An Anatomy of a Flower Photo Shoot – Part 2

An Anatomy of a Flower Photo Shoot – Part 2

In Part 2 of “An Anatomy of a Flower Photo Shoot”, I’m going to discuss obtaining the appropriate light for flower photo shoot.

As you may know, direct sunlight should be avoided when photographing flowers if you want them to look as pristine and “artistic” as possible.  If you have not heard that sunlight and flowers do not mix, then let me explain.  

Let’s examine the Dahlia image on the left which was photographed in direct sunlight.  When photographing any flower in direct sunlight it is akin to photographing someone’s face in direct sunlight  –  it is not at all flattering.  In fact, direct sunlight over-emphasizes every little imperfection, causes a combination of harsh shadows and over exposure, and in general, cannot produce the type of image that can be categorized as art.

In contrast, shooting the very same Dahlia using a
simple, round diffuser and getting in a little closer with my lens, rendered the top image on the right, and while it is definitely in need of an exposure adjustment, especially in the center, that was easily accomplished in Lightroom, rendering the delightfully exposed photo as shown in the bottom right image.

Comparing the image taken in direct sunlight (above) to the diffused image (on the right) is like comparing night and day.  They don’t even look like the same image because direct sunlight also affects the flower’s true colors.  Removing all those shadows and then adjusting the exposure of the image in Lightroom gave us a photograph that can absolutely be called, “artistic”.

At this point you may be asking, other than using a diffuser, how else is it possible to photograph flowers without sunlight on them?  There are a few methods but if at all possible, try to arrange your flower photoshoot during periods when there will be overcast skies or at the very least, on a day with periods of cloud and sun.  That said, I realize that not every flower photoshoot can be planned based on what the weather will be like, so here are some other options that can help:

  1. In many cases, if you are shooting at an arboretum or a garden with trees, there will be shady areas.  Shoot the flowers that are in the shaded areas first, then as the sun moves, move on to photographing flowers that were once in the sun but are now shaded.
  2. Shoot with a photo-buddy.  Using your body alone, many times you can block the sun.  So, if you have another person to shoot with, you can take turns blocking the sun with your bodies. NOTE: if you plan to use this method, both you and your photo-buddy need to wear black attire.  Any other color will absolutely add a color cast to your flower subject and wearing white will add additional light to your subject which you are trying to avoid.
  3. Carry a “diffuser” with you.  Even a small diffuser can block enough sun to obtain an image where the sun has been totally blocked from the flower.  If you have a photo-buddy, they can hold the diffuser while you shoot and then you can hold it for them.  I have tried using a tripod and the Wemberley “Plamp” to hold a diffuser but based on the gardens where I photograph regularly,  I haven’t had a lot of success with that method. If you have already purchased the Wemberley Plamp, by all means, give it a try!
  4. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Sometimes, a wide brim on a hat is all you need to block enough of the sun to get your flower subject perfect exposed without sun.
  5. Bring a small, black umbrella.  This is one of my favorite ways to block the sun.  You only need one of those compact umbrellas to block the sun and if you do not need to focus manually, this is something you can manage even if you are shooting by yourself.  Additionally, if you are photographing flowers that are low to the ground, you may be able to put the umbrella on the ground in such a way as to block the sun from flowers that are close to the ground.  I also carry a small fold-up stool with me and putting my umbrella on the stool has also provided shade for my flower subject.  NOTE: YES, the umbrella needs to be black, otherwise you will get a color cast on your flower images.

Now comes the question about adding light.  I prefer to adjust my ISO or shutter speed to obtain more natural light if it is needed but sometimes a small, inexpensive daylight balanced light can be very effective. You will probably want to get one with a hot-shoe so you can mount it on top of your camera (if your camera has a hot-shoe) otherwise you need someone to hold the light for you (hurray for photo buddies) or you can mount it on a light stand (too much gear to bring to a public garden or arboretum).

I know that some instructors recommend using flash to light flowers; however, unless you are completely adept at diffusing flash or bouncing it off of a white reflector, this can be a recipe for disaster, and an expensive one at that.  A proper flash unit can be as much as $500 (or more) but a diffuser is in the neighborhood of $45. Remember that direct light from a flash unit can be almost as harsh as sunlight in all the negative ways explained above.

All in all, using a diffuser did the job that I needed it to do – it blocked the sun that was shining brightly on this very large Dahlia.  After I adjusted my diffused image for exposure, I took it into Photoshop to add some polish by hand-painting it.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

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