One important subset of nature photography is the flower shot. I'm not talking the typical indoor still life shot; the focus here is on photographing flowers outdoors, in their natural environment or in a flower garden. Let's face it; the most colorful outdoors shots always have flowers in them.
Using the Right Equipment
Shooting a flower or group of flowers is almost the opposite of shooting a scenic vista. Instead of using a wide-angle lens, you want to use a telephoto lens, to get the small flower as large as possible in the shot. A tripod is still helpful, of course, to keep the camera steady. And a polarizing filter is always valuable.
As to the camera, you again want to shoot in aperture priority mode. For this type of photography, you want a large aperture (lower f/stop number) to create a shallow depth of field; you want the background blurry behind the flower. You may need to focus manually if the lens is close enough to the camera to fool your camera's auto focus system.
Of course, the key to shooting flowers is to get the plant large in the frame. This means getting physically close to the subject (or using a zoom or telephoto lens to achieve the same effect), at the "eye level" of the flower.
Isolating the Subject
Shooting a single flower is different from shooting a patch of flowers in a landscape photo. For this type of shot, you need to somehow isolate that single flower from its background; otherwise, all the other flowers and stems will distract from the main subject.
You may be able to isolate the subject by manipulating depth of field, as shown in Figure 23.10. By blurring everything behind the subject with a shallow depth of field, the flower itself stands out. This is made easier when the background consists of green leaves and stems, rather than similarly colored flowers.
Figure 23.10 Use a shallow depth of field to isolate the flower from its background.
Another approach is to place an artificial background behind the flower. This can be accomplished with a simple sheet of black or colored cardboard, without disturbing the natural flower arrangement.
Using Creative Lighting
Natural lighting might not be the best choice when shooting flowers outdoors. Direct sunlight can wash out a flower's colors; the softer lighting of a cloudy day might be a better choice.
Also worth considering is some sort of backlighting, either natural or artificial. As you can see in Figure 23.11, light shining through the petals can really make a flower shine. You can accomplish this by shooting into the sun, or by using a reflector card to bounce the sunlight from behind the flower. Make sure you adjust the exposure to compensate for a strong backlight.
Figure 23.11 Let backlighting shine through the translucent flower petals. (Dig that rainbow effect!)
Here's one of the best reasons to shoot flowers in the natural environment. When you shoot just after a rain shower, you can capture raindrops on the petals and leaves. There's something especially appealing about raindrops in close-up, whether on flowers, grasses, leaves, tree trunks, or the like. Get as close as you can and work with the lighting to make those raindrops gleam; the effect, as shown in Figure 23.12, really makes the shot.
Figure 23.12 Photograph just after a rain shower to capture beaded raindrops.