Friday, August 19, 2011

Passion For Flowers

    I love flowers and always have. From the time I was tiny two year old discovering flowers for the first time to now as an adult, I've always had an interest in flowers. Even though I grew up in New York City, I was always lucky enough to be around flowers. On the way to my favorite playgrounds, I used to pass a small garden. I have photos of me as a young child in front of this fenced in garden, I just loved those flowers so much. Surprisingly, this garden is still there and when I visit NYC I always make sure to stop and see what they have growing.

    Through the years I've always photographed flowers, but the photo marketing books always told me that photos of flowers were not high in demand. Since in my early years I shot film and found the costs prohibitive to just photograph things for my own enjoyment, I never fully explored the subject.

    Once I went digital and was no longer restricted by film and processing costs, I felt free to shoot more experimentally. It started simple enough, capturing images of wildflowers and potted plants in front of restaurants and homes that I may pass by. But then with the encouragement of my husband, I started buying potted plants. Tulips and hyacinths were first. A few weeks later I bought some more plants: gaillardias, begonias, petunias, & osteospermum daisies. More, more, more please. Geraniums, sunflowers, portulacas, impatiens. Oh, never enough flowers. Give me more! The colors, shapes and scents, I love them!

    Three years later, I not only fill my porch with annual potted plants, but thanks to my wonderful husband I now have a garden filled with perennial flowers that come back to visit me every year. I admit it, gardening is not my thing. My husband does most of the work. But I totally reap the benefits.

    And you know what? Those photo marketing books forgot to mention one thing: photos that you are truly passionate about will sell if you market them correctly. I have a passion for flowers!

    In future blog posts I will share many of my favorite tips on photographing flowers. I have many! So many, that I am putting the final touches on a book that I am currently seeking a publisher for. But in the meantime, here are five of my favorite tips to get you started.

1. Pay attention to your backgrounds.
Yes, my number one tip and one that I learned the hard way. After spending many hours retouching distracting backgrounds and deleting weak images flawed by poor backgrounds, I quickly learned to pay more attention to the background before pressing the shutter button. Seek out plain, simple backgrounds. Avoid backgrounds with light or bright distractions. Branches, stems and fences can also create unwanted distraction. Move around the flower to find the best possible background option.

For this image of a beautiful yellow Dahlia flower, I chose to use a complimentary background consisting of blue sky mixed with green trees. A wide aperture assured that they would be out of focus and that all focus would be on the beautiful flower.

2. Photograph the prettiest blooms
Unless it's a rare specimen or you are trying to capture a flower in its aging state, choose the most unblemished flower you can find. In person, it's easy to miss those minor flaws, such as a spot or tear and minor petal damage. But in a photograph those flaws will be highly noticeable. And don't think you can just easily retouch the problems later. Sometimes you can, but other times it is highly time consuming and frustrating. Unless you prefer sitting at the computer instead of being in the field, take the time to find the most unblemished flower you can find.

3. Light
Frequently, I look for the best light in any given location and then I search to see if there is something suitable there to photograph. Light can make or break an image. My favorite light for flower photography is bright overcast light. A bright cloudy day is the perfect time for flower photography. In this type of light subtle color gradations are clearly visible and there are no distracting shadows. But I also love backlighting and speckled sunlight. Even full bright sunlight can work for some flowers. The subject of light can easily fill a chapter in a book, and I dedicated an entire chapter to it in my upcoming book. I'll also be writing more about the subject of light in future blog posts.

The late afternoon sunlight back lit this Petunia to perfection.

4. Use shallow depth of field
Using a wide lens aperture, such as F2 or F4, renders the background out of focus which results in the least distracting backgrounds. Not a technique to be used for all flower images, but one that is a favorite of mine. I love soft and dreamy floral imagery. But occasionally I opt for a smaller aperture, such as F8 or smaller, when shooting detailed close ups or ultra wide views where I want an entire field of flowers or the background to be all in focus.

I used my Lensbaby lens and a wide aperture to capture this ultra dreamy rendition of this boldly colored Orange Symphony African Daisy flower.

5. Get Close
Unless you are going for an ultra wide view to illustrate a flower in its environment or an entire field of flowers, you should get close. Don't be shy! Get right on top of your floral subject, it won't mind. Just be careful to not cast any unwanted shadows onto your subject or background. Although I do actually have a use for that shadow, discussed in my upcoming book. Hey, and while you're down there, why not explore capturing different angles of your beautiful subject?

I got close to this stunning Dahlia flower and used the widest aperture on my telephoto lens to render the distant trees completely out of focus resulting in a smooth and complimentary green background.

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