Late summer (can you believe it’s August already?!) is a time when our gardens start to slow down and we can take a little breather, so we thought we’d do another post about photographing flowers in your garden before they all fade away.
A few months ago we gave pointers on managing depth of field and focus. Today we’re going to talk about backgrounds and when to shoot so the light will reveal the full beauty of your blossoms.
Tip # 1: Backgrounds
We cannot say this enough times; drill it into your brain. Pay attention to the background in any picture you take. It is especially important in flower photography where it is a critical element of the composition. Here are two examples that prove it.
There are so many things wrong with this first shot of astible, but let’s just look at the background where the green twig, clapboard siding, drain pipe and the flowers all fight for your attention.
Shooting from a different angle that uses the flower bed as a background improves the shot.
It also helps that the background is out of focus (by opening up the aperture on your lens and creating a shallow depth of field), which focuses your eye on the blossom in the foreground.
When you decide to take your picture, check the background first. Your eye naturally filters out distractions, but the camera “sees” and records everything, so this will take some training. Make sure there isn’t anything in the background that will distract the eye. Your background should serve to focus on what you want the viewer to see. Even if you are taking a picture with a wider point of view — say the whole garden — you should have a focal point in the shot, otherwise it’ll just be a visual jumble.
Tip # 2: Light
Here’s a subject about which whole books have been written. Let’s start by saying that light can be your friend or your enemy. Great light can work magic in your pictures. And it can ruin them too.
In reading about photography you will see many references to the “golden hour.” This is when you want to be out in the garden taking pictures.
The golden hour refers to the first and last hours of light in the day when the sun is low in the sky. The tone of the light is warm and the effect is softer so you see more detail and get richer, more saturated colors. This is opposed to taking pictures when the sun is high in the sky at mid-day when your shots will be harsh and contrasty like the one below.
Compare that to the shot of a similar rose taken in the late afternoon when the setting sun adds a warm glow and softens the shadows. Now you can see the flower and its full range of colors much more clearly without distracting shadows and highlights. You get a better sense of the softness and texture of the petals and the overall effect is much calmer and more attractive.
The exception to the golden hour rule is when you can find or create shade. The picture of the poppy below was taken at high noon when the light would normally be too harsh, but since the flower was under shade cloth, you can see the color and the detail.
If you’re shooting in the middle of the day, look for flowers that are in light shade (this is also a very flattering light for portraits), or you can create your own shade by buying a diffuser which will filter out the harsh effects of direct sunlight.
This 5-in-1 collapsible reflector is a handy item to have in your kit. It has different color reflectors that will bounce light into your shot to lighten up shadows and it has a translucent disc of fabric to filter harsh light.
Another great time for flower or garden photography is on an overcast day when the light is even and will make the colors pop.
Tip #3: Take LOTS of Pictures
This is the big secret of great photography. Take a lot of pictures. For every great shot you see the photographer has at least 20 or 30, or even a hundred that she didn’t use. Once you’ve edited your shots down, throw the bad and not-so-good shots away. You might be tempted to keep a few not-so-good-shots, but as you get better and better, those shots will look worse and worse. Be ruthless and you’ll get a reputation as someone who takes only great shots.
We’d love to know what works for you when you go out in the garden with your camera.