Flower photography is both easy and difficult.
It is easy because flowers pretty much stay where they are and you have practically all the time in the world to shoot them. And because flowers are basically pretty.
Thus, you need not learn a lot of techniques and tips to take nice flower pictures.
The difficulty arises when you want to go beyond the pretty picture and create something special.
This requires not so much special techniques, but more a sense of imagination and an 'eye' to see the potential that a flower - even an ordinary flower - presents.
The picture above, for example, was taken from the edge of a pond (at the Singapore Botanical Gardens).
I could not have taken it from the other side, not even from the left or the right – unless I went into the water. And even if I did, I would not have been able to take it at eye level.
Moreover, it was taken on a dull, overcast day. I didn't exactly have “all the time in the world“ to wait till the lighting was better. It was late in the afternoon and the sun would set soon! The conditions were not exactly ideal for flower photography.
Still, it became one of my favourite photograph of flowers, after I did some Photoshop adjustments. I lead off with the above photograph of flowers not just because it is my favourite, but more because it illustrates a number of flower photography tips and techniques:
First, do not ignore small, insignificant and plain-looking flowers. I find it boring that most flower photographs are of roses, tulips and other supposedly 'beautiful' flowers. Take a closer look at some 'roadside flowers' and you might be surprised to find them both interesting and beautiful.
This flower above was just one of hundreds on a grass slope outside my hotel the first time I visited America in 1980. It's a flower that people would step on. But I thouht it deserved a picture. – together with the twig that provided a sense of depth.
Do not only think in terms of color. Black and white flower photographs can be equally, if not more, stunning. Some of the most striking examples of flower photography I have seen are by Imogen Cunningham and they are all in black and white.
Do not worry also if the lighting is not perfect. Take the photo first and see what you can do with it later. The worst that can happen is that you waste some film – unless you are using a digital camera, in which case you 'waste' at most temporary storage space.
The usual advice about flower photography lighting techniques is to photograph them in the shade or on a slightly overcast day. In strong, direct sunlight, the colors tend to be over-saturated and appear flat. But don't take this as a rule; don't stop yourself from photographing flowers just because the lighting is not ideal.
My main flower photograph above was taken in very poor lighting and the original looks like this:
Because the lighting was poor, I had to use the widest aperture, resulting in a very shallow depth of field that made the photograph even more horrible.
If I had taken it with a digital camera, I would have erased it. But since it was taken on slides and I already had the photo, I took a closer look. I decided to zoom in on the middle section and experiment with Photoshop to see what happens. I was glad I did.
Still on the subject of lighting for flower photography, what also works well is to shoot against the sun - that is, use back-lighting. Never mind if you end up shooting the 'back-side' of the flower:
Flower petals, even thick petals like those of orchids, are somewhat translucent, and back-lighting will reveal interesting details and textures.
So I did some Photoshop adjustments, but this time deliberately making it very dark. It gave the flower a somewhat mysterious feel, which I rather liked.