If you find the great outdoors enchanting, and flowers of particular interest, here are tips to take great macro photos of this colorful species. Without further ado, here are ways to enhance the beauty of one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind.
1. You don’t have to go looking for a good flower to practice close up flower photography. Any flower will do. It could be white or colorful. Each flower brings its own elfin charm. But the trick lies in lighting it up. So here is how. Pluck the flower or place the potted plant in the shade before you take a picture.
Better still, it would be great if you place a white sheet or some other interesting background (like red bricks) whose color doesn’t match that of the flowers. So if the flower is white, it’s best to have a black background, so the flower stands out. If the flower is colorful, a white background would serve best. If you want to capture the flower with its leaves and cannot relocate, keep the sun to your back and shoot, so the harsh light doesn’t over-expose your image. Employ every trick up your sleeve to ensure soft lighting on the flower, evenly spread out. Reflecting light off thermocol blocks or a reflector would also be a good idea. This way, every feature comes alive; the petals, the buds, the tendrils, the colors, the textures and the intricate detailing. This kind of outdoor photography would work best if you have overcast skies where the sky will act like your giant soft box.
2. Try and use a tripod for precision and for avoiding blurry images. The more you zoom, the more chances of an off-focus picture. And if the flowers are too low to the ground, go for a Gorillapod or better still, use available tools like a low stool, flat pillow or a low beam. Any stable and solid platform will do.
3. If you have a point and shoot camera, get as close to the camera as possible and shoot using the Close-Up mode, disable flash and shoot without the use of zoom lens for greater clarity and control. And if you have a DSLR, it is still best to go with Aperture Priority mode with a focal length of anywhere between f1.8 (if you use a fast lens) or f4 or f4.5 (if you use a standard lens). This is to focus on the center and de-focus the periphery. If you want the reverse to happen, go for f18 or even f22.
4. Technically again, the color of the flower matters most during composition. Here is where owning a DSLR helps, because you can use the exposure compensation button and either under-expose or over-expose the flower, depending on available light.
5. Angling it right is important. First, stand right above the flower and take an aerial shot. Study what you have shot and then, shoot from the sides and beneath the subject. Keep looking from different angles and decide what looks great in focus and what doesn’t. Experiment with different angles and different focus elements, and eventually you will have a winning composition.
6. If you have a DSLR, it’s best to shoot in RAW. This way, you don’t have to bother about white balance during the shoot. You can always correct it in Photoshop. In addition, you can tweak exposure, color saturation, brightness and sharpness. And you don’t have to shoot just one flower. A bunch of them would do, too.
7. Done taking your picture as it stood? Now, try to add elements to it that will make the picture more dramatic. It could be a water drop about to fall on the petal and you capture it midway. It could be a water drop well settled on the petal. Also, it would be great if you get your hands on a little spray water bottle and mist the flowers to give a dewy effect. That’s not all. You could go for a fish-eye lens or wide angle lens and experiment with different perspectives.
To sum up…
Absence of flash light and good, even natural light is the key to great close-up flower photography. Here is where the time of day matters most. The best would be cloudy days, or any day early in the morning or late in the evening. These are times when light is not too harsh and not too dim. Just right. And you don’t always have to hunt for gardens and other places for flowers. You can even buy flowers and use it for your photos. You can always bring the flower indoors (unless you want an outdoor background) and use a strobe (artificial light that is evenly spread out and 100% white) if you want. If the light is too harsh and you can’t cut it off somehow, you can use a diffuser. Why, even a magazine or newspaper will do to shield the bright sunlight. And if just spraying water on the flowers doesn’t work, use a small drop of glycerin with water. This keeps the water from dropping off the flowers. And if you want to specialize in close-up photography, buy a cheap macro lens. Once you get proficient with it, go for its expensive cousin. And sometimes, it’s even better to use a tripod and a self timer or a remote to capture close-ups. Makes it that much more professional and shake-free. And yes, sometimes flowers look good when they are in black and white. So either shoot them that way or turn them into one in post editing.
Happy shooting and experimenting!
~Zahid H Javali