Want to learn the secrets of capturing beautiful botanical photos? Get up close and personal with Mother Nature with tips from these seven pro photographers.

Since the dawn of the camera, photographers have tried radical and surprising techniques for capturing plant specimens. Take, for example, Anna Atkins, the first botanist to use cyanotypes to study her subjects — a daring choice back in the mid-19th century. Or consider the photographer and botanical hobbyist Karl Blossfeldt, who at the turn of the 20th century, started building special homemade cameras capable of capturing the minute details of tiny and fragile flowering plants.

Photographing plants is a challenge, given their small size, fleeting lifespans, and intricate structures, but a great botanical shot today elicits the same sense of awe and wonder that Atkins and Blossfeldt inspired more than a century ago. We asked seven contemporary photographers to tell us about their experiences shooting a wide variety of botanical subjects all over the world, and they shared some helpful words of wisdom gathered along the way. Read on to find their secrets for unforgettable botanicals.

1. “When a plant catches my eye and I compose my photograph, I think about what I would like to showcase.”

Nina Mingioni

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Know What You Want to Showcase

Image by Nina Mingioni. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon EF 100 f/2.8L lens. Settings: Exposure 1/500 sec; f3.5; ISO 250.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I have found interesting plants in many different places. Local botanical gardens, arboreta, and horticultural farms are usually a great place to start. Whenever I travel, nationally or abroad, I always make it a point to go to a local botanical garden in search of interesting plants. And whenever I go, I always bring my macro lens.

This time, I was visiting a local arboretum with my family, and as we were hiking past a thick strip of woods, I spotted this beauty. It was the radial symmetry of this plant that I found unusual and striking. While the light was not particularly interesting, the open shade provided the even illumination I needed to showcase the symmetry of the plant. It is a simple flower, but it’s the repetitive pattern and symmetry that make it special to me.

Pictured: [1] Nina Mingioni [2] Nina Mingioni

Pro Tip

When a plant catches my eye and I compose my photograph, I think about what I would like to showcase. What was it about this particular plant that stopped me in my tracks? Was it the texture? The color? The pattern? The curves of the veins of the leaves? The way the petals were stacked up against each other? Was it the way the light plays off any of these features? Plant photography is more than just taking a picture of pretty flowers. I believe that the key to a special plant photograph is to decide what the true subject of the photograph is before you actually click the shutter.

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2. “Ideal conditions for me are cloudy skies, no wind, and high humidity.”

Ervin-Edward

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Look For Ideal Conditions

Image by Ervin-Edward. Gear: Canon 6D camera, Canon 17-40mm f4 lens. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 1/100 sec; f4; ISO 640.

What’s the story behind this photo?

When this photo was taken, I was in a remote village in Covasna County, Romania called Commando. The plan was to go camping in the forest that surrounds this small village in the middle of nowhere. I hoped to capture some of the beauty hidden in this wilderness.

As I was hiking, the weather turned, and I was forced to set up camp. The rain was pouring, so I had to stay in my tent and rethink my plan for the day. After several hours, the rain stopped, and the conditions were perfect for plant-focused photography. I quickly set up my gear.

I took just a few steps outside my tent when I saw an interesting plant formation. When I got closer, I was amazed by what I found. It looked like a mini rainforest in the middle of the Balkan Black Forest, so I immediately snapped a photo of it. In spite of the rain, it turned out to be a great day after all.

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Take Your Time

Image by Ervin-Edward

Pro Tip

Take your time, and don’t rush it! If you want to take pictures of plants, you have to do some planning in advance. Some people might consider a cloudy, overcast day to be a bad time for plant photography, but it’s actually the other way around. A clear and sunny sky will make your job harder because the sun blows out highlights and blocks shadows.

Ideal conditions for me are cloudy skies, no wind, and high humidity. These conditions make plants come to life with high contrast and colors that pop. Additionally, you’ll get that odd drop of water that lingers on the edge of your plant and makes it look fresh.

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3. “Try different angles, lenses, views, and distances until the shot draws you in.”

Rachel Weill

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Try New Things

Image by Rachel Weill. Gear: Canon Mark IV camera, 50mm/1.2 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/60 sec; f4.0; ISO 800.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I love this succulent shot because it has a more moody feel than the rest of my botanical work. This image has actually inspired me to shoot plants in darker and more dramatic environments, and it’s opened my eyes to think beyond the way I have traditionally shot for magazines.

