IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work…

When I look at beautiful macro flower photography, one of the key ingredients in making the image work is a sense of intimacy. Bringing the viewer in close can be done not only by making certain that the point of focus is tack sharp, but by simplifying the ingredients within the photo. These three words: intimacy, simplicity and clarity are prime ingredients in producing superb flower images.

by Colin Dunleavy

Macro photo of orchid flower by Colin Dunleavy.
© 2012 Colin Dunleavy. All rights reserved.
Subject: Macro image of Orchid flower

Conditions: Colin’s neighbor had an orchid on his patio table, so it provided a great opportunity to work with his macro lens. To keep the majority of the flower in focus he used Aperture Priority at f/9. The image was underexposed, so he made corrections in Lightroom. It was then cropped down from a landscape profile to give it the look of a portrait.


1. Circular composition holds the eye within the image frame.

2. Clarity of details pulls the eye to the flowers center.

3. The strong colored focal point of interest is off centered.

4. Slight high key feeling assists in simplifying the image.

5. Soft colors in white of background give good support to center of interest.

6. Portrait format makes it more intimate in feeling.

Noella’s comments:

When looking at an image it is important to break down the composition into its many facets to see what makes that particular image work well. When I look at the Orchid by Colin Dunleavy, I see lush circular shapes. Those shapes hold my eye within the frame of the total image. One of the goals of composition is to capture and hold the viewer’s eye and the circular composition does that well.

The center of attraction are those bright yellow and red striped “butterfly wings” in the throat of the flower. When making macro images, it is very important that the viewer’s attention is pulled to what the artist feels is the most important area of the photo and that portion needs to be very sharp and clear.

With an off-set point of interest, nice depth-of-field and the angle from which the flower was photographed, you get the sense of the center being protected by the petals, just like a mother would wrap her arms around her children. All of these “emotional hooks” play a role in creating more visual impact.

Initially the image photographed was underexposed (too dark), so Colin corrected that issue with post-production software. This procedure assisted in simplifying the background. It faded and softened the colors and small details within the white areas, producing the look of a “high key” photo. This in turn created an undisturbed background, which gives good support for the pure, vibrant colors within the center of the flower.

Cropping can be considered an art form in itself. You are making a decision about what to include and what to leave out of your image. Colin changed to the more personal portrait crop from the wider landscape crop to tighten up the image and to keep us intimately involved with the flower. With flowers, keeping that close, intimate feeling is one of the things that make flower photography so special.

Good job Colin. You made a superb image.

If you would like one of your images to be considered for IMAGE TALK…, please send Noella an e-mail with a low resolution copy of the image. Put the words “IMAGE TALK” in the subject line and send it to

Come back and join us for another IMAGE TALK in the near future.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Marla Meier for her editing assistance in order to present the images for this series. And, our thanks to the photographer/artists who allow us the use of their wonderful photos in these columns.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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