Tips and tricks to try for macro flower photography
Flowers are one of the most popular subjects that us photographers enjoy pointing our lenses at. This colourful and abundant subject can be hugely diverse, with so much opportunity to take vibrant macro shots often practically on our doorstep. In this post, we’ll take a look at some close up photography ideas to help get you started with this most beautiful of opportunities.
Best locations for flower photography
One of the best things about macro flower photography is that the subjects are so readily available, no matter where you are, and no matter what time of year it is. Whether it’s wild flowers in an orchard, formal gardens, your local park, your own back garden or a vase of blooms in your living room, there’s lots of opportunity to find suitable subjects to photograph.
That said, you may naturally be drawn more towards some flowers than others, so if you have something particularly in mind, it can be beneficial to put some time into research and location scouting. Many flowers are seasonal, with a brief window of opportunity to get some shots – bluebells and blossom are a particularly good example of this.
If you’re planning to visit a formal garden, have a look at the garden’s website to discover which species they hold, as well as any photography policy they may have (for example, some places prohibit the use of tripods).
Best kit for flower photography
You can get started photographing flowers with very basic kit. A compact camera with a macro mode is ideal, but, if you’re serious about close up photography, you might want to consider investing in some additional kit.
A DSLR or CSC (compact system camera) is ideal for macro flower photography. There’s a huge choice of different options available, but beginners may want to take a look at something like the Nikon D5600, Canon EOS 1300D for DSLRs, or the Panasonic GX800 or Fuji X-A3 for CSCs.
Next, consider your lens choice. A macro lens is the obvious choice for picking out those fine details, but don’t discount other options too. A wide angle lens is great for placing your flower photography in context of its location, such as a meadow or field. If you don’t want to buy a dedicated macro lens, telephoto zoom lenses can also be useful at helping to isolate the flower from its background.
Macro lenses are available for all major brands, at a variety of price points. For Canon, the Canon EFS 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens is an ideal choice for APS-C DSLRs, while for Nikon, the Nikon AF-S 40mm Micro f/2.8 DX G lens is recommended. For Fuji users, there’s the Fujifilm XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro lens, while Panasonic and Olympus users can use the Panasonic 30mm f/2.8 Macro Lens or Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 30mm Macro Lens. Sony also has a macro lens for its E-mount cameras, the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens is available.
While a tripod isn’t absolutely crucial for flower photography, it can help to keep your camera steady and leave your hands free to manipulate the scene, or hold props. Look for a tripod which is specifically designed for travel, such as the Vanguard VEO 235AP Aluminium Travel Tripod, since you may have to do a fair bit of walking to get to your preferred flower location.
A reflector is invaluable for directing natural light onto flowers, highlighting key areas of the bloom, and removing harsh shadows. You may also want to consider a cable release to remove camera shake, while a macro ring flash is something to consider for a different and unusual effect.
Other useful bits of kit include a kneepad or plastic sheet (a bin liner will do) so you can get low on the ground without getting wet or dirty, and some pegs or string to carefully move flowers into the position you want them to be.
Best backgrounds for flower photography
It’s important to pay attention to the backgrounds you use when photographing flowers. Depending on the lens you decide to use, you may find that you completely isolate the flower from the background, or you may find that you have a more contextual shot. Either way, keep an eye on shapes, colours and objects in the background that could become a distraction from your main subject.
A fun way to experiment and to create different looks is to carry a pack of brightly coloured card with you. Place the card behind different flowers to create a type of flower portrait that can have a very striking effect. If you use a colour which contrasts from the colour of the flower, you can create something very vibrant. Alternatively, a colour which matches your flower can leave you with a wonderful monochromatic effect. If you shoot with a tripod and cable release, you can hold the card in place, or, alternatively, use a peg to clip the card gently in place – be careful not to damage any flowers while you’re doing this!
If you’re photographing flowers at home, the same principles apply, but here you have more control. Try photographing flowers against a window, which should act as a giant soft box for backlighting your flowers. Similarly, you can attach a piece of card to the window for a different background.
Best weather for flower photography
You don’t need to wait for a sunny day to photograph flowers, as an overcast sky is actually much better for this subject. The bright white of a sunless sky acts like a huge soft box, with gentle light without harsh shadows that direct sunlight can produce.
It’s also good news if it’s been raining – drops of dew on petals and leaves can add a point of interest. You can cheat if it’s a dry day by taking a water spray bottle with you and spritzing flowers for the same effect.
Try your best to avoid windy conditions as this is the big enemy of close up flower photography. Any slight movements in your subject can throw your focus off, so in an ideal world, the air would be as still as possible.
If the day is forecast to be sunny, you can still create some excellent shots. Try heading out at dawn or dusk to take advantage of the golden hour, where the sun produces warming rays which work well as backlighting for your floral subjects. Shooting through your subject towards the sun (careful when doing this!) can create fabulous contre-jour lighting, where leaves and petals glow with light.
Best camera settings for flower photography
Another great thing about close up nature photography is just how much you can experiment with different camera settings. Depending on what kind of look you want to achieve, you can try a whole host of different techniques – perhaps even collating them together in a collage or set.
If you want to pick out one small detail of your flower, it’s likely that you’ll want to create a shallow depth of field effect. For this, shoot at a wide aperture – most macro lenses open up to f/2.8. If you’re using a telephoto lens, you can get a similar effect even if you can only shoot at f/4.5 or f/5.6.
Alternatively, if you want to maintain as much detail as possible in your shot, shooting at a narrow aperture is a better idea. Use a setting such as f/11 to maximise detail. You could also try out a technique called focus stacking, which involves shifting the focus slightly over a series of images and merging them together in software. Some cameras, such as the Panasonic G80, can perform this clever technique in-camera without the need for specialist knowledge or software.
When it comes to white balance, try to match the weather conditions with the automatic settings on offer, such as cloudy skies. For ISO, keep it as low as possible for best detail, but, don’t be too concerned about using mid-range ISOs such as ISO 400 – 800 if you’re having trouble getting a sharp shot.
Flower photography was made for shooting in Live View, especially if your camera is mounted to a tripod. Use manual focusing, and magnify the view, to ensure pinpoint critical focus.
If you’re using a DSLR, switch to Mirror Lock Up Mode and activate the camera’s timer to mitigate for camera shake to keep details sharp. If your camera has it, shoot in raw format – that way you have the most flexibility for editing in software such as Photoshop.
Best composition for flower photography
There are plenty of rules when it comes to composition, but you can have a lot of fun with experimenting. Flowers are the ideal subject to hone your creativity, since they don’t complain and can’t run away.
Try a variety of angles to show the flowers in different contexts. Get on the same level as the flower for a dynamic look, but also try shooting from underneath (a camera with a tilting screen helps enormously here), or even from directly above for a different effect.
Isolate one particular part of the flower and place it according to the rule of thirds, but, equally, feel free to break that rule and see whatever works best for you. A neat trick to try is to use another flower to create an abstract blob of colour – by placing it very close to your lens and focusing on a flower further away, the first flower should be thrown out of focus.
We’re keen to see your beautiful blooms: share how you get on photographing flowers via our social channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.