Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.
This posting is a little late because I was, for most of the month of February, on safari in Africa, but I digress. Shooting flower outside, or outdoors should be a fairly easy situation. All you have to do is find them. There are only about two different places to find them – in the wild or not.
Flowers in the Wild
Depending on where you live, you may have, as I do, a vast expanse of available out door locations during the growing season. In my case I have the prairies to the east and the foothills and mountains of the Rockies to the west. Most of the prairies are farmed and thus there are not too many places to find growing wildflowers. Your best bet is often a camp site or other park area that vary from those that are completely private to those run by one or more levels of government. In my case, while not always in the wild, I have access to local city parks, and both provincial and federally run parks.
Flowers not in the Wild
The other main outdoor location is a garden. It can be your garden or that of friend. Personally, I don’t recommend photographing in gardens of strangers unless you get permission. This may be easy to do, particularly if you offer to give them printed copies of some of your better images. You also have to make very sure that you do not trample any of the vegetation in or around the garden. This also holds true for virtually any situation where you are photographing flowers. The old adage as noted in the introduction, take only pictures, leave only footprints…, is very true in any situation where you are photographing outdoors.
Flowers in parks or other public areas may or may not be truly wild flowers, but may be cultivated varieties as an addition to the indigenous wildflowers. Most of the public gardens that I have access to contain only cultivated flowers. This means that the beds are maintained, mulched, water, etc. by employees of the garden facilities or by local volunteers. One of the local gardens that I can use is maintained by volunteers and has specialty gardens where they grow different varieties of roses and one where they grow only sunflowers.
Getting the Pictures
Regardless of where you find flowers outdoors, the approach to photographing them is very much the same. You will need a camera, of course, a tripod and a lens of some sort, unless you are using a point and shoot where the lens is already determined for you. Nevertheless, you may be able to do some close-ups shots or some creative zooming with your point and shoot.
If you have a DSLR with the ability to change lenses, then I suggest you experiment as different situations may call for different lenses. I use my 100mm macro for close-ups and couple it with extension tubes for extreme close-ups. I also use my 24-105mm and my 70-200mm for different situations where the ability to zoom in provides some creative advantage. What you use in your photography is up to you and the choices you have available to you.
One of the main considerations in photographing flowers in the wild is the background. As a photographer, you are responsible for everything in the frame. There is nothing more frustrating, in my experience, than to take what you think is a great image, only to get it on the computer and find that there is some major distracting element in the background. If you are lucky, you may be able to crop it out without destroying the overall composition, but if you can’t do that, then the image may be destined for the reject pile.
Other equipment that may come in handy are reflectors and diffusers, and a remote shutter release. Reflectors can be used to reflect sunlight onto the flower to add light to the image. Diffusers may be used to block some light or at least diffuse harsh sunlight on a flower. A remote shutter release is necessary if you are going to be taking images that require more than an acceptable exposure time. You can figure out whether you need to use a remote release from the following guideline for handheld images: the minimum shutter speed for handheld photography is 1/focal length of the lens. You should adjust the focal length of the lens for the sensor size. For example, if you are shooting with a 100mm lens on a full frame camera, then the minimum shutter speed for hand holding the camera is 1/100 of a second. If you are shooting with a camera that has an APS-C size sensor, then the minimum shutter speed for hand held imagery is 1/(100 x 1.6) or 1/160 of a second. The number 1.6 is the multiplier you need for a C-size sensor. I would also suggest that you use mirror lockup and a tripod when using a remote release. If you are using a point and shoot camera, then you may have to experiment to find the slowest shutter speed you can use for hand-holding your camera.
My recommendation is to always use a tripod, a remote shutter release and mirror lockup when shooting flowers. Using a tripod forces you to examine the image you are trying to capture and thus you can check for any background , foreground or image edge clutter and eliminate it before you take the image. You can also ensure that your image is in focus when you are using a tripod, something you may not check adequately when hand-holding your camera. If you have Liveview on you camera, then you can use it to assess the image’s focus before you take the shot. The only thing to watch, is that Liveview can consume battery life, so be sure to have an extra battery with you should you use this feature on your camera a lot.
Sometimes, you need to get very close to the ground to shoot a flower. In this situation, you can do one of a number of things:
- Use a beanbag. These are simple cloth bags that you can fill with beans, unpopped popcorn kernels ( my favourite) or rice. It should be big enough to support your camera and the lens you are using. Simply place the beanbag on the ground, place the camera on it and fire away.
- Use your tripod. Some tripods come with a centre column that can be inverted, allowing you to take pictures with your camera upside down. Alternatively, you may be able to spread the legs of your tripod at a wide angle allowing you to get closer to the ground.
- Lie down on the ground. If you can shoot the image with your camera hand-held, then simply lying on the ground should be sufficient. You may want to have a piece of plastic or some type of ground sheet if you are going to do this, particularly if the ground is wet or muddy.
Photographing flowers outdoors can be rewarding as the opportunities are only limited by your imagination. Besides, being outside in the sun and fresh air is always a bonus.