Photographing flowers can go from a serious hobby to a moneymaking profession. In this blog feature we take a look at some key essentials in Flower Photography
Do a quick Google search for floral greeting cards and you will quickly see that floral imagery is still one of the most popular ways to send a greeting to someone. From ‘happy birthday’ to ‘get well soon’ flowers help us to express a range of human emotion from love to sympathy.
Do your research by visiting some card shops and by doing searches for the most popular cards on online. If you can get to one of the trade fairs this year it is a great way to get a feel for what publishers are printing for the season ahead. This article gives some great advice on what publishers are looking for from artists and photographers : https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/artists/advice/179/preparing-your-portfolio/identifying-your-audience/the-greeting-card-industry
But of course the market for floral imagery is not solely greetings cards. With new innovative printing techniques our photography these days can be printed on to a range of products from wallpaper and soft furnishings to handbags and mobile phone cases. This opens up opportunities to sell imagery to a wider range of clients from interior designers to giftware companies.
So if you are just starting out photographing flowers you are probably visiting beautiful gardens or perhaps photography flowers in your own garden. Over the years I think I have worn out several pairs of shoes visiting gardens up and down the country. I was lucky enough to work on two projects as an amateur photographer where I spent my weekends getting up really early to document privately owned Gardens, firstly Audley End House for English Heritage, and secondly Ryton Organic Gardens. The project at Ryton culminated in an exhibition of my work at the garden and I even sold some prints of my work too!
Over the years I have built up an extensive collection of garden imagery some of which is held with stock image library Alamy.
These days’ problems with my back mean I have taken my love of garden photography closer to home. I fill my garden with flowers I know will make great subjects for the camera and I buy stems from my local florist. I enjoy working on studio still life shots as I can control the light more, and I am not dependent on good weather to make the shots happen. I remember years ago getting excited about purchasing a Pentax K10D only for it to rain for an entire month after I bought it. One of the wettest June’s on record I think and much of what I wanted to photograph that year was pretty rain sodden!
So starting out with the right kit is essential. My camera bag for going out and about photographing flowers always contains:
1 x Digital SLR. (I currently shoot with a Pentax K5ii)
1x 100mm Macro lens (or a 105mm depending upon the manufacturer).
1 x 50mm Macro lens
1 x 50 mm standard lens
1 x 24 mm Wide Angle lens (great for large borders of flowers)
1 x small gold & white reflector
And a tripod is a must for pin sharp pictures!
At this point I would also highly recommend using either a sling or rucksack bag if you are walking around a lot. Preferably one with a waterproof cover!
Choice of lens:
I really would recommend investing in good quality lenses either purchasing new or second hand. For years I shot with a 105mm Sigma macro lens but it was only when I purchased a new Pentax 100mm macro that I truly appreciated the difference in quality. The Pentax lens was much sharper and faster than the Sigma one. (Sorry! Sigma).
You need a broad range of lenses to capture all aspects of a garden. So use a standard 50mm lens for general scenes in a garden. A wide-angle lens will give a broader view and is great for large borders full of flowers for example. Use your Macro Lens for those close images of single blooms.
To get the best out of your camera, lens and subject you really need to work either in manual mode or aperture priority. Also choose the lowest ISO settings possible on your camera. Typically you should aim for ISO 100 or ISO 200 to get the best quality image you can. It’s always a good idea to bracket your exposures so if you take one shot at f16 take another at f18 and another at f14 for example. Alternatively if you were happy with the f-Stop then another way to bracket your exposure would be to use the exposure compensation dial. You will see the dial is marked with a plus sign (+) for over exposure and a minus sign (-) for under exposure. I find this way particularly helpful in the studio and on location when photography flowers against either dark or bright backgrounds. You can maintain your chosen aperture and simply compensate for the light accordingly.
You really do need to have a reflector on location with you. They are a fairly inexpensive accessory these days and a reflector can make a huge difference to the final shot. Use one location to bounce light back in to a shady area or to diffuse strong light falling on a flower.You can hand hold a reflector or if you are using a tripod then you could use a clamp to attach it to your tripod when working close-up.
With flower photography you need to do some observation of your subject in its surroundings before you press the shutter release. A good composition will be made up of several elements. Look at the natural harmony within your subject. How does one flower touch another? Should you be low or high, where is the centre of interest? Sometimes the structure of the leaves might be more interesting than the flower itself. Always ask yourself one question ‘What do I want to say about this subject?’ Observe for a while then create!
Studio Floral Work
I tend to head in to the studio in the dead of winter with a bunch of flowers I have bought from the florist. In Autumn I spend time drying out seed heads from Poppies, Alliums and Nigella’s as they can make really interesting structures to photograph over the winter months too.
The unpredictable British weather also means there are plenty of opportunities to shoot some floral still life set ups and you don’t need a studio to take some stunning pictures. The kitchen table and a good light source from a nearby window can be a great starting point. When I first started out doing still life shots I would clear my office desk and use the light from the window and a couple of reflectors.
Tips for photographing in the studio:
Make or buy some simple backdrops. You can pick up Daler Art Mounting board in a variety of colours and this makes a cheap and effective backdrop.
Some people like to use a lighting tent and flash or tungsten light. I am not a huge fan of them but they do have their place in the studio. I picked up a lighting tent on Amazon a few years ago and it was pretty cheap to buy and hasn’t collapsed yet! Cut flowers die pretty quickly so you need to photography them ideally the same day that you buy them or within a couple of days. You might choose to photograph the different stages of decay and in fact one image of mine of a dying flower recently sold on Shutterstock so it is worth photographing every stage. Remember if you choose to use tungsten lighting the room with get hot pretty quickly and flowers will droop! I mostly prefer to use the available light and some reflectors to bounce the light around. A black background can really pull the detail out of a flower but how many pictures do you see of flowers on black backgrounds? Loads! Try and experiment, as you will be surprised at what sells. I recently shot a picture of a Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) on a blue background and it sold the day after it was approved on Shutterstock. Getting the right composition is important and so a host of props and clamps can play their part in your creations. I have a shelf full of different vases. I use a small clamp system too to hold some of my subjects in place. Also it’s worth investing in a few floristry accessories such as fine wire and oasis sponge that you can push single stems in to.
I like to think Mother Nature has done most of the work but the reality is that as photographers we still have to give Mother Nature a hand. In post-production I retouch areas on petals that have minor blemishes for example. I use a combination of Photoshop and the Google Nik Collection in my post-production. I particularly like the filters in the Nik Collection for creating a vintage feel to some of my images.
If you haven’t tried floral photography before or you are just starting out then I hope this blog post has made you enthusiastic to go further with your photography. If you go through my blog feed you will find several other posts about floral photography that might be of interest. Enjoy!
Greeting Cards Companies who are looking for images:
Google Nik Collection : https://www.google.com/nikcollection/
Garden Photographer of the Year Competition https://igpoty.com/
Garden Photographers Association http://www.gpauk.org/
One of my images as a cushion http://fineartamerica.com/products/deep-pink-tulip-dawn-hart-throw-pillow.html