I love photographing flowers. It’s one of the most accessible forms of photography – after all, you can find flowers pretty much anywhere – plus it allows you to create a wide variety of images, including abstracts, close-up shots, landscape scenes, and more.
But while flowers are stunning subjects, creating great flower photography is about more than finding a nice flower and pressing the shutter button. You have to work in the right light, find a solid composition, choose the right camera settings, and post-process your files, all in pursuit of that top-notch final image.
Fortunately, I’ve been exactly where you are, and in this article, I share all the key tips and tricks I’ve learned, including:
How to choose the right aperture
A simple way to create a beautiful soft-focus effect
My secret for amazing foregrounds
So if you’re ready to capture some gorgeous flower shots? Then let’s dive right in!
1. Photograph flowers in the right light
Did you know that overcast skies are perfect for flower photography?
It’s true. The soft light of an overcast day complements the delicate petals – plus, there are no shadows and no harsh bright spots, so you can get a nice, even exposure.
So if you’re planning a flower photoshoot, it’s often a good idea to check the weather first and aim to photograph on a cloudy day.
You do need to be careful, however. Toward the beginning and end of a cloudy day, the light gets pretty limited, which leads to unwanted blur (especially when shooting at high magnifications). So if the skies are overcast, aim to photograph at midday, then pack up before the sky gets too dark.
Of course, cloudy weather isn’t the only time you can capture great flower photos. Clear skies at golden hour – when the sun is low in the sky – can also make for great images. The setting sun will produce warm, soft light that’ll beautifully illuminate your subject, though you will need to be careful to avoid overexposure (the combination of bright light and colorful petals can be difficult to manage).
But while clear skies can work well early and late in the day, I encourage you to actively avoid shooting flowers around noon on sunny days. The high sun will beat down on the flowers, producing unpleasant shadows that rarely look good. Whenever possible, stick to softer, more flattering light!
2. Use backlight to make your flowers glow
As I explained in the previous section, you can create gorgeous flower photos around sunrise and sunset – which means you’ll need to consider the lighting direction. In other words, does the light come from in front of your flower? Behind your flower? Off to the side of your flower?
Different lighting directions will give different effects, and while you can get beautifully detailed shots by using frontlight, and you can create wonderfully dramatic images by using sidelight, I highly recommend you try out backlight.
Yes, it’s a bit unconventional, but backlight – which you can achieve by ensuring that the flower is between you and the sun – will make translucent petals glow, like this:
The effect is gorgeous, and it’s a great way to elevate your flower photography portfolio.
Try to photograph late in the day when the sun is close to the horizon; that way, the backlight will hit your flower petals directly, plus it’ll cast a nice, warm light over the rest of your image. (You might even be able to catch some rays of light filtering through the trees!)
3. Watch out for wind
When photographing flowers, wind is your enemy. It’ll blow your subjects in every direction, which makes it annoyingly difficult to focus (and if you’re shooting with a slow shutter speed, it’ll introduce plenty of blur).
The easiest way to avoid wind? Do your photography early in the morning when the weather is still calm. And a little wind is manageable; just bring a piece of cardboard or a reflector, then hold it up next to your flower.
If you prefer not to get up early, or if you need to take photos on a windy day, you do have a second option:
Bring your flowers inside. You don’t need a complex studio setup to get beautiful shots indoors – just put the flowers near a window and find a solid backdrop to set behind them. I photographed the flower below by taking it inside and placing it in front of a white sheet:
4. Get closer
Here’s one of the easiest ways to create stunning, unique flower photos:
Get as close as you can. In other words, don’t just settle for a nice frame from a few feet away. Instead, endeavor to fill the frame with your subject!
You can do this in a number of ways:
First, you can use a telephoto lens and zoom in on the flower. You’ll want to pay attention to the magnification ratio of the lens because some lenses just can’t focus especially close. A ratio of 1:1 is outstanding, though you’ll only find that on dedicated macro lenses – but you can still achieve good results with a ratio of 1:2, 1:4, or even 1:6. (If you’re not sure how much magnification your lens offers, you can look it up online, or you can do some tests.)
If you’re lucky, your telephoto lens will focus close, and you can use it for beautiful flower shots. But what if you can’t get as close as you’d like?
You have several choices. You can use extension tubes, which mount on your camera and let the lens focus closer. Or you can use a close-up filter, which attaches to the end of your lens and works like a magnifying glass.
Honestly, both of these options come with pretty significant drawbacks; extension tubes are inconvenient, while close-up filters reduce image quality. Sure, they work, and if you’re just getting started with flower photography, either method will help you take interesting close-up shots.
But if you want to really improve your images, I’d recommend a dedicated macro lens, which will let you capture intimate images without the need for accessories. These lenses can be purchased for reasonably low prices (especially if you grab a wider lens in the 40mm to 60mm range). They’ll let you get extremely close to your subject, and they tend to offer outstanding image quality, as well!
5. Try using a reflector
Here’s a quick tip:
Shaded flowers can make for some stunning photos, especially when you combine a shaded subject and a well-lit background in the early morning or late evening.
But this sun-shade effect can result in an underexposed flower (or an overexposed background) if you’re not careful. The trick here is to keep your flower relatively bright; that way, you can reduce the dynamic range of the overall scene, and your camera will have a much easier time capturing the full array of tones.
