Photography News | Issue 47 | absolutephoto.com
How to shoot better florals Flower power The warm summer months are a perfect time to grow your floral skills; and there’s plenty to learn, says experienced nature photographer and author, David Taylor. Read on for David’s technical and aesthetic tips, and get inspired to take some great shots in the great outdoors
Interview by Kingsley Singleton Pictures by David Taylor
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Summer is ablaze with flowers and plant life, most of which can prove wonderful subjects to aim your camera at. Other times of the year have their highlights, like snowdrops, bluebells and autumn colour, but summer provides the widest choice and the brightest colours. There’s such an amazing variety of shapes and hues that your portfolio will soon be awash with great images – assuming you knowwhat you’re doing, that is. So how do you grow your flower photos out of the mediocre and into the excellent? We decided to enlist some help from macro expert David Taylor whose new book Mastering Macro Photography has masses of tips on how to shoot plants and flowers, and loads of other tiny subjects besides. David is an award-winning nature, landscape and travel photographer, who shoots editorially, runs courses, andhaswritten and contributed to more than 20 books about photography. What’s thedrawof summer florals forDavid, then? It’s a simple link, he says, between the beauty of natural subjects, and the welcoming conditions of the summer months. “When it’s good to be outside, you want to shoot outside, and the sheer variety of colours and forms that flowers take, means you can’t ever get bored photographing them. I shoot snowdrops, of course – they’re possiblymy favourite flower of all – but the summer is the undisputed winner in terms of opportunities.” Colour he says is one of the biggest drivers for this passion: “Finding a colourful flower means a photowill have immediate impact, and then I look for shape. Flowers can be simple, or
very complex. I like the challenge of dealing with this variety.” This challenge can be quite testing, David says, even after overcoming the basic technical aspects of getting a good floral shot: “There’s nothing wrong with a simple record photo of a flower – I’ve shot many of those in my time – but now I find a flower photograph has to be more than that for me. “Some of my favourite photographers – Sue Bishop and Franci Van der Vyver for instance – produce work that captures the essence of their subject in an aesthetically and emotionally pleasing way, often through the use of limited depth-of-field or differential focusing.” Ready for your close-up Let’s go back to the technical bedrock for a moment. The first step in dealing with that challenge, says David is to get yourself a good close-up lens. Yes, you can shoot close-ups of larger subjects with portrait lenses and telephoto zooms, but for the most flexibility, a true macro lens is your best bet. Able to focus much closer than a regular lens, macro optics will allow you to fill the frame with a single subject, even it’s only a few centimetres high.
If you want shoot as normal, you can still focus further off, so a macro lens offers the best of both worlds. David has just switched to a mirrorless camera system after years shooting with DSLRs, and for his flower photography he’s currently using “an old manual-focus Canon FD 85mm lens with extension tubes. There’s something really appealing about this combination; turning the silky smooth focus ring of a manual focus lens is very satisfying. I can’t shoot true macro with the set-up, but it’s close, and for general flower work, it’s great.” Focusing close does present some problems though, as David points out: “Flowers have an annoying habit of bobbing about in the slightest of breezes, so producing a sharp image can be a struggle, even in minor wind.” This is compounded by close focusing, as even the slightest movement is magnified along with the subject. For that reason, shooting on windless days is best, he says, and if that’s not possible, you can create a windbreak to lessen the intensity of the gusts; you can evenuse your camera bag for that. Another close-focusing problem is depth-of- field; even small apertures such as f/11 produce
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Finding a colourful flower means a photo will have immediate impact, and then I look for shape
Thispage Although there are plenty of great floral subjects to be found throughout the year, the warmer months feature the greatest diversity of colour and form. Left Shaded flax flowers shot with a 100mmmacro lens and bright sun behind. Above left The shallow depth-of-field focuses attention on the stamen of this crocus. Above right Soft light is often the best for floral subjects.
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