San Francisco International Airport has an incredibly talented landscaping team. There are beautifully planted medians, parking lots, and airport buildings surrounding the actual airport. I had shot a few of their gardens on a scouting trip with a writer, but I wanted to return to get better light. On their gardener’s advice, I arrived before sunrise, figured out the overall shot I wanted, and then noticed these succulents on the ground next to where my car was parked.

I snapped a few shots and moved on, but when I went to edit, I kept going back to this shot. That morning, all the colorful flowering plants in the landscape had been closed and shut down for the night, but these succulents were wide open and appeared flower-like in the dawn light. It was a shot I would expect to shoot at a home or a fancy hotel, but here was this beautiful detail where normally you’d see bare dirt or grass or trash. Here was some natural beauty in a place that is normally just a transition to somewhere else.

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Remember to Look Around You

Image by Rachel Weill

Pro Tip

My best advice when shooting is to just stop and look. Nature is incredible, and there are beautiful photos everywhere. Try different angles, lenses, views, and distances until the shot draws you in. You’ll need to find what style is best suited to the plant and the look you want. This sometimes means backlighting so the background is blown out, and other times, it means shooting against a shadow or looking down so the dark brown of the soil frames the shot.

If the plant is very busy, I try to find something to focus in on or treat it more like a pattern of colors and shapes. I am not a painter, but I do think that botanical photography can have a painterly quality. So, I look for composition and contrast, and I think about what makes the plant look best, just like you would for a portrait. I tend to shoot a shallow depth of field to blur out the background. But truly, each plant is different.

For detailed close-ups, I almost always use my 100 macro lens. This lens is especially great if the background is busy or not attractive since it will soften and blur just enough to make almost anything pretty. If I am stepping back more but still want separation, then I love using my 85mm. For vistas or wider shots, I use a 50mm.

Of course, morning and evening light are ideal times to shoot, but when I am shooting during the day, I always find a way to make shade. The challenge for me is shooting in shade but avoiding flat lighting. While it is easy to carry around a small pop up silk disc to shade plants, I don’t love that look because it tends to have a studio softbox quality that doesn’t feel natural to me. I love tree shade or open shade with a nearby white wall or white card bouncing light in. If the light feels too flat, I will sometimes place a dark card (or my body!) on one side to give the light a more directional look while still remaining soft.

Experiment with different angles, fill cards, and backgrounds, or just move to the left or right. Your eyes are your best tool. When the light on the plant looks good to your eye, it will likely also look good on camera.

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4. “Learn about the natural environment and the ecosystems you’re photographing.”

Stephane Bidouze

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Familiarize Yourself with Local Plants

Image by Stephane Bidouze. Gear: Canon EOS 6D camera, EF 135mm/f2 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/50 sec; f2; ISO 500.

What’s the story behind this photo?

As I was walking along a path on Koh Mook island in South Thailand, my eyes suddenly fell on this specimen of wild ginger (Costus Speciousus). It’s a pretty common species there, but this one had a lovely rounded stem, inspiring me to opt for a more original framing. The choice of the selective focus on the red flower and the use of a limited depth of field gave me a more delicate rendering of the rounded stem shape.

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Learn About the Ecosystems You Shoot

Image by Stephane Bidouze

Pro Tip

Whether I’m in the wild or in my garden, it’s important for me to know and love what I’m shooting. Learn about the natural environment and the ecosystems you’re photographing. That way, you will be able to recognize the families and the species of your subjects. Eventually, plants will become more familiar to you, and having that knowledge will help you to find more subjects to shoot.

5. “I like sweeping curves that help highlight a plant’s organic shape.”

Darcy Rogers

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Look for Organic Shapes

Image by Darcy Rogers. Gear: Hasselblad camera, 80 lens. Settings: ISO 400.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I saw this tree while I was walking through Riverside Park in New York City. I was immediately struck by the pink flowers blooming on the brown tree trunk, and I also liked how the tree branches were twisting up and away, creating a sense of movement.

Pictured: [1] Darcy Rogers [2] Darcy Rogers [3] Darcy Rogers

Pro Tip

When photographing plants, I look for lines that will lead the viewer’s eye through the photo. I like sweeping curves that help highlight a plant’s organic shape. Unique colors also help draw a viewer into a photograph. I like looking for plants that showcase a variety of color or feature leaves that are not just green. A shallow depth of field can also help certain elements in the photo pop and create tension in an image.