So if your subject is in the shade, use a reflector to bounce some light. You can purchase a cheap pop-up option online or simply carry a piece of white card. Simply adjust the position until you get some nice light on the flower, then snap away! (Bonus: A reflector will also make your flowers appear more vibrant!).
6. Avoid a cluttered background
In flower photography, the background can make or break the image. A uniform background can look great – whereas a cluttered, distracting background will draw the eye and prevent the viewer from appreciating your main subject.
So before you hit the shutter button, take a minute to contemplate the area behind your flower. Look through the camera viewfinder, and ask yourself:
Does my background complement the flower? Or does it distract?
If the background adds to the image – or, at the very least – doesn’t detract from it, then go ahead and capture your image. But if the background does seem even slightly distracting (e.g., there are jagged branches or unsightly patches of color behind the flower), then it’s probably a good idea to adjust your shot.
One option is to change your position until the distractions are gone. For instance, you can get down to the ground until the flower is surrounded by clear sky, or you can move slightly to the right or the left to get rid of problematic areas.
Another move, however, is to use a shallow depth of field to blur the distractions away, as I discuss in the next section:
7. Use a shallow depth of field
Shallow depth of field flower photos can look great – but what is a shallow depth of field, and how do you achieve it?
A shallow depth of field features only a sliver of sharpness. If you use the effect carefully, you can capture images that feature a sharp flower but a blurry background:
As you can perhaps imagine, this does make nailing focus more difficult. Since the plane of sharpness is so narrow, there is very little room for error – but for most flower shooters, the beautiful effect is absolutely worth the effort.
To get a shallow depth of field, make sure to use a wide aperture (i.e., a low f-number) such as f/2.8 or f/4. (This will also allow you to use a faster shutter speed, which will increase the probability that you capture a tack-sharp shot.)
You should also aim to get as close as you can to your subject; the closer you are to the in-focus area, the stronger the background blur.
Finally, aim to increase the distance between the flower and the background. More distant backgrounds will be rendered with greater blur, and while the depth of field technically won’t change, it generally looks great. You can look for subjects that sit far in front of background elements, or you can get down low to the ground to ensure the background is composed of distant trees.
8. Keep a part of your flower sharp
If you want to master the shallow depth of field effect, it’s important that you keep part of the flower sharp so that your viewer’s eye has an anchor point. Otherwise, people won’t know where to look, and they’ll quickly dismiss the image and move on.
So do what’s necessary to keep a portion – even if it’s just a small portion – of your images crisp. If you’re shooting in good light, raise your shutter speed and focus carefully. If you’re shooting in poor light, use a tripod and a remote release to avoid camera shake, or boost your ISO as required.
Remember: Even if there doesn’t seem to be wind, flowers always move a little. It’s often a good idea to check images on your camera’s LCD. Make sure you zoom in, and if your flower isn’t sharp, try raising the shutter speed a stop or two.
Finally, check your focus. If necessary, focus manually. Make sure you’ve sharply rendered the most important parts of the flower, such as the petals and the flower center, before you move on to other subjects and compositions.
9. Change your point of view
If you’re after unique flower photos, don’t just take a standard shot. Sure, you can start with conventional angles, but once you’ve captured a few safety images, move around and try some different perspectives and focal lengths.
For instance, shoot the flower from below to capture an interesting point of view. You may get pretty muddy in the process, but if all goes well, you’ll create a beautiful image featuring a rarely-seen angle. (Getting down low will also help you frame your subject against a white, blue, or even orange sky.)
You might also try shooting down from above, getting unusually up close and personal, or zooming out for a wider environmental image. The key is to experiment as much as possible, review the results, and try again – with modifications – the next day.
10. Focus through another flower
The shoot-through approach is loved by quite a few professional flower photographers, and for good reason:
It looks really, really cool, especially when you get a lot of colorful foreground blur. Like this:
But how does it work?
You simply find a flower you want to photograph, then adjust your position until another flower sits between the lens and the flower. (The closer the foreground flower is to the lens, the better the look.)
Ultimately, the secondary flower will become a blur of color, and your final image will have a more professional feel.
Make sure you pay careful attention to the position of the foreground flower – it’s important that you don’t completely overwhelm the main subject with a wash of blur. You can also experiment with different apertures and see how they modify the effect.
11. Don’t forget about post-processing
Flower photos can look pretty incredible straight out of the camera, even if you shoot in RAW (which I highly recommend). But if you want the best results, you should definitely spend a bit of time processing your images.
You see, a few tweaks in editing software can dramatically improve the tones, colors, and overall feel of your shots. The particular adjustments you use will depend on your preferences and goals, but it’s often a good idea to subtly boost the saturation or vibrance for enhanced colors. You might also consider raising the shadows to bring some detail into the darker areas of your shots, dropping the highlights to recover any missing detail in the lighter areas, and boosting the contrast for some extra pop.
Once you become more familiar with flower photo editing, you can test out more dramatic color alterations, and you can play with local adjustments (where you selectively darken and lighten portions of the shot to help lead the viewer’s eye in a certain direction).
Tips to improve your flower photography: conclusion
Well, there you have it:
Eleven easy tips to take your flower photos to the next level.
Hopefully, at least one or two of the tips speaks to you – and you feel inspired to get out and start shooting! Remember that flower photography is a wonderful passion, and if you work hard enough and test out different approaches, you’re bound to get some great results.
Now over to you:
Do you have any flower photos you’re proud of? Which of these tips do you like the most? Share your thoughts (and images!) in the comments below.
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