Thank goodness for gardens, window boxes and house plants. All provide home-based opportunities for some creative photography. Thanks to the return of spring – at least here in the northern hemisphere – flowers and plants are starting to look their most photogenic. Here then are ten tips for making the most of what nature has to offer…
1: Get Down Low
You can never go wrong shooting at the same level as your subject. Unfortunately, a lot of flowers grow close to the ground. This means getting down low and shooting almost at ground level. It’s hard to get a standard tripod down that low, so hand holding is by far the easiest way to achieve this. If your camera has a flip-out LCD use this to make composing the shot easier. (And use a pad to kneel on to protect your knees.) It’s far easier to shoot pot plants of course, all you have to do is raise the pot to the level of the camera!
2: Use Focus Peaking
Depth of field can be an issue when shooting close-ups, particularly if your subject is small in size. This means that focusing has to be accurate. Oddly enough, it’s far easier to focus manually than use your camera’s AF system. To make focusing even easier, switch on focus peaking (if your camera has this facility) and use this as a guide to achieve focus. Focus peaking can be a little bit crude though, so bracket your focusing, shooting several shots and subtly tweaking the focus as you do so.
3: Don’t Shoot in Direct Sunlight
Hard, direct light isn’t ideal for delicate, organic subjects such as flowers. The soft light on an overcast day is far more aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes though, you can wait for days for the right light and flowers don’t last forever. In this situation create your own ‘overcast’ light by casting a shadow over the flower. (Altering the white balance to Shade to compensate for the inevitable blue tint of the shadow light.)
4: Wait Until the Wind Drops
Flowers are delicate things and will invariable bob about a bit in the slightest breeze. This makes achieving precise focus more difficult than it should be. Shooting on a still day will make your life far, far easier. But, again, the weather may not play ball. In which case, try to shelter the flower with your body or a sheet of card. Use as fast a shutter speed as you can, raising the ISO if need be.
5: Embrace Movement
If the wind is too strong and sharp pictures are impossible, then it’s time to change your approach. Use long exposures (anything longer than 1/4) to shoot blurry and impressionistic photos of the flowers. The correct shutter speed will depend on how close you are to the flowers; the further back you are the longer the shutter speed will need to be. Use an ND filter to allow the use of long exposures or wait until dusk before shooting. (Though note that some flowers close up at the end of the day.)
6: Pick Your Background Carefully
A busy background will detract from your plant photos. Using a large aperture, restricting depth of field, is one way to simplify a background. Another way is to shoot upwards from below the flower so that the sky is your background. Or, shoot so that your subject is brightly lit with a shadow area as your background. (Either wait to see if this happens naturally, or – if you’re shooting indoors – move your plant into the light from a window with a darker, unlit part of the room behind.)
7: Shoot a Sequence
Flowers can come and go within a few days. Shooting a sequence of photos of the same flower from bud to its final day makes an interesting and rewarding project. If you can spare a camera, consider setting it up on a tripod and leaving it in place during the project. (Only do this if you’re shooting a house plant though. It’s really not a good idea to leave your camera outside for any length of time!) A long enough sequence can then be edited together to produce a time lapse movie.
8: Use a Plant Mister
Gently spraying a plant or flower with water from a mister will help to convey spring freshness. (Alternatively, get up at first light when there’s a chance of dew that creates the same effect.) As a bonus, the water will help to clean the leaves and petals by removing dust – this is a particular problem with house plants as there is no wind indoors to blow the dust off.
9: Use Backlighting
As mentioned already, soft light is ideal for flowers and plants. However, one direct type of light that works well is backlighting. This is light from a source that’s in front of the camera. This type of light is typically seen when the light source is at roughly at the same level as the camera, such as the sun when it’s close to the horizon at sunrise or sunset. Backlighting illuminates translucent subjects such as leaves and petals, helping to accentuate their colour. Try to keep the light from shining directly into the lens to avoid lens flare. Do this by hiding the light behind a part of the plant.
10: Identify Your Plants
To help keep track of your photos add keywords to the image afterwards, identifying the plant and including any other relevant details. This means that you first need to know what the plant is of course. This is less of a problem for garden or house plants (unless you’ve recently acquired your garden and don’t know what’s planted there…) However, it’s a good habit to get into for the day when lockdown is eased and you’re able to shoot in the ‘real’ world once more. Books are a good source of information, but the Internet invariably make plant identification far easier. The website of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (www.botanicalkeys.co.uk) is a good place to start looking.
David Taylor is a British award-winning landscape and travel photographer, who was born and raised in Newcastle upon Tyne and now lives in the ancient market town of Hexham, Northumberland. He took his first photograph at the age of 14, when his parents gave him a Kodak Instamatic for Christmas, and he has been taking photographs ever since.
His landscape photos have been used in publicity materials by local businesses, councils and tourism organisations, such as the Northumberland National Park Authority. He has also supplied images and articles to both regional and national magazines including Living North, Countryfile, Black & White Photography and Outdoor Photography.