Here are my awesome tips for amazing flower photography. I'm pro photographer Don Orkoskey and I've been taking flower photos and nature photos of all types for over twenty years. I've also been teaching nature photography for more than 15 years. I developed all of these tips over the years teaching my photography classes.
Talking to my students who love to photograph flowers I've paid attention to the things that made the biggest impact for them. The results are these awesome tips for amazing flower photography.
Choose Your Light
Think like a photographer and learn how to choose your light. Choose the type of sunlight you're taking flower photos in by the way that light will make your flowers look.
How to Choose Your Light
The time of day and weather conditions are the biggest factors in how to choose your light. Overcast days give us soft light, as does shade. Bright sunny days where we can see our own shadow give us harsh light that can be overpowering in the highlights and super dark in the shadows. Both have their place but select the one that best fits the mood you're going for.
Overcast days give you soft light. This is very even light that wraps around flowers. This type of light is easiest to take pictures of flowers in. It makes delicate flowers look more delicate. These light conditions allow your camera to more easily see the detail in everything and to get the exposure correct. If you like this softer, possibly even dreamy look then go out on overcast days.
The truth is that we can't control the weather so if you're looking for soft light on a bright sunny day head for the shade and photograph flowers that are not in direct sunlight. Choosing the right time of day will help a lot with this.
As most flowers grow best when they get a lot of sun try to find flowers that are on a west facing slope with a lot of trees around them first thing in the morning or an east facing slope later in the day. Just remember that if it's very hot flowers can wilt or look a bit sad in the late afternoon. This is why mornings are ideal times to photograph flowers.
While flowers seem like they should be photographed in soft, even light that's not always true. Some flowers lend themselves well to bright sun and deep shadows.
Additionally, pollinators, including bees and butterflies, are more active on sunny days and the extra light makes it easier to photograph them with a setting that will freeze their motion. Just like with soft lit photos though it's still a good idea to go out in the morning before it's too hot. This will also put the sun at a nice angle rather than right overhead.
The trick to photographing flowers in hard light is to pay attention to how much contrast there is and to what is important. Contrast is the amount of difference between the brightest and darkest parts of our photo. If our flower is in direct sun but the background is dark shade then our camera might try to split the difference.
The results will be a flower that looks too bright and lacking color. The background will also not look great. As long as you don't care about what is in the background you can tell your camera to underexpose the photo which will make the entire thing darker, making our flower the color we want it and setting it up against a nice dark black background. This will really make our picture pop!
When we slightly underexpose our photos the colors become richer and more saturated. We'll also make sure to capture all of the details in the highlights.
This flower photography tip works no matter what type of camera you have - even just a smartphone. The easiest way to do this is with exposure compensation. Your camera is unsure what the subject is. As a result it will try to give you the biggest range of details often leaving our brightly lit subject too bright and will try to find details in our dark background that we don't care about. By using exposure compensation we can tell the camera to make it just a tiny bit darker. The background will fall into black and our subject will regain some color and won't look so bright.
How to Underexpose
Here is how to underexpose your photos to get really vivid saturated colors in your flower photography. If you're using a phone long-press on the screen where you want it to focus. This will bring up what's called auto-exposure/auto-focus lock (AE/AF). AE/AF lock will show you a shape, a circle or square with a little slider next to it. Use that slider to make the photo a bit darker.
If you've got anything other than a phone you should google your camera model + exposure compensation. Many DSLRs or mirrorless cameras have a small button with [+/-] on it which is your exposure compensation button. Hold that down and spin one of the rotating dials, most likely the one closest to the shutter (but not always) to change your exposure. Looking at your viewfinder or screen you should see a +/- symbol appear or a bar that shows your exposure that will move towards the minus side.
You don't have to underexpose your photo very much. Look for it to be between 1/3rd to 1. Further than that and it will likely be too dark. If you run into any problems shoot me a message on the contact form.
You can see in the photo below that I've slightly exaggerated this to underexpose it what I feel is a little too much. That said you see how rich and vibrant the colors are. That's all from underexposing it. Just remember, the more light the more washed out the colors will be. When we use a slight underexposure it gives us deep rich colors.
Get closer to your subject. This is a great photography tip for everything, not just flower photography. When you get closer you eliminate stuff that the viewer doesn't need to see, things that are distracting, and things that just don't add to the photo. You'll also end up with a shallower depth of field (the stuff that appears to be in focus) meaning our background will be more blurry allowing your photos to have a greater sense of depth and dimensionality. A shallow depth of field will also help focus the viewer's attention on your subject rather than being distracted by the background.
Our focus is one limiting factor to how close we can get. We can only focus on objects at a certain distance before our lens runs out of room. In my experience we rarely encounter this issue. That said, if you do, consider looking into macro photography gear. Here is a guide I put together for how to take macro photos without a macro lens.
More often than not what limits how close we get is our brain telling us that it's "good enough" or the sense that we're as close as we need to be. We can override this by being conscious of it and push ourselves to get closer. Remember, you don't always have to show the entire subject for people to know what it is. We don't need to see a stem to understand that it's a flower.
Take this next photo as an example. We can still very much tell that this is a flower even without seeing all of the petals. Don't be afraid to get really close - you'll find yourself loving the results when you do!
Look For Odd Numbers
Getting close is great but sometimes we want to take photos of groups of flowers. When we do so it's best to look for odd numbers of flowers to include in your photo. One, three, or five flowers allows our eye to travel all around the subject easier than even numbers do. Once we get to seven or nine flowers it's less important at beyond that point the repetition takes over. It becomes less about the individual flowers.
Using only odd numbers in your flower photography is a rule you can of course break. This tip is just to help the viewer move around the frame easier. With even numbers we often feel unsure of where to look. That said, if you can frame two flowers in a way that you're happy with it go for it!
Odd numbers work well because of how we unconsciously see geometry in photos. We see triangles when we have odd numbers of subjects to look at. Our eyes move about the photo from flower to flower in a more predictable way.
Change your angle
If you're able to get low to the ground then you can change your angle and photography flowers from their height. This is a small tip that goes big. When we change the way we look at anything it can cause a much bigger reaction to anyone looking at our photographs. Most of the time we're standing straight up when we look at flowers so taking a photo of a flower where it looks giant because we've positioned our camera below it will really grab people's attention.
Take the example below. Not only is this not the angle we typically look at photos from but by getting low we also can capture this magical background. This picture is close to the flowers, it uses a shallow depth of field, there are an odd number of them, and the angle is low so we get a look at these flowers we typically don't in real life. The added bonus here are the complimentary colors. The purple in the lower right helps the yellow to really stand out. Additionally the green and purple help the yellow to pop out at us which is a special little trick that warm vs. cool colors do.
Let me know
Let me know what you think? Have you tried these tips for flower photography? Did they work for you, have your photos improved? Do you have a favorite flower photography tip that you think I should share? Let me know with the form on my contact page. Also be sure to check out my nature photography galleries over on Zenfolio.