Flowers enter the photographer’s frame on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not it was the subject of intent. For this writing, I will conclude that most photography is enhanced with the addition of a flower. In these examples, much like a funeral, wedding, prom, or the closing night of a 3-night run of a high school musical, flowers aren’t necessary, but always enhance the experience.
Posing With/Under Flowers
The subject of each photo in this initial batch is the human. But in each case the photo would seem a bit pointless if the flower was absent or replaced with less pleasant vegetation such as Spanish moss or brick lichen.
Creating Depth With Flowers
The act of taking a photo with a human and a flower is entry-level work for the photographer. It is portrait photography with an accessory. However, there are strategic uses of flowers that can take a photo from a boring snapshot to a complex piece of art worthy of most name-brand refrigerator magnet displays.
On paper my résumé for photographing bridge jumpers is very impressive. It spans 10+ years and 5000+ miles; from the Northeastern corner of the US to the southwestern end in Hawaii. All of that is true, but my experience is limited in part to a chance experience in Hawaii in 2005 as depicted in the photos below. It’s a classic story of locals drink tequila, locals jump off a bridge.
All of my other experiences comes from Martha’s Vineyard in the last 5 years. It’s limited to early August, and at around noon time, so the variables in light are limited to clouds vs. sun. It’s also focused only on the Jaw’s Bridge in Martha’s Vineyard, but it’s arguably the most famous and family-friendly bridge for jumping into water. This guide is focused solely on that bridge, and its 3 affordable vantage points, in order of simplest, to most difficult/rewarding.
Head-On: The Common Audience View
A man-made rock edge runs perpendicular to the bridge which separates the sand from the river which flows between the lagoon and Atlantic ocean. There’s probably a more accurate word for it, but it creates a comfortable head-on view of the bridge. The rocks provide a convenient seat for the photographer to sit comfortably between 25 and 100 feet from the bridge jumpers. This view allows the photographer to capture a group of ideally symmetrical jumpers together. The challenge at noon in August is the bright summer sun coming from nearly directly above us. The bright light-blues in the background can easily cause the jumping subjects to appear too dark which can be righted by a light-fill through photo editing software, however, too much of this effect makes a photo look too cartoony to me.
A cropped photo is never the intent but a zoom lens can only do so much. When a shot from this vantage point does single out a specific jumper a crop becomes necessary.
Photographing flowers indoors can lead to a blurry photo due to the lack of natural light, or an uninspired snapshot if a direct flash is used. Windows, sinks, refrigerators and china cabinets don’t make for an interesting backdrop either. But the advantage that the indoor flower photographer has is time and access to gear.
Indoor photography requires at least one of the following ingredients: a tripod, a flash, or luck. I use a healthy mix of all three, but for flower photography I try to rely less and less on luck. When I started reading photography forums 10 years ago I read some advice about purchasing tripods. It said if you’re serious about photography you should never buy a tripod that’s under $100 as a cheap tripod will either need to be replaced, or thrown away as the hobby of photography is forgotten about. Like my brothers before me, I had to learn this the hard way. You want a stable tripod and portability should not be a large factor. Maybe it can be worn as a backpack, but it shouldn’t fit in your backpack, and certainly not your pocket. Buying a cheap tripod is like asking your great-grandmother to hold a try of champagne flutes at your wedding. She’d probably do it for free, since she’s your great-grandmother, but it’s best to let the paid, and less shaky, staff handle it.
Besides the tripod, my favorite gear to use for indoor flower photography is a strong hand lamp. A fancy camera store will try and sell you a fancy camera lamp but in all my projects I’ve just used a standard reading lamp. Something like this for only $10 would work just fine.
The lamp light gives the photo a dark and eerie feel, especially when it’s the only light source in the room. It’s like the flower is holding a flashlight to its face and telling horror stories. They have no shortage of horror stories as they were recently decapitated and are now being displayed in a stranger’s home until they decompose enough to no longer be desirable.
In these photos I want the entire photo in focus and crisp. With the limited light this means a very long exposure time (10 – 20 seconds). A tripod is compulsory as is a remote shutter or time delay so the act of clicking the trigger doesn’t add any unwanted shake. This batch of photos was taken using a cheap lamp:
The lamp provides some directional light to a segment of the flower, but sometimes a brighter photo is desired with striking blown-out highlights. In most situation a blown-out section of a photo will ruin the photo, but in the case of flower photography I think it’s nice. It adds a nice bright white highlight to the otherwise colorful mix.
Flowers are nature’s gift to photographers. They are all different, and they are just sitting there at knee level waiting to be captured and social media’d. A fixed 50mm lens is perfect and cheap for this. Find a flower, have a small child touch it, and save room for an inspirational quote about following your dreams. It’s a sneeze away from a viral photo.
But after a decade of flower photography I have some ideas of what works best. There aren’t many ways to ruin the photo, but there are techniques to improve the already photogenic blossom. You’re probably on the right track, unless you miss the flower altogether.
Or point the camera the wrong way…
Or forget the camera completely, but still follow-through with the motion for some reason as if no one noticed…