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6. “It is worth ensuring that your subject is as beautiful and immaculate as possible.”

Bogdan Wankowicz

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Choose Immaculate Subjects

Image by Bogdan Wankowicz. Gear: Canon 550D camera, 50mm 1.4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/2500 sec; f3.2; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

My favorite time of year for photographing flowers is spring, when nature explodes with its beauty. Usually, a white sky is boring, and bright images distract the viewer from the rest of the picture; however, if the sky is blue, then it blends nicely with blooming flowers such as fruit trees in the spring. In this case, I photographed cherry blossoms.

Pro Tip

It is worth ensuring that your subject is as beautiful and immaculate as possible. If I want to photograph a flower, for example, it cannot have any brown spots or nibbled petals. It must look perfect. I do not like spending too much time editing on the computer; I prefer to commune with nature and spend time looking for the perfect specimen. At the same time, even seemingly perfect specimens have minor defects that become visible after displaying the image in high resolution. If necessary, I retouch them by removing spots from flower petals.

I photograph in diffuse light. Remember that leaves and petals are transparent, allowing you to compose images with the light passing through the flowers. You can lighten the shaded side of the flower with a faint flashing light.

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Explore Your Lighting

Image by Bogdan Wankowicz. Gear: Canon 550D camera, 70-200mm 4 lens. Settings: Focal length 200mm; exposure 1/1250 sec; f4; ISO 100.

Try shooting against the light to achieve a sleepy, warm atmosphere. This will allow you to emphasize the structure of the petals or to capture the flower’s silhouette. Regardless of the equipment, I always try to use a shallow depth of field or a long focal length. When you are at a short distance from your subject, you can obtain a background blur that is pleasing to the eye.

Behance

7. “In the wild and outdoors in general, I find it’s best to select an optimal day for shooting.”

Phillip B. Espinasse

7 Photographers on Shooting Outstanding Botanical Shots — Check the Weather Before Shooting

Image by Phillip B. Espinasse. Gear: Nikon D750 camera, Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens. Settings: Focal length 500mm; exposure 1/1600 sec; f5.6; ISO 800.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Nothing says tropical quite like the bird of paradise! Although it’s native to South Africa, the bird of paradise flower has become one of the most popular and recognizable tropical flowers used in floral decorations today, and it can be seen throughout the Hawaiian islands.

I caught a glimpse of this particular flower as it towered above others nearby. The late afternoon sunlight highlighted the background foliage in a soothing and vibrant green tone. Since I couldn’t get close to the flower due to natural obstacles, I opted to use a telephoto lens and had to resort to high shutter speeds to compensate for the longer focal length and to mitigate the particularly high afternoon winds. The shallow depth of field resulted in a uniform and blurry backdrop for this naturally vibrant and colorful flower.

Pictured: [1] Phillip B. Espinasse [2] Phillip B. Espinasse

Pro Tip

If possible, avoid windy situations. In the wild and outdoors in general, I find it’s best to select an optimal day for shooting. Check the weather conditions before going on location, and select an ideal location where the subject is protected from existing wind. Stabilize your camera. Consider using a tripod or the Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization function, if available on your lens, when hand-holding your camera.

Consider using a shallow depth of field. A shallow depth of field results in small parts of the image being sharply in focus while the rest is soft and/or out-of-focus, often directly yielding beautiful, colorful bokeh in the background. You can achieve this by using a wide aperture (lower f-stop, f/2.8-f/5.6, depending on your lens of choice). You will find the effect to be even more pronounced when you are using a telephoto lens with a wide aperture. This technique helps to isolate the subject from the background and makes it come alive.

Get closer to your subject. Two common ways of achieving this involve using either a telephoto lens or a macro lens. I also highly recommend you thoroughly inspect your subject’s background before you proceed with the capture. Too many times, I’ve come home to inspect my photos only to discover that there was a small, unwanted, and avoidable imperfection in the background — a misplaced leaf or twig, an ugly dead or decaying leaf, rubbish, or some other unsightly item — that could have either been easily removed prior to the photoshoot or avoided altogether simply by recomposing the photo.

Top Image by Phillip B. Espinasse