A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.
Shooting flowers inside is probably a lot easier than shooting them outside because you almost always have complete control over the entire situation. For example, you can choose:
- the environment – you choose the setting for the photography. You can use a simple indoor studio as I have, use an outside window as a background, or any other setting within your home. As well, indoor setting such as greenhouses, botanical gardens or other similar facilities can be used should you have access to them.
- the lighting – you can decide to use indirect window light, room light, flash, or some combination of these.
- the subject – you can choose the flower or flowers that you wish to photograph.
- the background – you can determine what is in the image behind your flowers.
With some exceptions, shooting indoors can give you complete control over your shooting environment. I will uses the term home studio to refer to any setup you may create inside.
Greenhouses, botanical gardens and similar settings.
These are not that different in some respects than shooting outdoors. The first thing you have to do is determine if you need any permission from the owners or curators, because, I would strongly advise you against just arriving at the door expecting to be able to set up your equipment and take pictures. Some facilities may have very strict rules on what photographers can and cannot do in terms of setting up their equipment for flower photography. For example, tripods may not be permitted and the operators of the facility may also have rules about commercial photography versus non-commercial. So, check it out first.
If you can setup your equipment within such a facility, then by all means, do so and fire away. If not, then you will be limited to what you can do hand-held with, or without, any additional lighting. Make the best of it and simply remember to make sure that your aperture and shutter speed are sufficient to protect you against camera shake. Being similar to outdoor shooting, you may want to carry some small pieces of coloured construction paper to use as temporary backgrounds for your subjects. If you are going to use flash, then I suggest that you consider the following:
- using an off-camera flash cord, allowing you to direct the light, will help prevent the usual harsh shadows that are produced by on-camera flash. Alternatively, you can handhold the flash and use remote triggers to activate it.
- using a soft-box that fits on your flash will also help to soften the light from the flash.
- setting the flash on Manual and reducing its strength will help subdue any shadows.
If you are unable to use flash, then remember to compensate for whatever types of lighting are present in the facility. Also, you may not have a choice in what you can shoot, but take advantage of what subjects you can shoot and let your creative juices flow.
Flowers at Home
Photographing flowers in your home studio is probably the best of all worlds when it comes to shooting flowers, particularly because you do not need any permission from anyone. The first thing you have to do is get a subject. Some types of subjects are available year round, e.g. roses, while others are only available on a seasonal basis, e.g. daffodils. For my subject of the week, I like to go to a local grocery store – yup, they also sell flowers – and review what’s available. I prefer to buy an assorted bouquet, that way I am not stuck with the same type of flower for a whole week. I say a whole week, because often the flowers come into the store every Monday morning and are kept in a refrigerator when not on display. Stores such as Costco, Safeway, Walmart, etc. all sell pre-packaged bouquets of assorted flowers. I am a bit fussy about the bouquets that I buy. I usually try and stay under $20 and I also try to buy one that has an assortment of flowers where I know I will use more than one or two of them in my photography. For me, there is very little value in buying an expensive bunch of flowers if I only end up using one or two of them for imagery. I will, however, buy small bouquets of a single type of flower, e.g. tulips or daffodils, when they are in season. Having only a few of one type of flower forces me to think outside the box when it comes to making images of these flowers.
You can, of course, use cut flowers from your own garden, should you choose not to photograph them outdoors.
My home studio is setup next to a large patio door so that I have indirect sunlight during the day. I augment light with flash in most situations. That way I can control both the light and the shadows. When using more than one flash, I use remote triggers to activate them. With only one flash, then I will use either an off-camera cable or a remote trigger, depending on how many hands I have free to hold flash units. When I am using remote triggers, I position the flashes on a second, smaller, lighter tripod that I have.
When I shoot flowers in my home studio, I determine the background that I want to use. It can be white, black, green, beige, or some other colour. I will often use patterned cloth that I pick up as cheap remnants at a local sewing store. I encourage you to use your own imagination as far as backgrounds are concerned – the sky is the limit as the saying goes.
The other approach that you can use in your home studio, is to shoot flowers against a backlight such as a light box, or tape a piece of translucent paper against an outside window, tape a flower on the paper and use this as a setup for shooting. I find that parchment paper works very well as a translucent background against an outside window.
In a home studio, you have a wide range of choices, from the ambient light of an outside window to the artificial light produced by your home lighting to flash, or some combination of these. You can couple these sources with any combination of diffusers and reflectors. Diffusers do just what the name implies, they diffuse any light source and thus provide your subject with softer lighting than the bare source itself. You can use large hand-held diffusers for any of your light sources. If you are using flash as a light source, then you can use one of the variety of small softboxes that fit over the flash head. Reflectors can be used to direct light onto a subject or the background. They are often available in white, silver and gold. The gold reflector is often used to warm up an otherwise cold subject. Cold here means the colour temperature of the subject and not the temperature of the actual physical environment. The subject of lighting could fill an entire blog, or a book as it has done in some cases, but, I think you get the general idea from this brief explanation. The reality is that in your home studio, how you light you subject is entirely your choice.
The subject is obvious – flowers. Something you want to think about are the props that you might want to use – yes, props! Do you want to use a special vase as part of the subject matter? Do you want the flowers lying down on something. For example, I bought a jar of black pebbles, all the same size at my local Michael’s store and have experimented with using these as a background for my subject. Don’t forget, your background is just as much a part of your final image as your main subject is. One thing I have done is to use patterned cloth as a back ground. I will buy remnants from a local sewing store and use these. The other type of background that you may wish to think about is one that you can insert using a suitable software program. Photoshop and the Perfect Photo Suite of plugins give you this capability.
I have already jumped the gun, so to speak, as I mentioned various types of backgrounds under the Subject heading. Nevertheless, there are other types of background you can use. For a simple, benign background, you can do as I have done, create a backdrop from simple foam core board. I use mostly white and black, but I have tried green and light brown as well. I prefer the white and black ones, but the choice is yours to make.
Regardless of how you choose to photograph your flowers, the results are all your responsibility. I would encourage you to experiment, let your imagination and your creativity run wild. One bit of advice: I have learned from bitter experience, not to delete anything in camera. Rather, I wait until I get the images onto the computer before making that final decision. The images that you see on the camera display are simple jpeg images, whereas, when you get the raw images onto the computer, there is no limit to what you can do to recover what you may have originally thought was a bad image.
In the next blog, I will cover some of the more creative things that you can do in your flower photography – at least, I think they are creative.
 A lot of “flash lighting” is now being replaced by continuous source LED panels.