Six tips for photographing flowers

How to create flower photos as vibrant as your subject

04-05-2010 // Rob Sheppard
Photo of California poppy field by Rob Sheppard

From the screaming orange of poppy fields in Southern California to the bold summer displays of alpine flowers, flowers offer some great opportunities for landscape photography as well as some up-close macro work. That combination can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a challenge. Here are a few tips to make photographing flowers a breeze.

Think like a flower. Wildflowers are a great subject for strong foregrounds in front of a big landscape. But be careful of shooting at eye-level. Eye-level can put your camera too far away from the flowers so they become small and less important to your composition. Most flowers are low, so get down to their level, where you will start to see much detail that is not otherwise revealed.

Don’t shoot for the sky. Usually skies are not a significant part of a flower landscape. First, photos with an area of strong color and texture, such as a field of flowers, often look conflicted when there is a competing area of strong color and texture, such as a sky with broken clouds. Second, flowers often look great on bright cloudy days, days that also feature dull and formless skies.

Try telephoto. A telephoto lens will compress distance, which will often mean bringing patches of flower color closer together within the image area. This makes a field of flowers look more dramatic. You may have to back up to capture the whole scene, but that will often look better than simply zooming your lens wide to show more.

Or, for a different look, use a wide angle and get in close. By getting up very close to flowers with a wide-angle lens, specific flower detail will show up more. You will also capture the entire landscape behind the flowers. This is not about simply putting on a wide-angle to get “more” in the frame. As with much of photography, including “more” in an image often detracts from the real subject.

Watch out for white. White flowers can be a terrific part of forested spring landscapes, for example. But because they are white and the forest is dark, they can be easily overexposed. Keep an eye on your highlight warnings and the histogram for exposure problems with them.

Finally, be respectful of the flowers. Even if a nearby group of flowers looks appealing as a photograph, avoid trampling through another group of flowers. Some flowers will not recover from such abuse. In addition, you will be seen as the "rude photographer" by others who might also like to shoot those flowers.

Rob Sheppard is a photographer, writer and photography teacher in the Los Angeles area of Southern California. Visit his blog Nature and Photography for more photography tips.

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