shots and stitching them together to make a panorama.
Techniques to help you capture those golden moments.
Getting the exposure right in all that white.
Tips on how to capture fast action.
Take better holiday photos without losing your sanity.
A complete 'how to' for weddings, with an accent on crowd control.
Bribing people to sit for you.