Photographing Flowers--Some Useful Tips
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
How can you make your flower photos worth at least a thousand words? Here are a few tips I've learned over the years, after taking about 50,000 slides of gardens and flowers, that you might also find useful. They mainly relate to lighting and composition.
First, unless you have a really steady hand or are in a hurry, use a tripod. Inexpensive ones will help you take better photos, but better, usually more expensive, ones allow you much more flexibility. Tripods help you get sharper photos. But keep in mind that some public gardens may require permission to use a tripod.
Early in the day, usually before 10 a.m., and later in the afternoon, usually after 4 p.m., are the best times of the day to photograph in general. The sun is lower at these times and not as bright, so colors are often more vivid and warm.
A bright, but cloudy, day will prevent ruining a good shot with pronounced shadows. This type of day is great for close-ups. A fill-in flash, such as now found on most automatic cameras, or provided by traditional flashes, also will help get rid of shadows. If using a traditional flash, set it for less power as otherwise the flower may be too bright. Silver reflectors that you can purchase in photo shops or even aluminum foil on cardboard can be used to reflect light on a flower in the dark or to dispel shadows. But again, make sure you don't add too much light.
If you have to shoot on a bright day, a polarizing filter (not possible on many automatic cameras) will help. This also can create dramatic effects at sunset. Foggy water lilies reminiscent of Monet's paintings, flowers appearing as stars, and odd colors are some of the special effects I've played with using other filters. Dramatic effects also can be achieved after a rain shower, or even by watering with the hose, adding water droplets to leaves and flowers.
Professional photographers often "bracket" their shot. That is, they take three--one at the setting their light meter indicates, one with the lens slightly more open (more light), one with it slightly more closed (less light). This way they make sure the lighting is just right. Otherwise, the light may be just right on part of your picture, but not the part you like the best.
One of the main keys to a good photo is good composition. By this, I mean what is in the picture. Those with a good sense of composing pictures are said to have "an eye for photography." Decide what you are photographing (shooting), and fill the frame with only this image. This could be a whole vista or a single flower. If a vista, try to take the photo so roads, adjacent buildings, or undesirable sites are NOT in your camera viewfinder.
Some of the best composed photos are those that show a flower, a vista, a plant, or a border. With too much in a photo, it may appear too busy. It may look like you just took a picture, point and shoot so to speak, with no thought as to what you were photographing.
Some photographers like people in all their photos, but I generally don't when photographing gardens. I will, however, take a photo with a person or two in it if trying to show the scale--the relative size of a plant for instance. A 20-foot high rhododendron may not look that big in a photo, unless a five-foot person is standing next to it.
"Framing" is also useful for vistas. All this means is adding something close up around the edges, or to an edge, which, in effect, creates a "frame" around your view and so of your photo. This might be achieved by taking a picture through a hole in a fence, an opening in a hedge, between trees or flowers on either side, or even with a weeping branch on one side of your photo such as along the top.
If photographing a single flower, pay attention to what is also in the background? Get the right angle so you don't see items like a garden hose, other flowers not of interest, and especially not your feet!
Think before you shoot, and you should have more good than bad garden and flower photos.
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