This article first appeared in Cheshire Life magazine April 2024.

Make sure it's not just another photo of a flower

One of my favourite things about spring and early summer is seeing hedgerows, woodlands and gardens coming alive once more with a riot of colours. Nature has hit the reset button and buds are appearing on once barren branches and flowers are unfurling their petals. I am always eager to capture this magic with my camera, as one of my personal passions is photographing plants and flowers.

This is a very popular genre in photography, so it can be difficult to stand out and take shots that have the wow factor. However beautiful it looks in real life, the end result can often be just another photo of a flower. With the help of some members of the Love Your Lens photography group I’m going to share some invaluable tips to ensure that your flower images really reflect their true beauty.

Vibrant poppy at Bluebell Cottage Gardens by Jane Burkinshaw

A common beginners’ mistake is to stand too far back and photograph a clump of several flower heads. The result is often busy and messy, with no clear focal point. Instead, ask yourself what draws you to a particular flower, what is there about it that makes you want to photograph it? I am captivated by poppies, especially the crepe paper texture of the petals. So, I tend to shoot up close to show people exactly what I see and what I love.

Fill the frame to show off the textures and colours and use macro (close up mode) on your phone or camera. And go out into the garden just after a shower to capture water droplets for additional interest and, if you’re lucky, a reflection. Colours are more vibrant and details more pronounced when the sky is overcast, as the light is even and there are no harsh, bright areas and dark shadows.  

Cowslips at Ness Botanic Gardens by Ann Cooke

Sometimes it does work to photograph an expanse of flowers rather than just one, but pick a particular flowerhead to focus on. Otherwise, the viewer’s eye wanders around the frame without settling anywhere. Here the photographer has blurred the background to make one more prominent than the others. This also stops the image feeling flat and creates a pleasing background. The fact that there are just two main colours make it feel harmonious and calming, with no distractions to pull the eye away.

Blurred backgrounds (or to give them their correct term, shallow depth of field) used to only be possible with ‘proper’ cameras and lenses. But as it is such a sought-after look, Portrait Mode was introduced on phones and has enabled everyone to create that professional-looking effect. The main limitation of Portrait Mode is that it won’t let you shoot up close. However, if you use normal Photo Mode for a close up, you will find that the background blurs to some extent anyway.

Blossom in the garden by Wendy Stout

Nothing beats a macro lens on a camera however, for that soft, dreamy look, especially where dappled light creates blurry circles known as ‘bokeh’. Another lovely aspect of this image of blossom is the use of space, more accurately known as negative space in photography composition. The subject, the blossom in the top right, takes up just a small amount of space, and the background, the out of focus flowers, branches and sky, form the negative space. This technique directs the eye straight to the subject and creates a sense of calm.

Pussy willow at RHS Bridgewater by Jane Burkinshaw

One of the most well known and easiest to use composition methods is the Rule Of Thirds. Imagine the noughts and crosses grid overlaid on your image, dividing it into nine equal rectangles and then place your subject in one of the thirds. On most cameras and phones, you can switch this grid on to help you compose your image. It’s not wrong to place your subject in the centre, but it can create a more balanced photograph putting it off centre.

Iris at Ness Botanic Gardens by Kathryn Hall

This iris is placed on a third and the most important part of the petals is roughly on one of the points where the grid lines intersect. This is a fairly simple image but crucially, it is in sharp focus and the soft light makes the purple petals really pop against the muted background. More often than not, it’s getting the basics right and keeping it simple, rather than fancy lenses and techniques, that results in a beautiful photograph.

Sword fern at Bluebell Cottage Gardens by Jane Burkinshaw

Look for repeating patterns and textures to create interest and place strong lines on a diagonal for a more dynamic composition.

I usually avoid photographing flowers that are direct sunlight, but if it’s during golden hour (approximately an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset), then the results can be magical. Position yourself so that the light is behind the flowers to make the petals translucent.

Taking the photographs is never the end of the story for me. Always edit your images to give them that final lift. You don’t need to get to grips with Lightroom if you don’t want to, as the editing software that’s in your photo gallery is more than enough. If necessary crop to improve the composition and be careful not to overdo it with the editing tools.

Peonies in the garden by Jane Burkinshaw

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