Photographing Flowers For Manual Mode Phobics

So right around Valentine’s day, Floret Cadet took its first flower order, and I officially started developing a floral design portfolio! The hobby has inched over the line into a teeny, tiny side business ; )

In honor of that milestone, I wanted to begin to really focus on taking better-than-snapshot-quality photos of my flowers.   Enter two major boons in this department.  The first was an inexpensive tabletop photo studio that I purchased complete with some lights & stands, a mini tripod, and a backdrop (a review of the studio and shots of it in use is to follow, along with resulting “studio” bouquet pics.)

But more important than getting new equipment is gaining a basic working knowledge of digital SLR photo principles as they apply to photographing flowers, and that’s where my talented wedding photographer friend Lori Yohe, of The Purple Tree Photography came to the rescue with a little “crash course” lesson at my house.

The biggest thing that came out of this lesson for me is an understanding of an effect called “bokeh,” which is a focus on the foreground (in this case your flowers) and a blurring of the background.  It lends an instantly polished pro or semi-pro look to photos, and is achieved by adjusting the aperture opening (aka f stop) to a lower number, which corresponds to a wider opening (that is counter-intuitive to me!).   The shutter speed has to then be raised to a complementary level, which will take some trial and error to find your “sweet spot”.  Yes, to achieve this look, I had to click the dreaded “M” on the side of my camera and wrap my head around the mechanics! But after just one quick lesson, the results already speak for themselves.

Here’s an example of the look (bouquet by Jane Medley of The Bride’s Cafe!).  It’s a style we’ve all seen and admired even if we didn’t know what it was called or how it was accomplished in the camera:

pink peony bouquet from jane medley of the bride

Let’s take a look at a ‘before Lori’ Floret Cadet flower shot, followed by an ‘after Lori’ shot in the same place in my home and discuss how I was able to put her pointers into action for this blog:

white hydrangea candy filled vase photography tutorial flowers bokeh photograph diy

Here’s the “after”:

hydrangea lamb

What makes this image stronger than the first? It’s in front of the same background, with the same light source (diffused natural light coming through 2 different nearby windows).   But in a nutshell, the second is stronger because there is far less background distraction.  This is partly because the shot is framed differently – in the second, we eliminated the distraction of the contrasting lightly colored stool, and the presence of the white corner wall.  But we also eliminated the distraction of including *all* of the information about the texture and detail of the stone wall in the background so that the focus could stay on the flowers.

Read all of Lori’s pointers after the jump, and please join tomorrow, when I will be posting more pics I took using her tips and advice.

Tips for Photographing Your Flowers, from Lori of The Purple Tree Photography

LIGHTING
First of all, natural light is ALWAYS ideal.  That being said, natural direct light is too harsh, so it is best to find indirect or diffused light sources (think a window that the sun isn’t shining directly through, or if it is, a sheer natural curtain filtering the light as it comes through).  Whereas many people might think that shadow = bad, the shadow between two buildings, for example, can cast a very soft, even light.  If you are shooting indoors and don’t have enough ambient light, you can always supplement with an artificial source from a second angle.

If you do have to use artificial light, use some from multiple off-camera sources.  A very simple video light works wonders, and I have even used a lamp with the shade removed as a secondary source.  Get creative, but just remember that light sources from multiple angles are a definite yes!

COMPOSITION
If you’re not familiar with the Rule of Thirds, you should be, (thank you Internet).  It is not a rule so much as a guideline, but it can really offer variety and photojournalistic life to your images.

BACKGROUND
Think simple, not distracting.  If there’s a dog toy on the other side of the room, it might not appear in focus but may still be a distraction, so keep random stray objects in the background in the front of your mind.  If you want an actual “backdrop” for your lovely blooms, think a hardwood floor, and old window sill, a cool chair.  Start looking around your environment and noticing what might make for a simple but eye-pleasing background!  You will find them in more places than you probably have ever noticed before.

MECHANICS
Don’t rely on auto-focus!  Take a bit of time to get to know aperture.  The lower the f-stop, the more your subject will have the nice ‘pop’ that you crave and the more blur (called bokeh) the background will have.  Anything below an f2.0 may cause you to lose focus on certain parts of your bouquet, but anything above  f3.0 will effectively do the focusing for you- on everything in the shot, which you also don’t want.  Finding the sweet spot may take some trial and error, but I promise you when you nail it, it’ll sooo be worth it.  Your photos and your flowers will thank you….and your readers will want to read MORE!

March 7, 2011 - 9:51 pm

janet - Congrats on your first order! How exciting!

March 10, 2011 - 9:43 am

Kate - Thank you thank you! It felt good – baby steps ; )

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