In spring and summer, photographic thoughts naturally turn to blossoming trees and blooming flowers. And if you’re just coming out of lockdown there’s even more appeal in these subjects. From macro, to simple portraits and wider landscape views, there’s no shortage of ways to shoot trees and flowers in spring, and here are some tips on how you can do it and what gear will help.
1. Find your subject
Thankfully opportunities are everywhere. From woodland returning to leaf to meadows filling with wild flowers, urban window boxes, parks, formal gardens, and even delicate blooms growing through the concrete of your local town, you won’t have to go far. There’s lots of choice in when you shoot, too, but remember that some flowers’ petals won’t open fully until full daylight. If you get to your subject early, you might be lucky enough to get twinkling dew, while early and late sessions can get you some nice backlighting. But you can also shoot in the middle of the day if you find shade.
2. Control the light
To your eye, flowers will look great in bright sun, but less so to your camera. In full sun, you’ll often get very harsh contrasty results, and some parts might overexpose, so generally shooting in direct light is to be avoided. Try finding a shaded spot or use a portable diffuser. A 5-in-1 collapsible reflector will have a diffuser panel at its centre. This will soften the light and lower the contrast. Add in a regular reflector to bounce light into the shadows and you’ll have even more control.
3. Look for backlighting
The subtle translucence of flowers and leaves makes backlighting an obvious choice when it comes to composing. This might mean waiting for the sun to be in the right spot, or it could require using some off-camera flash or continuous light to give the same effect. Either way, the glow that it gives through petals or the fine hairs on stems will be well worth it. Watch for lens flare and if you’re not using a reflector, overexpose slightly so the subject doesn’t look too dark.
4. Lens choices
Macro lenses are great for flower photography, but they’re not vital. Find a telephoto zoom with a 1:3 or 1:4 reproduction ratio, like a Tamron SP AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD, and you’ll get plenty of frame filling detail. You can also use a great portrait lens like the Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM Art for larger subjects.
For much smaller flowers, a macro lens, or an attachment like a close-up filter, extension tube, or reversing ring is very handy. Wide angles shouldn’t be forgotten either, letting you take in a broad carpet of flowers as foreground to a wider scene or shaded woodland glades.
5. Open up for a floral portrait
Simple, floral portraits can be very effective. To make the most impact, try to find a flower that’s alone and shoot with the aperture wide open if you can. Using fast lenses is the obvious path to this, but shoot with very long focal lengths, like the afore mentioned 70-300mm, or very close to the camera and you’ll generate a shallow depth-of-field, keeping attention on the subject, and removing distractions. This approach is great if you’re working in an otherwise cluttered or messy area.
6. Use blossom to frame other subjects
Spring blossom looks amazing, but it can be difficult to frame in a satisfying way. Close up you don’t get a sense of the scale, and wider it can seem a bit overwhelming. One way you can keep the sense of the spring blossom without losing focus is, ironically, to defocus the flowers and use them to frame something else. Shoot through the blossom, or under it, and try getting close to it to make blurring easier.
7. Use flowers in the wider landscape
Too many close-ups of flowers and budding plants can start to feel a bit anonymous. If you want a more expansive view, make them part of a wider scene. Bright petals make a great frame for other subjects and add colour and contrast to a scene when used as foreground interest. Parks, formal gardens and country houses are a great place to practice this, where you’ll find rows of planted specimens that you can use a lead-in to the rest of the landscape. But carpets of bluebells or other wildflowers in woodlands and coastal banks work beautifully, too.
8. Attention to detail
When it comes to improving your floral shots, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of gardening. Pack a pair of tweezers and scissors in your bag, so you can remove distracting or damaged parts of the flower you’re shooting. An atomiser or water spray also helps freshen subjects and bring them to life, especially in conjunction with a little backlighting.
9. Keep it steady
Flowers and leaves are delicate, so even a light breeze can move them around. This can affect sharpness, both in terms of subject movement or by pushing the subject out of the plane of focus defined by your apeture. Try to shoot in calm conditions, but remember you can put up a wind break if you have to. If all else fails, tie your subject to a small cane, making sure it’s out of shot, but remember to take it with you when you leave.
10. Keep your focus
Whether you’re framing up in macro, a regular close up or even a wide scene, your focus needs to be spot on. A camera with focus stacking or bracketing modes is great for this, and fortunately, many now come with those features. If you’re shooting a landscape type scene, this means you can get perfect sharpness from foreground to background, including all the detail of petals and stems. For macro and closeups it means you’ll avoid missing vital detail.