A Guide to Flower Photography

Well here is a guide to how I am currently taking my flower close up shots (not true macro as it’s not 1:1). This is the general method I use and the average settings I use, though its important to note that this is a general approach and in the field a desired effect might only be possible with a change to these (most often in the aperture and this depth of field area)

Kit used:
Tripod – Manfrotto 055XPROB
Head – Manfrotto 322RC2
Manfrotto focusing rail
This setup is very versatile, the tripod will go down to 10cm off the ground and the head will twist to adapt to the horizontal setting of the centre column when at the lower heights.

Camera connected to a focusing rail which is attached to the top of the head of the tripod.

Camera settings:
Mirror lock up on
Timer set to 2 seconds
Shooting in Aperture priority mode
aperture: f16
ISO: varies, but 100 on a still day – 200 and 400 used when light wind is present
Flash on (its only popup so limited settings)
Flash exposure compensation: -1
Those are the general settings I stick to. Mirror lock up combined with the timer and the tripod means that there is almost no shake at all to the camera as the focusing mirror is lifted up before the shutter is closed and the 2 second timer means that you don’t get the shake from pressing the shutter button. The only way to improve on that is to use a remote cable release.
The flash exposure compensation is a way of helping to reduce the chances of overexposing a shot with the flash on.

Additional settings:
1) As I tend to take these shots in the brighter parts of the day with full sunlight I set my exposure compensation to -1 to try and preserve my whites from blowing out. This works well as a slight underexposure when shooting in RAW mode can be corrected in RAW editing, but with an overexposed photo even in RAW the details are not often present in the blown out whites to restore to..

2) I also use a custom diffuser in front of the flash to help to break up the harsh light emitted by it (you can see some examples of clear flash overexposure in some of my earlier plant work). This consists of a bit of folded toilet paper ( the soft kind) wrapped through the popup flash and I have found it to work well in breaking up the light and avoiding that tell tail sign of a flash which is big overexposed whites in the top half of a shot.

3) Often times its not get out early in the morning or to have a sunny period after a rainstorm and so finding flowers with water drops on them can be tricky at times. To make up for that I take a water sprayer with me to spray the plants before hand.

Additional notes:
This is my general methodology that I use with macro flowers, but aspects such as aperture and flash usage will sometimes vary between subjects. Sometimes I might want a greater or lesser depth of field or the lighting is illuminating the whole area of the subject naturally and further assistance from the flash is not needed.
For example if I were to do some photostacking of a single flower I would want a very small depth of field so as to get each layer of the flower in focus for each different frame, rather than get the whole flower in one single frame (guide for photo stacking coming up later)

And now that you know how I do it here is today’s instalment of photos. Today I was trying to focus a little more on composition rather than on settings and such.

All shots taken with:
Cannon ESO 400D
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro lens
Tripod 055XPROB + 322RC2

For settings save to computer and review properties.

f16, ISO 100, 1/13sec
The background for this is well blurred, but a little busy I felt. If it had been more mono coloured it would have worked well, but the brows and greens create a distraction.

f16, ISO 100, 1/5sec
Again a busy background, I have thought about cropping both this and the first shot to try and focus in on the flower details

f16, ISO 100, 1/2sec
This came out wonderfully. The angle on the plant works very well and the background, whilst full, is nice and mono-themed so that it blends into the overall shot and does not distract

f16, ISO 100, 1/6
An attempt at repeating the above shot, but this does not work out as well. The leaf is distracting, the angle of the plant is a little off (ideally I wanted it pointing at the top right hand corner) and the background is a little busy. Not a bad technical shot, but not what I was hoping for the end results.

f16, ISO 100, 1/8sec (also using -2 exposure compensation)
I knew what I wanted from this shot and have nearly got it, but in the field I had to shoot this one at range, which is why the flower makes up such a smaller part of this shot and also why it is not as sharp as I would have liked to get. I boosted the blacks in RAW editing to get the result, but even then I could not lose all the detail in them and I have been considering with either removing the large leaf on the left or with cropping closer to the flower. Overall I like it, but I would like a chance to improve it.

f16, ISO 100, 1.8sec
I am not sure about this shot, I think I have the general idea right, but it needs some careful cropping to get the best out of it.

f25, ISO 100, 0.8sec
With this I was trying for a deeper field of view from the side, hence the smaller aperture, but I think I selected a poor specimen; just too much going on in this shot. In retrospect it would have been better to have moved close to the flower and ignored all else.

Lessons learnt:

1) More practice needed at composition and on experimenting in the field.

2) Try to get subjects that are not dominated by close by leaves and twigs – isolate the flower for the shot

3) Remember that rule 2 can and should be broken at times.


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