Freehand flower photography out in nature (or your local neighbourhood) is one of my favorite photography genres. In this article, and in the accompanying video, I will give you my 8 best tips for flower photography in the wild.
1. Use a fast and close focusing lens
A macro lens is an ideal option, but it is not strictly necessary unless you are photographing really small flowers. You will get beautiful results with a 50mm or 85mm lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 or f/2.0 or similar as well. A long focal length combined with a large maximum aperture will enable you to get the background blurred out in a pleasing way, which I personally often use as a foundational ingredient in my flower photos. Two of my favorite lenses to use for flower photography is the Canon 135mm f/2.0 lens or the cheaper Samyang 135mm f/2.0, due to their superior sharpness and ability to blur out the background, while being pretty lightweight and not too expensive.
2. Mind the background
Not minding the background is the mistake that most often messes up a flower photo that could have been beautiful. A nice flower is not enough, you need to combine it with a background that is beautiful and in harmony with the subject, but without taking over the photo. Compare these two photos taken of the same flower from the same position, only with a slight change of angle used when taking the photo. The background matters, even if it is only a blur of colours.
3. Leverage flatness
The area that is in focus in front of your camera, will be very flat and thin when you are shooting something close to the camera, such as a flower that fills the frame. Therefore, try to find flat flowers, or flat parts of the flowers, and align your lens so that you encompass the flat flower with your flat focus plane. That way, your flower will be perfectly sharp, while the background is perfectly out of focus.
4. Keep the background distant
The key to a photo where the flower stands out, is to separate it from the background. The easiest way to do this is to keep the background blurry and out of focus. And the easiest way to do this is to try to get an angle of the flower where the background is as far away as possible. Try holding your camera close to the ground, and look for flowers that stand on their own without too much shrubbery around them.
5. Mess with the colors
If your photo feels almost, but not quite, where you want it, it might be a good idea to mess around with the colors a bit. Use the color sliders in Lightroom to change the luminance or hue a bit of each color in the photo, and see if you can make the photo more interesting. This is a delicate art of course, as the slightest mistake here will make the photo look too artificial. Mess with the colors just enough to make the photo more interesting, but still believable. Study my before and after example here.
6. Try black and white
If messing with the colors doesn't work, try making the photo black and white. In a lot of cases, if the flower is bright or white, and if the background is darker, making it black and white will create a beautiful contrast that makes the photo stunning.
7. Use the shade
Your chances of getting a nice flower photo will tenfold if you photograph it in shade, and not in direct sunlight. This is a very common mistake. In the shade, the light will be softer, and you will not get harsh shadows, washed out colors and overexposed areas in your photo. If the flower you want to capture isn't already in the shade, just block the sun with your body while photographing it, as I did for the photo below.
8. Work with contrast
As we have touched upon in previous tips, a good photograph is a lot about contrast. You want the flower to pop out of the background. A last tip is to leverage colour contrast. Try to pick a flower that has a colour that contrasts with the background, it will make for a lot nicer subject than a flower that is in a similar colour as the background. Below is an example of a photo that could have been great, but is instead very bland because there is no colour contrast between the flower and the background – their colors are too similar.
And here is an example of a flower photo with a good colour contrast, the red flower vividly stands out from the blue background.
About the author
Micael Widell is a photography enthusiast based in Stockholm, Sweden. He runs a YouTube channel and a newsletter with tutorials, lens reviews and photography inspiration. You can also find him as @mwroll on Instagram and 500px.