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Techniques for Dramatic Shots of Raining Flower Petals

Flower petals falling from trees are one of those fleeting scenes that can result in timeless images. Here is how you can perfect your shot of them, be it against a dark background or in backlight. (Reported by: Jiro Tateno, Takashi Karaki, Digital Camera Magazine)


Scene 1: Telephoto bokeh against a dark background

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM/ FL: 400mm/ Manual exposure (f/9, 1/400 sec)/ ISO 160
Photo by: Takashi Karaki

The story behind the shot

Flowers are beautiful in full bloom, but they can also look very impressive when they dance in the wind as they fall. In Japanese culture, one image extremely symbolic of spring is that of “hanafubuki”—snowing sakura petals, and this was what I wanted my shot to express.


Technique 1: Look for a dark background to make the petals stand out

We tend to pay attention only to the subject when we shoot, but the background is very important, too. The pale falling sakura petals would have become invisible if the background was too light, as the shot below demonstrates.

Pale petals won’t stand out against a pale background. To provide adequate contrast, choose a location that provides a dark background.


Technique 2: Use a super telephoto focal length to turn the falling petals into circular bokeh

To create a dreamy feel and make the falling sakura look like falling snow, I decided to turn them into bokeh circles. This also draws more attention to them. The longer the focal length, the more obvious the bokeh. Considering the balance with other elements in the scene, I felt the best results were achieved at 400mm.

Shot at 100mm

At a shorter focal length, the falling flower petals will be too small and the bokeh created from them not obvious.

Remember: You are effectively turning the falling flowers into foreground bokeh. Remember to place your focus somewhere at the back to defocus the front. Here, I chose to shoot a long boulevard of trees, and placed the focus on the trees at the far back.

Learn more about using telephoto bokeh in:
5 Things to Try with a Telephoto Lens

Learn how to achieve a similar effect by using a flash on falling rain in:
Built-in Flash Techniques #6: Magical Bokeh Circles on a Rainy Day


Final step: Use a fast shutter speed to freeze the falling petals

Once you have fixed your shooting spot and framing, you just need to wait for the flowers to start falling. To freeze small petals like those of the sakura, you need a shutter speed of at least 1/400 second. (Jiro Tateno explores shutter speed in Scene 2 below)

If you capture the sakura at the right moment and the bokeh looks just right, you will achieve the same timeless, romantic look of petals snowing in spring.


Scene 2: Wide-angle in backlight with a little motion blur

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 27mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1/160 sec)/ ISO 320/ WB: 4,900K
Photo by: Jiro Tateno

In Scene 1, we learned that pale petals generally don’t stand out against a pale background. However,  if the lighting conditions are right, you might have enough contrast for the shot to work even against a light-coloured backdrop.

The story behind the shot

Blown off the branches by the breeze, these falling sakura petals glittered in the backlight from the evening sun, turning an otherwise ordinary landscape into a dramatic scene. To preserve the dramatic feel, I experimented with various shutter speeds to see which one made the flowers stand out the best.


Technique: Finding the best shutter speed

The speed at which petals fall depends on the strength of the wind, so you need to take this into account and adjust accordingly.

Too fast; petals are too small

Shot at 1/125 sec

When the shutter speed is too fast, the tiny petals will be captured as dots—too small to stand out especially in a wide-angle shot.

Too slow; doesn’t look like petals

Shot at 1/30 sec

If the shutter speed is too slow, the petals appear as streaks—not quite the look we are aiming for.

Just right: Makes the petals look slightly larger

The right shutter speed captures just enough motion blur to make the petals look slightly bigger and more obvious.

For this shot, I got my ideal results at 1/160 second. As I had also narrowed the aperture to f/11 to capture the starburst, I changed my ISO speed to adjust the exposure.

Tip: Moving nearer to the tree not only helps to make the petals look bigger, it can also enhance the ultra-wide-angle perspective, which contributes to the impact.


For more techniques to make your landscapes look more impressive, check out:
Stunning Starscapes: Photographing a Spectacular View of Cherry Blossoms and the Milky Way at Night
Minimalist Landscape Photography with the Sky
Fantastic Landscapes: Layering a GND Filter with Another Filter
2 Landscape Photography Tricks to Transform Your Images On the Spot


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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

Jiro Tateno

Jiro Tateno

Born in Tokyo in 1975. From around 1990, he came into contact with nature through fly fishing, and took up photography. From 1999, he travelled around the country taking photos with the theme of "Natural Beauty". He currently supplies photos for magazines, books, posters, calendars, and so on. He held an "Okinawa" photo exhibition in 2010, and "Northern Lights - Journey of Light/ Iceland" photo exhibition in 2017.

Takashi Karaki

Takashi Karaki

After some experience as a sports instructor followed by 10 years in magazine production and editing, Karaki moved to Yonago City in Tottori Prefecture, where he became known for his landscapes of the San’in region of Japan. His works have been published in Amazing Village, a booklet of beautiful Japanese villages produced through a CANON × Discover Japan collaboration in 2017, and his shot of the sea of clouds at Akechi Pass in Tottori Prefecture was among 12 images selected by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) to represent Japan.

Instagram: @karakky0918