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Flower Photography: Useful Techniques and Camera Features

Flower photos are like flower portraits. How do you bring out the best in them? How do you make each shot unique? One professional photographer shares some tips and useful camera features for taking your flower photography to the next level. (Reported by Tatusya Tanaka, Digital Camera Magazine)

Multiple exposure of flowers

EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM/ Aperture-priority AE (1/125 sec, f/4.5, EV-0.3)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight/ Multiple exposure: [Additive]

A multiple exposure can result in a unique image like this one, which superimposes four exposures of flowers onto each other.


1. Composition

Find something that works best for the shape of the flower

This is important for ensuring that the composition looks balanced.

For example, if the flower has a long stem, the blossom would appear at the upper end of the image. Some of it depends on your aesthetic sense, but I feel that too much empty space below the blossom makes the composition look unstable, so I usually try to fill it in by either:

- Adjusting the flower or my framing to accentuate the surrounding stems or background
- Create foreground and/or background bokeh.

Know this: Instability in a composition is not necessarily bad
However, it can easily make a shot look amateurish or carelessly executed. If you want to incorporate it, make sure that it serves a purpose. This might be challenging, but when done well, it adds character to the shot.

For some advanced composition techniques, check out:
Professional Composition Techniques (1): Visual Guidance, Unexpectedness, and Subtraction 


2. Lighting

Changes the mood and impact of the shot

As with all other types of photography, lighting conditions can affect the mood and impact of your shots. Here are some examples:

Sunny day
Strong sunlight, especially those in the midday sun, tends to cast shadows on the flowers, resulting in a stark light-shadow contrast that feels harsh and unwelcoming. 

However, you can also get very unique shots under the same conditions when you shoot in backlight. For example, you can:
- Create a rim light effect that highlights the shape of the flowers
- Position the shot so that the light shines through the flower petals and makes them look translucent. (Example here)

Cloudy day
On a cloudy or overcast day, the light is softer and more diffused, resulting in more even lighting on and around the flower. This is ideal for obtaining soft tonal gradations and faithful colours. The soft lighting you get indoors or in a greenhouse on a sunny day can also give you good results.

Tip: Handy accessories to have on hand

  • - A small reflector board: Reduces harsh shadows
  • - Umbrella: Blocks light 

Useful feature: Highlight Alert

Example of Highlight Alert in flower photography

When shooting in bright light, some areas may be overexposed, resulting in lost detail (“blown highlights”). The Highlight Alert feature (also known as “blinkies” or “zebras”) alerts you to such areas by making them blink in black when in playback mode. It is a useful tool that helps you perform exposure compensation accurately. On some cameras, you might have to enable it first. Check your camera manual for more details.


3. Camera settings

Obtain your desired image with Picture Style

I usually shoot in Aperture-priority AE (Av) mode and adjust the exposure compensation where necessary. 

I don’t customise my parameters a lot, but when I do, it’s usually to the Picture Style settings. I use the ‘Landscape’, ‘Standard’, or ‘Faithful’ Picture Styles depending on the colour of the flower.

For example, I use 'Faithful' for deep-coloured flowers as I feel that 'Landscape' makes colours look too saturated. I set the Sharpness parameter to ‘+3’, which is the same as the default Sharpness level for Picture Style (Standard).

Tip: Create User Defined Picture Styles

For a look that is uniquely yours, besides adjusting the parameters of exisiting Picture Styles, you can also create custom Picture Styles either in-camera or with the Digital Photo Professional software, and save them/upload them to the camera as a User Defined Picture Style. This allows you to preview its effects as you shoot.


4. Other useful features

Use these to get a better shot more easily

1-point AF: For precise focus on the centre of the flower

Flower in breeze

EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM/ Aperture-priority AE (1/30 sec, f/9, EV -1)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto

It can be hard nailing focus precisely in the centre of the flower, but I did so quite easily even in a slight breeze with the 1-point AF mode, also known as "Single-point Spot AF" on some cameras.


HDR mode: For scenes with strong background-foreground contrast differences

Flower shot with HDR mode

EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM/ Aperture-priority AE (1/10 sec, f/14)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto/ HDR (Natural)

This photo of a rose was taken inside a greenhouse. There was a large difference in brightness between the highlights on the petals and leaves under the shade. The background would be completely black if I had set the exposure based on the flower.

Using the HDR function ("HDR Backlight Control" mode on some cameras) helped to solve the problem: It combines three consecutive shots bracketed at different exposures, which helps to retain detail in light and dark areas. As a result, you can see the details of the leaves.


Lens used: EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

The EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM has excellent depictive performance. At maximum aperture, it produces creamy bokeh while maintaining sharpness in the in-focus area. At narrower apertures, it provides fine and sharp renderings of textures and details, down right down to the veins on each leaf. The 100mm full-frame equivalent focal length is just nice for photographing flowers from outside a flower bed.


For more tips on photographing flowers, check out:

Which Lens to Photograph Flowers With a Large Foreground Bokeh?
How Do I Photograph Flowers More Dramatically?
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.
Published by Impress Corporation

Tatsuya Tanaka

Tatsuya Tanaka

Born in 1956, Tanaka is one of the rare photographers who produce works across a wide variety of genres from an original perspective. These genres range from objects in our daily lives, such as insects and flowers, to landscapes, skyscapes, and celestial bodies. Besides photography, Tanaka has also developed his own approach in post processes including retouch and printing.