Spring is in the air, and the first flowers of late winter have already bloomed. So maybe it is time for a quick tour about flower photography. Apart from the artistic appeal flowers have on a human mind, it is one of the first subjects we are drawn to when we begin in photography. Flowers are relatively patient customers that seldom move and that can provide beautiful photographs if you take time to think a little bit about how to do it.
What is a Flower?
A strange question isn’t it? But wait for the answer that may surprise you.
First of all, flowers have different parts and you will have to know which part you want to focus on. Is your flower photograph about petals? About the core? About the way it achieves balance on its stem? The leaves and the thorns that may be there too sometimes? There will be a different perspective, a different subject and a different story depending on the choice you make at this stage. With just one flower you can experiment with a lot of different photographs.
Petals are about shapes and texture and colours. You can focus on texture, or on colour depending on the way you manage contrast and clarity. You can notice the different textures between a full bloomed flower and a fading flower. Colours do change too in the process of decaying.
Cores are about centres and the way texture must adapt to a round surface. Is your flower at the end of its life? Are the mature seeds visible?
Stems are about posing, balance, and straight lines.
Leaves and thorns add interest to the picture with more shapes and more colours.
Does the flower stand alone? It is a bunch? A floor in the wild? Is there an interesting background?
Notice the relation from flower to flower, the way they interact.
What do you want to show?
There is no right technique. It all depends on what you want to convey.
Most of the time a flower picture is in macro. But macro just mean that the scale of the picture is larger than the real life subject and you don’t always need a macro lens to achieve that. A simple close up with a shallow depth of field may do the trick.
You’ll have to turn around your subject, see the best angle to render the best of what you want to show and what you chose to focus on. At the same time pay attention to light. Which atmosphere do you wish to have on your photograph? The joy of a sunny day or the melancholy of a fading flower?
On shooting and on post-production, you’ll have to keep in mind the issue of blur and sharpness. Which parts need blur? Which parts need to be sharp? The same goes for contrast and clarity and softness. Always have a purpose.
Do you take a flower picture to tell a story or just for art’s sake?
Stories depend on elements that you put there on purpose but also on things that are already there even if you don’t notice.
The context in which you put your flower will tell a different story whether it is in the wild or in a still life photography. Is it a nature picture? Is it about the way human coded life chose to do with it?
The season is a part of the context, and adds atmosphere to the picture. Is it a blooming from late Winter? from rainy Spring? from full sun in Summer? Each season has its own underlying unconscious story to tell and this add twists into the storytelling.
At which stage of maturity do you choose to take a picture? When it’s in a bud? In full bloom? Fading? This also adds a sense of storyline to your photo.
The flower species may tell something different too. We all know about flower language. We all know the meaning of offering red roses. There is a tradition but you can understand different emotions from flower specie to flower specie because of its colours and shapes and the way it grows. Wild flowers convey a different emotion that flower shop flowers for example.
The pose of a flower and the context often lead to an unconscious comparison. Flowers are women in disguise, you can feel their beauty, their fragility sometimes, the smiling joy of their bright colours, or the modesty of their pastel soft tones. The pose of a stem may show a movement, a longing towards something, or a retreating, a stillness or the urge to bloom even more and take a new leap to a new life.
So what are flowers?
Flowers are the most extravagant part of a plant or a tree or a herb. Flowers are immodest beings displaying their secret intimacy to be seen, smelt and touched. They are our opposite. We hide our intimacy, we keep it secret, we share it in private. Flowers are the reproductive organs of a plant. And we gather these beautiful genitals in bunches, we love them, we are moved by the cheeky way nature displays them in beautiful sceneries, we love their perfume, and … we offer them to those we love.