How to photograph flowers and what kit do you need.
My passion and love for photography started many years ago with flowers. Using a compact camera stuck on AUTO I would try my best to photograph a particularly stunning flower and more often than not was frustrated or disappointed with the results. Between now and then I’ve done an A’ Level in photography and 2 or 3 flower photography courses, the most recent a Fine Art course a couple of weeks ago with the very talented Sarah Gardner.
These days, real life and needing to earn a living get in the way of photographing flowers, so it’s a real treat when I get to do so. Earlier this week I ran a flower photography course for beginners at a gorgeous garden in Cheshire, Bluebell Cottage Gardens. I got chance to grab a few shots and thought you might like to know what kit I use for flower photography.
It’s possible to get good flower shots with a compact camera or bridge camera, if you use the flower (macro/close up) setting and shoot really close up, but it’s much easier with a SLR camera to get those lovely blurred backgrounds. So for me, the camera of choice would be a digital SLR.
A kit lens (basic 18-55mm) will do quite a good job of photographing flowers, again if you zoom in close and set the lowest f/number you can. However, these are the lenses I use and why:
Canon 50mm f/1.8 fixed lens: this wide open aperture achieves a really shallow depth of field (great blurring) and is super cheap. However, you can’t get super close with it. It’s also great for portraits, so you’d use it a lot.
A telephoto lens. I use a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3*. A zoom lens is great for flower photography as it enables you to get close to the ones you can’t physically get near to and you get lovely blurred backgrounds just by zooming. I lent my lens to Elaine who only had the kit lens and she fell in love with it within an hour. You can get surprisingly close up shots and for a beginner it would cover all aspects of flower photography.
* If you have a 2/3 sensor camera (most of the entry level SLRs), you would need to buy a slightly different spec – Tamron 18-270mm f/3-5-6.3. To all intents and purposes it’s the same and a bit cheaper!
A macro lens. Once you get a bit more confident and are getting really hooked, a true macro lens is highly desirable. I had a Canon 60mm f/2.8 and it was great but I couldn’t use it when I upgraded to a Canon 5D. I was lost without it and looked around for a new one. I read great things about the Sigma 105mm f/2.8, a steal at around £300, and I love it!
A macro lens is one that reproduces a life-sized image of the subject onto the sensor. If you want to know more about different levels of magnification take a look at this cheat sheet from Digital Camera World – they’ll explain it far better than I can!
I love abstract photography and getting in close to details, so a macro lens is an essential part of my kit. Just a word of warning: once you are shooting really close up, your depth of field becomes very very narrow and you have to think carefully about where you are focusing. It might be worth choosing a smaller aperture and increasing your depth of field to get a better shot. Which of these tow images do you prefer?
To achieve the difference in depth of field between the two shots I used a higher f/number and moved back a little. Personally I like the second shot better as this hosta leaf’s pattern and texture demand to be seen.
Tripod. I don’t really like using one as I feel creatively inhibited. I can’t move around and get all the angles I want as easily. I feel like I’m fighting with a giraffe and it becomes about the kit rather than the simple enjoyment of photography. However, if you are shooting extremely close up with very shallow depth of field, you need to use a tripod. The slightest movement can cause the focus to move off the point you wanted it on. And if it’s breezy and the flowers are moving, forget it! I didn’t use a tripod for any of the shots above, but was lucky really and they are probably not pin sharp. In this shot of an allium bud opening I did use one to get the focusing spot on.
I like to get the most suitable lens on my camera, get the ISO set for the lighting conditions and then almost forget the technical stuff and concentrate on composition. Of course I’m always mucking about with the aperture for different creative effects and I always keep an eye on my shutter speed, but the joy of flower photography for me is all about looking for the best angle, texture, light, detail and colour. Learn how to use your kit, so that it becomes second nature and then just ENJOY!
For more flower photography tips see this post.
I’m running another flower photography course at Bluebell Cottage Gardens 16th September 2014, so book your place now directly with them.
Did you like this blog post or find it useful? If so, please leave a comment, sign up for email reminders at the top of the page or share it with your friends (or even better, all three!!). Thank you – Jane