Do you aspire to take stunning still life flower photographs? Here are some top tips for shooting floral still lifes.
Top 10 tips for still life flower photos
1. Natural light
If you don’t have studio lighting when shooting a flower still life, natural daylight can be just as effective. Try to find the biggest window in your house and consider the direction that the window faces. For example, a north-facing window will provide a cool and even lighting throughout the day. Tape large sheets of tracing paper to the window to diffuse harsh sunlight, and use reflectors to create a fill-in light and to avoid harsh shadows.
2. Tricks of the Trade
Trestle legs – available from DIY stores, these allow you to create a working area near your preferred light source. Adjustable legs mean you can work at a comfortable height and save your back!
Blu-Tak – Small amounts can hold delicate petals in place, while larger amounts firmly hold reflectors.
Water spray – Use sparingly to refresh flowers or add a little oil to create more stable droplets of water for leaf macros.
Reflectors – If you don’t have commercial reflectors, save foil food packaging to create your own mini reflectors.
Plastic Tubes – Can be used to help preserve the flower’s life while it is being photographed, and removes the need for a vase.
3. Essential Equipment
Camera – You can start by using what is already available to you, like a smartphone or a compact camera with macro mode. If you are more serious about flower and macro photography you might want to invest in a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a dedicated macro lens.
Tripod – Essential for close-up work and home studio or low-light conditions. An ideal tripod for outdoor close-up flower work will need to be able to get very low, as your subject matter may only be a few feet higher than ground level.
Macro Lens – Vital for capturing close-up details. A longer lens with a macro setting allows a greater working distance between the subject and lens. Extension tubes can be added to prime lenses if you don’t have a dedicated macro lens. Small aperture lenses of around f/1.4-2.8 are more expensive and only necessary if you want an extreme amount of defocus and less contrast.
Cable or Remote Release – Prevents camera shake or any movement of a delicate subject. Also useful if working alone as you can hold reflectors near your subject and still be able to release the shutter.
4. The Right Subject
Simple graphic-shaped flowers such as gerberas have stunning visual impact and come in a great range of strong colours. Roses are great for texture and close-up shots. Multiple flower heads placed close together fill the frame for full impact. Exotic leaves often used to fill out a bouquet can make for an interesting abstract.
Also, try to find a good local florist who can supply the best quality of flowers. They might also be able to get a particular flower or plant from their local flower wholesaler. While this does mean you’ll have to buy 10 or more stems of one particular flower, it means that you’ll be able to get the very best quality and a real variety. If you buy through your florist it will cost more than wholesale but it will save you having to get up at 5am!
Make the most out of your flowers and photograph their life cycle as their colour, texture and shape changes, they convey the passing of time and create a different mood. Wildflowers and plants can make an interesting and cheap subject. If you are on a budget take a look in your garden or keep an eye out on your daily walks.
I prefer to compose in camera rather than later, in Photoshop. Attention to detail is very important for a still-life image. Take time to think about where you place your subject matter in the frame. When choosing what to photograph, ensure there are no imperfections as these are magnified when working in close-up, dead or damaged leaves or petals should be removed before shooting. Look at the shape of the stems as well as the flower head. A quick way to create strong visual impact is to shoot overhead.
6. Depth of Field
Aim to get just enough of the scene in focus to capture the detail of the flower but not the background, unless it’s part of your composition. Throwing the background out of focus, either by using a wider aperture or placing the background far enough away from your subject, can also be a great way of hiding imperfections. A shallow depth of field can also be used to draw the eye to a single flower or stamen. The depth of field preview button allows you to see what will and won’t be in focus. In this image, I have used a piece of chiffon material to enhance the softness of the petals and increase the shallow depth of field.
For a different look you can try focus stacking to keep your entire shot sharp and overcome the limitations of depth of field. Some cameras offer built-in focus stacking options, but a dedicated software is recommended to achieve the best results.
7. Use Props
Still-life photographers have a huge collection of props and backgrounds to choose from that, with careful selection, can help create an attractive composition and enhance your subject. Look to see what you have at home first. Perhaps you have wrapping paper, wallpaper or unusual fabrics. You can collect in your area natural elements like branches and rocks to include in your compositions.
Wrapping paper and fabrics can act well as backgrounds. Or you can purchase thicker, coloured cards in craft stores, these hold well on their own without further support. Using these you can create your own backgrounds by painting or use plaster to add a weathered or even geometric texture.
You might want to start collecting interesting vessels to place your flowers in. Car boot sales and charity shops are great places to find inexpensive and unusual vases. Make sure, though, that there are no visible cracks or chips to the part you want to include in your composition.
8. Colour Confidence
A colour wheel or circle is traditionally used in the field of art and provides a useful guide for creating colour harmony. Colour harmony creates visual interest and a sense of order. When something is not harmonious, it looks either boring or chaotic.
One way of creating harmony is by using complementary colours. This is any two colours which are directly opposite each other on the wheel, such as red and green and red-purple and yellow-green. Opposing colours, such as purple and yellow, create maximum contrast and make a bold statement.
9. White Background
Achieving a clean white background is one of the ultimate tests for a still life flower photographer. In the northern hemisphere the cool colour temperature of the light creates a blue cast. This is more noticeable in images that have white as the predominant colour.
Fortunately, digital cameras allow us to vary the colour balances and, to some extent, the contrast or dynamic range. The best way to achieve a correct white balance is to use the Custom or Manual white balance mode.
By simply pointing the camera to a sheet of white A4 paper under the lighting conditions you are working in, a proper balance of colours can be set. Be careful not to underexpose your image as this will result in a grey rather than white background. Shooting in Raw format will allow you to make all these adjustments to the images at the post-production stage.
10. Sympathetic Lighting
Controlling your lighting is key to producing a successful still life flower image. Think about what kind of lighting would complement your subject and choice of background. Consider how hard light helps to create strong, crisp shadows and exaggerate contrast while diffused light helps create soft and dreamy images.
The direction and intensity of lighting matters too. Lighting from the side, for example, throws long shadows and enhances rough textures. If you have a translucent subject or one with a strong graphic shape you may want to backlight it.
For soft, even light such as this try window light on an overcast day, but enhance it with silver reflectors otherwise it will be too flat. During the winter months, consider using a flash with a diffuser to enhance the available light or gold reflectors to bounce light to your subject and warm the colder colour temperature.
Article originally written and shared by botanical photographer Emma Peios in 2012
Featured image: Annie Spratt via Unsplash
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