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Think carefully about about the qualities of lighting that best complement the chosen subject and background. Translucent subjects and those with strong graphic shapes may benefit from back-lighting. Side-lighting creates long shadows and enhances textured surfaces.

Gladioli Macro Closeup

By Twdragon (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Floral displays look wonderful in natural light, but photographing flowers outdoors can be very difficult because they may move with the slightest puff of wind. Slow shutter speeds are generally used, so any movement inevitably results in a degree of blurring. Find a large north-facing window that can illuminate the subject with cool and diffused light. Net curtains of sheets of tracing paper attached to the windows further diffuse the light, and simple reflectors can be used to fill shadows. Soft lighting of this type may benefit from the use of silvered reflectors if it appears rather too flat. As with portraiture, gold reflectors can be used to warm the light.

Essential and desirable equipment includes:

  • A good sturdy tripod which, in the case of outdoor work, can support a camera very close to the ground. This in not the case with types that use a central column that cannot be removed.
  • A remote release of some description to avoid camera movement.
  • A macro lens with a longer focal length for close-up work - 105mm works well.  Extension tubes can be added to prime lenses if you don't have a dedicated macro lens. The maximum aperture is unimportant unless you plan to work with reduced depth of field.
  • A means of supporting the floral display in the required location and at a controlled height. Working comfortably is important because the photographer is then more likely to devote the required time to getting the set-up right.
  • Simple clamps, and various types of tape, Blu-tak etc for holding delicate blooms, petals and leaves in the required position.
  • A suitable vase or tube in which the display can be arranged - and kept alive during the work.
  • A fine water spray to refresh flowers and add attractive droplets where required. Oil can be used to create stable droplets and is particularly useful for macro work - glycerine used in food works well.

    Physalis 030

    Rüdiger at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Before making a start of the time-consuming process of establishing a perfect floral display and photographic set-up, it is important to select a good subject. Graphic-shaped blooms have greater visual impact, particularly where only a few are used, but colour is also important. A number of flowers make it easier to fill the frame with interest, but foliage can also be used to provide colour contrast, gentle curving lines and a subtle range of hues. Make sure that the specimens used are in first-class condition, if that is how they are to be shown, because the slightest defect soon becomes apparent in the images. Attention to detail is always important in still-life work. Of course, should you want to photograph a stage of natural decay, the approach can be quite different.

Huflattich Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara 2

By Richard Bartz, Munich aka Makro Freak (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The best angle of view must of course be found in every case, but is often achieved with the camera at the level of the flowers or just a little higher. A single bloom may sometimes be photographed using a macro lens and very precise manual focusing, although floral photography usually offers a challenge in terms of depth of field. In the case of a group of blooms, a floral arrangement including surrounding foliage, or a whole plant, it is necessary to work at a greater distance. Overhead views sometimes work well.

Always compose images in the viewfinder and aim to achieve perfection for every shot. Manipulation can be undertaken later on, but there is no substitute for getting an image right at the time of the exposure. Consider carefully how the subject should be positioned in the frame and the shape of the stems in the overall composition, and ensure that the background is of suitable colour and incorporates no distractions for the eye. Keep the background at a good distance and hence well out of focus where possible. This is an excellent way of hiding imperfections. Depth of field should be controlled to achieve the required sharpness in every part of the image. Selective focus and shallow depth of field can be used to draw the eye to a particular flower, stamen, petal or leaf. Also make sure that any vase or prop that is used is clean and free of distracting blemishes. This all saves work at a later stage.

Use colours with care and knowledge to achieve harmony throughout an image. In many cases nature performs this service without any human intervention - reds and greens, or blues and yellows are all naturally occurring contrasting colours that work well together. Countless other complementary combinations can be found by examining the colour wheel but, as a photographer, such detail should reside in the mind's eye! Another approach that can be very effective is to limit the colours in an image to just one or two. Simple compositions of this type may demonstrate in a stunning way that "less is more".

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