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Camera FAQ #20: How Do I Photograph Flowers More Dramatically?

When shooting flowers, do you find that your pictures somehow start looking the same after a while? Here are two techniques to use the background creatively to make your photos of flowers pop and stand out. (Reported by: Kazuo Nakahara, Takashi Namiki)

Flower silhouettes against bokeh lights


Scene 1: Portray the flowers as silhouettes using decorative lights in the background

Flower silhouettes against bokeh circles

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 80mm/ Manual exposure (f/4, 1/160 sec., EV±0)/ ISO 1600/ WB: Tungsten Light
I found some flowers near golden decorative lights that were shining brightly. It was difficult to capture the flowers brightly in such dark conditions, so I went the unconventional route and took an underexposed shot to capture the flowers as silhouettes.


Tip 1: Make sure that silhouettes appear sharp—Focus accurately!

The contrast between the sharp outlines of the flower silhouettes and the defocused bokeh circles of light in the background are essential for an impactful shot. Make sure that the silhouettes are sharply in focus. My EOS 5D Mark III had a little trouble focusing on the right spot, so after using AF, I fine-tuned the focus using the full-time manual focus override mode. You might not need to do that if you are using a newer camera with better low-light AF capabilities.

blurred silhouettes

When the point of focus is past the silhouettes
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 105mm/ Manual exposure (f/4, 1/160 sec., EV±0)/ ISO 1600/ WB: Tungsten Light


Tip 2: Use the widest aperture possible to create large bokeh circles

The silhouettes look darker and more dramatic if the background looks brighter. I decided to create bokeh circles from all the lights in the background, and set the lens to maximum aperture to make the circles as large as possible.

Learn how to turn light sources into bokeh circles here:
Lens FAQ #8: Where Should I Focus On to Capture Beautiful Bokeh Circles?


Scene 2: Using diagonal composition to capture two flowers

Flowers in diagonal composition with bokeh

EOS 6D/ EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM/ FL: 100mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/2.8, 1/320 sec., EV+1.0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight
I captured the only two flowers that were in bloom, using a diagonal composition. Here, I adjusted the angle so as to achieve a line of sight that extends from the subject toward the blurred out flower in the background.


Tip 1: Shoot at maximum aperture to achieve balance between the secondary flower and the background bokeh effect

I could have narrowed the aperture a little to bring out the form of the second flower (blurred in the background) a little more. However, because the background was so close to the main flower (main subject) in this scene, a narrower aperture would have made the background stand out a little too much, so I used the maximum aperture of f/2.8.


Tip 2: Create space for contrast between the two flowers

To create a diagonal composition, it is important to arrange the main subject so that it does not take up too much of the frame. If the main subject is too large, there will not be enough space to place the other flower in the frame, making it difficult to create any contrast.


For more tips on photographing flowers, check out:
Flower Photography: Useful Techniques and Camera Features
2 Ideas for Photographing Flowers in the Evening
Photographing Flowers: How to Create Brilliant Bokeh Circle Spotlights with a Macro Lens


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
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Kazuo Nakahara

Kazuo Nakahara

Born in Hokkaido in 1982, Nakahara turned to photography after working at a chemical manufacturing company. He majored in photography at the Vantan Design Institute and is a lecturer for photography workshops and seminars, in addition to working in commercial photography. He is also a representative of the photography information website studio9.


Takashi Namiki

Takashi Namiki

Born in Tokyo in 1971. After attending the Tokyo School of Photography (current name: Tokyo Visual Arts), he became a freelancer. He currently publishes works for various magazines. He continues to produce mainly works of flowers as a motif. Lecturer at EOS Gakuen School.