The Biltmore Gardens© Copyright David Simchock
Spring has arrived and it won't be long before April showers bring May flowers. Or, April flowers. Or, late March flowers, for that matter, depending on which part of the world you live in. Here in Western North Carolina, we will soon be treated to the annual "Biltmore Blooms" spectacle at the Biltmore Estate when upwards of 90,000 tulips will blossom, most of which are found within the walled gardens not far from the famous Biltmore House. Of course, the "bloom" isn't limited to tulips, nor is springtime the only time of year to witness such natural beauty, and capture it with your camera.
Here are a few things to consider when setting up for your flower / nature photography:
- If you don’t have one already, add a macro lens to your gear bag, and get close to your subject (inches away!). Alternatively, you can borrow or rent a lens, or try out an "extension tube" that converts your telephoto lens to a close-up lens (but, be sure to understand the draw-backs of extension tubes). You might find that a macro lens is essential for flower photography. If I'm heading to the gardens, I wouldn't leave home without it.
- Experiment with depth-of-field, from a very shallow DoF, to a very deep DoF, to points in between. Particularly when using a macro lens at very close range, it may be beneficial to switch your focus system to "manual focus" in case you cannot match up your auto-focus point with your chosen focal point on the flower.
- Use your depth-of-field preview button (if you have one) to give you a real-time view of your DoF. Remember, what you see in the viewfinder of your DSLR is what the scene looks like at the widest lens aperture setting (shallowest DoF), regardless of what your actual aperture is set at. The DoF preview button allows you to see the actual DoF "through the lens" (e.g., if you are at, say, f/16 you will see the actual deeper DoF).
- Use a sturdy tripod. Not only will a tripod help with any camera shake blur issues, but it will also be essential in helping to stabilize your composition within your frame.
- Along with a tripod, use a cable release to reduce camera-shake or vibration that is caused when pushing the shutter release button (or, use a remote; or, try the two-second self-timer if you don’t have either of those).
Biltmore Gardens Multiple-exposure© Copyright David Simchock
Another useful accessory may be a polarizing filter to deepen the color contrast of your flowers and skies. Experiment with turning the filter element to adjust the amount of polarization. Maximum effect from this filter will be seen when the sun is at your side (i.e., not behind you or directly in front of you).
- Take advantage of the magical and warm morning and evening light.
- Avoid super-sunny days, as the contrast will be too high in most cases. The ideal light for photographing flowers is usually similar to what you would want for photographing portraits. And, a harsh, contrasty light probably isn't all that flattering for flowers, just as it wouldn't be for a person's face.
- If you are shooting on a sun-filled day, make use of a diffuser to soften the light, and eliminate harsh shadows (better yet, pick up a five-in-one reflector kit).
- Consider the use of fill flash if shooting in contrasty light, or into the sun. If you don't have a flash, then the reflector function of your five-in-one reflector kit can be used to bounce light to suit your needs.
- Bring a water spray bottle to add droplets to dry flowers. But, be sure not to damage the flowers in any way.
- Fill the frame, especially if you are using your macro lens, or a long telephoto lens.
- Shoot wide as well. But, if shooting wide, be aware of distracting elements in your composition.
- Experiment with in-camera multiple-exposures, if your camera has the capability. This can lead to some amazing abstract images!
- Get dirty! Flowers are typically low to the ground. Notch the tripod legs down, and get low. Better yet, get the wide angle lens out and lie on the ground, shooting upward. If you don't want to get dirty, then bring a towel or blanket with you to lie on.
- Bracket your exposures. Bright skies can fool your light meter, causing under exposure. If you’re not sure how to get a perfect exposure, then take multiple shots with your auto-bracketing function.
- Finally… Keep it simple! Like many facets of photography, your composition doesn't have to be complicated in order to be interesting.
Well, that should get you through the spring shooting, or at least get you started! Have fun!
Did I leave anything out? Feel free to add to this list in the comments below.
Got a question? Post it below and I'll do my best to answer.
Here are a few examples of my own flower photos: Flower Gallery