This Spring, photography educator Jim Austin, MA shares his closeup strategies for flowers. Lightroom tips follow, with clear ideas for bringing flower photos into full bloom.
First, let’s see how the emotion and symbolism of flowers compels us to capture their beauty, in this spring flowers photography article.
Flowers are Symbolic
Flowers may be the vivid brush strokes on the canvas of life that is titled: “becoming a photographer.” Spring blossoms are symbols we use to represent life and rebirth.
To express our affection, we give flowers as gifts. We also surround our loved ones, alive or deceased, with their symbolism. We even choose special bouquets for weddings and for altars.
At times, certain flowers may trigger a flood of memories. Inhaling a floral aroma can bring to mind a memory of a loved one. Images of my mother come to me whenever I smell jasmine or gardenia, for instance, as she often wore these blooms on celebratory occasions.
Flower images with an emotional narrative hold our attention. For instance, a Spring rain is something we’ve all seen photographed, but an image of a fly silhouetted inside a tulip, drying out after a rainstorm is more surprise and will hold out attention for a little longer.
Like vivid memories, the best spring flowers photography closeups result from a personal vision that is tied to a specific place and moment.
Stronger flower images may have composition, contrast, texture, light and narrative. These all work together to portray emotive qualities, enticing us to feel. As mentioned, the symbolic nature of flowers adds an emotional element; a woman inhaling the scent of a rose may suggest she’s experiencing a romantic memory. Frost crystals inside a flower may symbolize a change of seasons, as with Winter into Spring.
Let’s check out some tips for your Spring flower closeups.
Pray on Your Knees.
How can we photograph a flower? We need not pray, but getting down on our knees, or even lower, puts us at flower level and helps keep our compositions simple.
Structures, Colors and Shapes, OH My !
Go back to view your flower repeatedly. Try to find a creative angle. As the light changes, you will notice structures, colors and shapes in a fresh way. It always helps to change your point of view or the angle of ambient light.
Position your camera so the flower stands in front of a non-distracting background. Think of making a portrait of a flower, from an position that lets it harmonize with your background, with no bright areas or clutter that pull the eye away from its allure. Try melting away the background with an open aperture, but also stop down for depth and to change the space.
Camera and Lens For Spring Flowers Photography
From the iPhone to a Svedovsky 8″ x 10″ large-format camera, any camera can make a decent picture of a flower. However, we can all benefit from mounting our gear on to a stable tripod. This ensure sharper results, especially in print.
While I usually set one up, I often take my camera off tripod so I can move to explore lower angles than the tripod allows. Tripods are good, but so is letting go of using them.
My main lenses for closeup flower photography are the Canon 180 L Macro, and Nikon 105 mm manual focusing Micro-Nikkor. However, you don’t need to rush out and buy a dedicated macro lens. Try a closeup filter.
Closeup filters screw on to the end of a lens (I use Nikon 4T closeup filters). To make macro pictures without over-spending the budget, try reversing a 50 mm lens. This magnifies your subject more than any macro lens can do. For other gear, to get closer, try extension tubes, bellows or a dedicated macro setting on a point-and-shoot camera.
Starting out in photography, some of us focus on ideas like “this is a beautiful flower.” While we can rejoice with the coming of Spring, for advanced photographers there are more challenging narratives that our imagery can express. Finding good flower closeups in the right light might be easy, but is takes time and thought to define an idea worth depicting. Great flower photos are very hard to make.
To make better flower photos, invest more time. When we search out a floral composition and invest enough time, this will clearly show in our final image. We invest time in what matters, as when we stand in line for two hours to ride a two minute roller-coaster. We can apply the same time investment when crafting our photographs.
If it’s grey and gloomy outside, I bring flowers into the house and put them by the window, then add a large soft light source if needed. I prefer to use natural light over flash if I can, and I usually avoid direct sunlight. Back lighting and side lighting add drama to floral closeups.
Cloudy and overcast days are excellent for photographing, and talking to, the flowers in your backyard.
As mentioned, it helps to slow down your pace. Observing flowers, ask yourself questions before you touch your camera: “How can see this in a fresh way?” “What color contrasts work?” “Could black and white express the form more effectively?” “Are there textures or scents that inspire me?” Take your time: a snail’s pace is the right speed for flower photography.
Here are four Lightroom adjustments, applied to flower images : lightening a background, boosting contrast, a custom crop, and using the adjustment brush.
Lightroom Method 1: Adjustment Brush to selectively darken and blur, 6 Steps.
- START: Import and Open your image into Lightroom. >2. Click Develop to open the Develop Module. >3. Click or Tap the Adjustment Brush. >4. Change the brush size with the left or right bracket keys. Now, click in your image to apply a PIN.
Paint the area you want to edit, with the brush, to select it. >5. Slide the Exposure, Clarity and Sharpness sliders to the left. >6. Click or Tap “Edit” in the Develop Module to apply your edits and make the area you selected darker and less sharp.
Advanced Users: You can edit again by clicking the Pin again. Also, if you are using the Radial and Graduated Filters to make local adjustments, Shift + T will toggle between editing a filter, like the Radial Filter, and the adjustment brush. So, try the Radial Filter too to make areas of your flower sharper, darker, lighter, or more vibrant.
Lightroom Method 2: More Contrast with Lightroom’s Tone Curve Dialog, 3 Steps.
- START: Open your image, click the Develop module, and then click the Develop Module’s Tone Curve to open its dialog box. >2. Locate the Point Curve. >3. Change the Point Curve by clicking the word “Linear” to switch from its default setting to one of two higher contrast settings called “Medium Contrast” and “Strong Contrast” as shown.
Lightroom Method 3: Custom Crop, 2 Steps.
- START. In the Develop Module, click the crop tool and then click the word “Original”. >2. Change from the original size to a custom crop size, such as a 1:1 crop ratio. For example, when Instagram only took square images, before it expanded to allow other sizes, I used 1:1 cropping to make square photos to upload to social media.
Lightroom Method 4: Local Adjustment to lighten background with Graduated Filter, 3+ Steps.
- START. In the Develop Module, type M on the keyboard or click the Graduated Filter Tool. >2. Click and drag in your image over the area you want to edit. >3. Next, slide the specific Develop adjustment sliders to edit the image. Here, I increased Exposure, by sliding its slider to the right, to brighten up the purple background area behind and to the left of the flower.
This Spring, closeup flower photography is waiting for you. With some new techniques, you may enjoy getting close to nature’s small, beautiful wonders more than ever.
About the Photographer:
Jim Austin MA took his earliest photo in 1968, studied at R.I.S.D. and RIT, joining the faculty of Colorado University to teach photography in the design department. Austin began exhibiting his work in 1981. Jim lives aboard the sailing vessel Salty Paws, and leads adventure photo workshops and creative seeing for photographers.
RELATED LINKS: Getting Intimate, more on closeup flower photography.