Jul 11, 2014

Flower Photography: Selective Focus

“A rose is a rose is a rose…” said Gertrude Stein, but if you feel that way about flower photography, maybe it’s time for a new way to see these blooms through your camera’s eye.

Summer flowers inspire photographers with their colors, shapes and beauty. Even the most casual photographers and smartphone users can’t resist snapping a shot or two when they set eyes on them. Seeing a beautiful field of flowers just makes you happy and want to capture the moment with your camera. But many photographers come home disappointed with the images or quickly get bored with the same images of roses or daisies every year. But changing your point of view and getting up close and personal can foster excitement and interest in the images you create.
The photographer who opened my eyes to viewing flowers differently through a camera lens is Allen Rokach. Check his portfolio of flower photographs on his website and pay attention to what he does with his camera. He’s either up close and really personal with an orchid or he captures abstract rivers of color in a field of wildflowers. He masterfully plays with the translucency of red poppy petals or purple blue bonnets. Even his rose and sunflower photos are not cliche depictions.

I don’t have the post-processing skills of Rokach to create the same kind of impressionistic depictions of summer blooms, but here are some photo techniques that can help your flower photographs get noticed.

When the Backstreet Boys say, “Get down, get down and move it all around...” they’re not talking about your camera. But it’s good advice for flower photographers. Promise yourself that you will resist taking photographs of flowers while looking down at them. Get on you knees, lay down, roll in the grass, get dirty and take a look from this new perspective before you snap a photo.

Take the camera off auto and get used to manually focusing and setting aperture. Things can change a lot when you control the aperture and focus. For instance, aperture helps expand or limit depth of field, while manually focusing allows you to select your focus point.  

Use reflectors to bounce light onto the subject. A gold reflector will add warmth. A silver reflector--even a small piece of aluminum foil will brighten the scene and fill shadows. I’ve used a piece of white foam board to add punch to a flatly lit blossom.

On camera flash is taboo, but if you get a TTL cord you can add flash under, behind or on the side of your subjects. Modern flash systems allow you to control the light they emit so effects can be very subtle. You’ll be amazed how backlit petals often radiate beauty as if through a prism.

Get as close as your equipment allows. Focus on the pistils and stamens, or just the edge of a petal with the rest of the flower remaining a suggestion. 

Your photos can evoke a field of flowers with patterns and colors.Think about making your image hint daisy, or sunflower or orchid. Don’t get bored with zinnias or hydrangeas, just get up close and selectively focus on where the light and color interact.
And finally, how do you do all this stuff and hold the camera, too? Well, bring that hated tripod with you. Now, when you select a subject you want to photograph, you can focus tightly on it while directing your off-camera TTL flash in one hand and your reflector and remote shutter release in the other. Or, you can set the timer for the shutter release to five or 10 seconds which should give you enough time to set things up before the shutter clicks.

Bright overcast days are best because the light is fairly even and you can also juice things up with a spray bottle of water to add reflective surfaces. 

Have fun!

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