An Anatomy of a Flower Photo Shoot – Part 1

An Anatomy of a Flower Shoot – Part 1

When potential new Members answer the questions that are asked when requesting to join this Group, the answer to the question, “Why do you want to join this Group”, is very often answered, “to learn to how to better photograph flowers”.

Today I’m starting a Blog Series, “An Anatomy of a Flower Photo Shoot” where I will share with you my thought process, lens selection, camera settings and the why and how of flower photography.  In today’s installment, I’m going to start with camera settings and choosing the right flower to photograph.

Whether you’ve been to a garden a lot or its your first time, there is always an anticipation about what you will see and photograph.  Getting started, I’m always a little timid at first and I really look at all the blooms and wait for one to really beckon my attention. 

Once I find that “special” bloom, I examine it from a variety of angles and look at it’s level of perfection before I even take out my camera.  If a flower has ragged/decaying edges, holes left by insects or tears due to weather conditions, you can still shoot it as long as you are willing to put in the post-production work in Photoshop to make the repairs so that it looks pristine.  Also examine the leaves around the flower because they can be less than pristine as well, thus becoming a distraction. If you can’t shoot around them, try to ensure that they are slightly blurred if you are not willing or able to repair them in Photoshop.  

If you have more than one lens, it’s now time to determine which lens you will use to photograph this flower.

I’m going to pause here and talk about shutter speed.  Most often, I shoot in aperture priority which can make one forget about shutter speed and  sometimes that can really bite you in the “blessed assurance”, so to speak.  Even though your images may look in focus when you review them in your camera, you may find that they are slightly out of focus when you get them onto your computer.

The rule of thumb is, your shutter speed should be at least double the length of your lens.  So, if you are shooting with a 90mm macro, your shutter speed would have to be a 1/180th of a second or higher.  If you are shooting with a 180mm macro (or telephoto), your shutter speed would have to be at 1/360th of a second or higher.  I try to go shoot a little fast than the recommended double, especially if I’m using a long lens.  This allows me to capture in focus images on a consistent basis.

Step 1: ISO

First I determine my ISO – very sunny conditions ISO 200, some shade, ISO 400 and with overcast skies (my favorite) ISO 800. 

Step 2: F/Stop

Next, I select my f/stop  – wide open (smallest number) for blurry backgrounds or selective focus of the flower or stopped down (larger number f/7.1 to f/11) to get more of the flower in focus.  If I’m using my 70-300 telephoto at 300mm and f/5.6, I can get a fully in focus flower with pleasing blur in background as long as the flower isn’t right up against the background.

Step 3: Double-Check Shutter Speed (or set shutter speed if you are shooting in Manual Mode)

With my ISO and f/stop set, I look look through my camera to focus but first, I ALWAYS look to see what my shutter speed is.  If my shutter speed is not high enough to shoot without the potential of getting blur, I will up my ISO. 

If you are using a camera that was produced in the last 2-3 years, a higher ISO should not give you an over abundance of grain.  In fact, underexposed images at lower ISO’s can tend to have more grain than a well-exposed image at a higher ISO.

Step 4: Set the Focus Point in Your Camera

If you have never set your focus point, you will get unexpected and often unwanted results in your images.  The focus point tells the camera where to sample light and also tells the lens where to focus, so it’s important to choose a focus point where you want the most focus.  Is that in the middle of the flower or on the edge of a petal – only you can determine that, and I would highly recommend that you continue moving your focus points to different areas of the subject as you shoot to determine what you like best.

Step 5: Test Shots for Light/Composition

Now that your lens selection and camera settings and focus point have been determined, it’s time take a few “test” shots to ensure that you have the appropriate light and focus.  If everything is good with light and focus, begin to take additional shots from different angles and levels of height (high and low) to see if you’re getting a composition that pleases you.  If there are distractions in the foreground or background, do your best to move left, right, up or down to try to avoid the distraction.

If you are using a macro lens, move in close to take some shots and then move back and frame the entire flower.  This will help you to learn what you like best.  You may find that you have different preferences for different types of flowers.

Step 6: Shoot Freely and Have Fun !!!

It’s time to shoot freely and have some fun, again, remember to vary the angle and height from which you are shooting, vary your focus point, and make sure that you have enough light !!!

The Featured Image: Shot with 105mm f/2.8 @ 4.0

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