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Working the Scene: This Time With Flowers

A while back,  I shared an article about Working the Scene where I talked about trying different compositions when you’re in the field photographing the landscape. Since then, I’ve gotten a few questions asking if I do the same thing when photographing flowers. And the answer is yes.

I do the same three things photographing a flower at a garden as I do when I’m photographing a landscape.

  • Try different focal lengths. If you’re looking through a telephoto lens, you will get very different compositions then when you are using a wide angle lens.  I often start with a wide angle lens, and then pull out my macro lens. Sometimes I’ll even pull out a longer telephoto lens  if that’s what I need to get the photo I want.
  • Try portrait and landscape compositions. The change from horizontal to vertical orientation of your camera will force you to include and exclude different parts of the scene, and will help you to think about the scene in different ways.
  • Move around and try again. When I first see a flower or group of flowers I want to photograph, I usually see what I think is the perfect image in my mind. So I’ll set up my tripod and grab the lens I need, and create that photo. Then I’ll take a moment and review the image on the back of my camera to see if it’s what I want and more importantly, is it the best image I can create. If not, I’ll take another look at my subject and see if there is composition I like better, move my tripod, reassess my lens choice and take that photo. Re-evaluate and set up another shot if I still don’t have what I want. Most of the time I’ll create 4 or 5 very different compositions of a specific flower or group of flowers before deciding that I’ve what I’m looking for. Moving my tripod up or down, a few inches to the left or to the right can make all the difference in the world.

Here are some of my photos of a bleeding heart plant I took several years ago that illustrate how I work a scene with flowers

One photo I took was of the whole bleeding heart plant in front of a tree trunk and wall. Decided it was too busy and didn’t really show off the heart shaped flowers.

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

So I moved in closer to just included a few of the branches. I also changed my aperture so that the wall and tree trunk were no longer in sharp focus. Still not right.

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

So next I moved my tripod around to another side of the plant, framed up just one branch of blossoms with a very shallow depth of field so only one flower was in sharp focus. Still not right.

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

So I switched to portrait orientation and moved in closer so I only had a few flowers in my photo. I also switched to my macro  lens.  Just didn’t like the light wood background or that the flowers in the upper right were in front of the main subject and out of focus. Still not right.

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

So I moved my tripod again so that the flowers were backed by green leaves instead of the brown wood and that I was further away from the bleeding hearts. This gave me the opportunity for a wider angle photo showing an entire branch of the flowers including the buds at the end. Better – but still not quite what I wanted.

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

So I moved my tripod one more time – this time in a little closer and switched back to landscape orientation knowing I’d crop to a square for the final photo. I focused in on  just a few of the heart shaped blossoms, made sure the water droplets were in sharp focus, and that the branch would act as a leading line to draw your eye through the photo. Finally I had my photo – and this has been one of my best selling photos over the years.

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

And if you are photographing at a botanical garden there’s one more photo you really should take when you are working the scene – a photo of the identification sign so you know what flower you’ve been photographing.

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

Bleeding Hearts © 2008 Patty Hankins

Working the scene is one of the ideas we’ll be talking about and practicing during my May 15-20 workshop – Photographing the Gardens of Philadelphia workshop and during my Morning on the Lavender Farm workshops.

All the details about the workshop and registration information for the workshops is at http://beautifulflowerpictures.com/photographing-gardens-philadelphia/ and http://beautifulflowerpictures.com/morning-lavender-farm-workshops/

Not sure if one of these workshops is right for you? Drop me an email and we can find a time to talk.

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