Focus and Flower Photography – Part 2

I’ve had conversations with literally thousands of flower photographers over the last five years and I would say the comment I hear most is, “I don’t like blur – I want my entire image in focus”.  That is a personal choice and there is nothing wrong with it.  While soft and somewhat out-of-focus flower images are in vogue these days, I want to address how to capture a fully, in focus flower, if that’s what you are looking for.

Going back to Part 1 of this discussion, I talked about f/stop and the important role it plays in focus.  So, from that discussion you know that the more you stop down (close the aperture by using a larger aperture number), the greater depth-of-field (or focus) you have. So, technically, you could set your lens aperture to f/16 or f/22 and get the entire flower in focus …. maybe.

If you are using a macro lens and you are close to the flower, even at f/16, you will get blur.  If you are using a macro lens but are stand far off, you may get the entire image in focus at f/14 – f/16 but you will probably get the entire flower in focus but then your background would be in focus as well.  Another problem you may have with this method is lack of light.  Once you stop down your aperture to f/16 and f/22, you will be losing a lot of light, causing you to have a very slow shutter speed.  To counteract slow shutter speed, you can raise your ISO (as long as your camera doesn’t produce noise at higher ISO’s) or you can use a tripod. 

That said, I have two other methods for attaining an in focus flower.

Method 1: Shoot with a telephoto lens, preferably 70-300 or 75-300 at its widest aperture or fully open aperture (probably f/5.6).  Back up far enough so that your flower fills the frame (try not to cut off petals/leaves) and you should see your background blur.  The result will be flower in focus, background blurred.  If you happen to have an f/2.8 70-200 lens, all the better. Set your aperture to f/2.8 and backup enough to fill the frame with the flower.

Both of these images were shot with my 70-300 lens at f/5.6



Method 2: Use a tripod and do a focus stack of 3 to 7 images (if you have a steady hand, you can hand-hold and focus stack 3-4 images). To begin, set your aperture to a mid-range choice of f/7.1 or f/8 and as you shoot, change the focus point on your camera so that you have captured all the areas of the image in focus.  When you get your images into Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, correct all the images in the series for white balance and exposure, then create a Focus Stack in Photoshop.  Note:  The latest versions of Lightroom and ACR allow you to do this automatically without going to Photoshop first.  I will be doing an OnDemand Video showing the steps of how to do this.

When I know that I am going to hand-paint a flower image in Photoshop, I prefer to have a completely in focus subject so I use either Method 1 or Method 2 to obtain fully in focus flowers.

This image was shot with my 105mm macro at f/8 with a focus stack of 7 images.

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