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Flower photography, Part 1 (10/16/2005)
By Tom Hirsch

Beauty is fleeting, and this is especially true of flowers. The freshness of a perfect rose lasts only a day or so. Early morning dew on a flower garden disappears by mid-morning, and cut flowers in an arrangement retain their splendor for only a short time.

The beauty of a garden, a flower arrangement or a single blossom can be preserved in photographs and enjoyed for years to come, but there are other reasons for taking pictures of flowers. If you have a flower garden, pictures can serve as a year-by-year reference. Compare this year's garden with that of last year. Are you satisfied with the pattern of this year's garden? What changes were made from last year? What changes would you like to make next year?

Maybe you're just interested in taking pictures of beautiful flowers. If that's the case, there are plenty of places to find them. They can be found in parks, greenhouses, personal or public gardens, and in the woods. Flower beds might be beautifully groomed or totally neglected. Either way, flowers always make good picture material.

The potential may be there, but can your camera give you the flower pictures you want? With most compacts, you can use pictures to keep a record of an individual flower, but the image would be quite small in the frame, and unless parallax lines were followed exactly, the flower would be off-center.

Although some compact 35mm cameras have close-focusing capabilities with good parallax correction, the best 35mm camera for flower photography is a single-lens reflex (SLR). What you see in the viewfinder is what you get on film. With an SLR you also have the option of adding close-up lenses that will allow you to move in and isolate an individual flower, or even fill the frame with a single blossom.

Compact digitals are also good cameras for flower photography. One advantage of digital cameras over 35mm cameras is that at a given f/stop and lens focus length equivalent, depth-of-field is much greater with a digital camera. The reason is in the word "equivalent."

Because of the nature of digital cameras, the focal length of a digital is much shorter than that of a film camera, with everything else being equal. For example, in a certain digital camera, the focal length of the zoom lens ranges from 7.2mm to 28.8mm. The 35mm equivalence is 35mm to 140mm, or a ratio of 1:4.86. That would suggest that the depth-of-field in this particular digital camera is 4.86 times as great as that of a 35mm camera with everything else being equal. Because of other factors, the difference in depth-of-field isn't quite that dramatic, but it is still considerably greater with a digital camera, so, with a digital, you could use a large aperture, such as f/2, and still get good depth-of-field.

In flower photography, simplicity is the key to good pictures. Physically remove, or try to avoid, any distracting objects. Because of the delicate nature of the subject matter, anything that competes with the flowers will reduce the impact of the photograph. Pay special attention to the background. Bright shafts of light, strong colors, or unusual shapes can draw attention away from the intended subject.

Conversely, a well selected background can enhance the beauty of flowers. It might be a rock wall, green grass, a cloudless sky, wispy or billowy clouds, or the side of an old building. It could be almost anything, but avoid a background with distracting lines, such as a house with horizontal siding.

Timing is another important factor in flower photography. You want to catch the blossoms at their peak. This is when the petals are in full color and leaves are at their brightest. Time varies with the type of flower, but one kind or another is in full bloom throughout the growing season.

Flower photography is only specific with regard to subject matter. The techniques are universal for almost any subject matter with which you want to get close. More next time. 


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