Flower Photography and good lighting
Students often ask “what is the best way to light flowers?” That question is a little difficult to answer, but it can also be extremely easy to answer at the same time. First of all, you need to have plenty of light so you can maintain a small aperture, thereby keeping sufficient depth-of-field.
The easy answer is, only shoot flowers on an overcast day. The photo shown at the left was taken on an overcast day at The Hollow in Sedan, KS. The details of the flower are very clear and easy to see because of the highly diffused light. When the sun is diffused by the overcast sky it creates a very nice uniform light. This light doesn’t create heavy shadows or sharp contrasty edges. Light like this is great when you are trying to show a lot of soft details on a subject like this flower.
Although it is not always possible to shoot in overcast conditions, it is fairly easy to mimic this affect by using a diffuser. Diffusers are available in many sizes from Camera Stores and Photographic Suppliers, and they are quite portable. The trick with shooting in overcast conditions or with a diffuser, is that you will probably want to use a tripod for your camera. You will also need to shoot at relatively slow shutter speeds, so wind will be a concern. Using the tripod for the camera, while you hold the diffuser overhead, can be made easier by using a cable release to fire the camera. If you don’t have a cable release you could also use the self-timer function on the camera.
There are times when you may want to have a little more dramatic light on your subject, like the flower shown here on the right. In this shot, the details of the flower are not nearly as soft and gentle as the first example, so the higher contrast helps to accentuate these features. You can see from the clouds in the background, that this was shot when there was a good deal more direct sunlight. This could have also been shot using a diffuser to soften the details.
The bottom line is that you generally want to have plenty of light and might want the light to be as natural as possible. Using an overcast day can be ideal for a lot of close-up and flower photography, but a diffuser can be a good substitute. You can also use a flash on a cloudy day to add light and create more contrast when that is desired. Consider your subject and watch the weather, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results you’ll get on a nice rainy day too. On a rainy day the colors sometimes seem to pop better than ever for flowers.
Don’t forget to set the White Balance on your camera appropriate to the lighting conditions under which you are shooting. Using the Cloudy setting for an overcast day will give you much better results than Auto White Balance. If you are shooting on a bright sunny day, use the Daylight setting to maintain the best color. If however you add a diffuser, use the Cloudy or Shade setting, since you are in fact creating a shady situation.
Your best bet is to join me for the 2-day Express Photo Boot Camp, where you can learn a lot of these tricks.
©2009 Jeff Cowell, jeffcowell.com