Since the invention of the camera, photographers have had a love affair with flowers. It likely began all the way back in the early 19th century, when a British botanist named Anna Atkins met Henry Fox Talbot, the scientist credited with pioneering the medium in its earliest days. Atkins, a family friend of Sir John Herschel, the chemist who created the cyanotype process in 1942, ultimately devoted much of her life to cataloging the world’s plants on photo-sensitive paper. She authored numerous books on algae, ferns, and of course, flowers.
Since Atkins, flora has remained the photographer’s constant muse, and Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and Robert Mapplethorpe have all stood on the other side of the lens. In springtime, photographs of crocuses, daffodils, pansies, and lily-of-the-valley are as numerous as the flowers themselves. In honor of the season, we asked six Shutterstock photographers to tell us about how they capture beautiful flower pictures, both in the studio and outdoors, immersed in nature.
1. “Flowers have so many colors that they require a simple, neutral background.”
I like photographing flowers in motion: outdoors, in the wind and nature light. I love “live” flowers. To me they look like butterflies, and their lives are so fleeting. My challenge is to catch just moment of that life.
Flowers have so many colors that they require a simple, neutral background. Usually, I remove any other color in the frame, leaving only the flowers. I don’t like green leaves and stems because they distract from the main hero of the frame, so I find flowers on bare stems without leaves.
For photography, the flowers should be fresh plucked, but I don’t like perfect, “shop view” flowers. I believe that the asymmetrical curves and non-ideal colors of flowers can add character to the frame. These flowers have soul.
2. “Shoot in the early morning or evening, or shoot on an overcast day.”
Woodland flowers seem to bring life back to the world after a long, cold, and sometimes drab winter. For that short period in spring, the forest is a magical wonderland of colors. When I’m out hiking, I will often spot spring beauties: toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, trillium, bellwort, marsh marigold, Virginia bluebells, and May Apples along trails, deer paths, and marshy areas. The fascinating thing about these flowers is that somehow they understand that they have a fleeting life. Their lifecycle – sprout, grow, flower, fruit, and seed – must occur before the taller trees leaf out and block the sunlight from the forest floor.
Not only is there a small window in which to photograph woodland flowers, but also there are two other challenges that I have to overcome: bright sunlight and wind. Bright sunlight creates harsh shadows that can distract from a photograph, but they can be mitigated with some techniques. Shoot in the early morning or evening, or shoot on an overcast day. Wait for a cloud to pass overhead, or use an umbrella to act as a diffuser. Early morning or evening photography can also greatly diminish the impact of the wind. At these times, winds are typically lower, and the flowers are more stationary.
3. “Find unusual elements to combine with the flowers.”
I’m a wedding planner in Phuket, Thailand, as well as a photographer, so I’m always surrounded by beautiful, tropical flowers. And my sister is a florist in New Zealand, so she’s always asking me to photograph her creations when I’m home. Flowers are beautiful, and they make people happy. I like to find unusual elements to combine with the flowers to make them interesting and personal, like the Buddhist image here. This is a photo of a bride’s bouquet and the statue at the villa where she was getting married.
4. “Do not use continuous light, only a flash.”
Flowers are the ideal material for the creation of beautiful photos. They are striking for their colors, texture, and elegance. I use only fresh flowers. All my photos of flowers were made in studio, with professional light and the involvement of a professional florist, but everyone can get great photos of flowers if they put in the effort.
When photographing flowers, don’t be afraid to improvise. You can use different filters, dew drops, fabrics, decorative items, and interiors. Take photos of bouquets and of single flowers. Use a narrow depth of field to draw attention to details. Do not use continuous light, only a flash.
5. “Keep the background monotone, like an isolated white, black, grey, or blue.”
I fell in love with flowers because of their natural colors. My advice for photographing flowers is to keep the background monotone, like an isolated white, black, grey, or blue. Flowers have a natural beauty, and using a backlight or silhouetting the flowers will help enhance that.
6. “Use a spray container with water to make beautiful droplets on the flower petals.”
I love moments of unity with nature. When I lie in the grass or smell the fragrance of a blooming garden, it fills me with joy and inspiration. The process of photographing plants and flowers is an even greater pleasure for me than the result on the screen, and I prefer shooting outdoors rather than studio.
Sometimes I use a spray container with water to make beautiful droplets on the flower petals. I do like to make close-up photos of flowers with macro lenses, which requires a lot of patience – every tiny breath or gust of wind can spoil everything. In the last couple of years, however, I’ve also started taking pictures of flowers on a telephoto lens. It does not give the sharpness of a macro lens, but it separates the flowers from the background much better and can produce a clear but soft image with an interesting bokeh. Additionally, a telephoto lens makes it possible to shoot flowers on fruit trees, for example, that are too high to reach with a macro lens.