Flowers are brilliant subjects for photography. They are bright, colorful, and are stay perfectly still for you as long as the wind is calm. You don’t need any special equipment or lenses to take great photos of flowers either. You can get great photos with just a mobile phone or a basic DSLR with a kit lens. If you really want to elevate your flower photography to the next level, you need to pay very close attention to one thing – the sun – because the light in flower photography is everything.
Of course, there are other sources of light besides the sun, but this is the most obvious and easily-accessible one when considering flower photography. Unfortunately, you can’t position the sun exactly where you want it, but you can position yourself to make the best use of it. You can also take note of the lighting conditions when you go out to shoot flower pictures. Understanding how the sunlight, and your angle of view, affect the finished product is key to getting great shots.
Don’t let anyone tell you that if you want to get good pictures of flowers you have to do it in certain conditions like a cloudy day or the evening. In truth, you can get great flower photos almost any time as long as you pay attention to the sun and the shot you are trying to get. Let’s take a look at some different scenarios and see how they affect flower photography.
Time of day
The time at which you shoot, such as early morning or mid-afternoon, can have a huge impact on your flower photos. In addition to altering the amount of light available, shooting in the morning or evening changes the type of light. It also changes the angle at which it hits your flowers and the surrounding area.
I shot the picture below just as the sun was coming up. The blurry triad in the background is a street lamp that had not yet turned off. It added a nice background touch to the picture. This would have looked entirely different had I taken the picture a few hours later.
If you want your flowers gently illuminated for a soft, almost hazy appearance, then early morning or late evening is going to work great. However, if you want your flowers bright, sharp, and punchy, then harsh overhead lighting is ideal.
It all depends on the type of picture you want to take and knowing how the lighting conditions affect the final image.
A monarch butterfly joined me as I was taking the above picture in the afternoon. The bright overhead sun made the reds, yellows, and greens bright and crisp, which doesn’t happen in the early morning or late in the day.
The sun was directly overhead when I took the picture below. This caused each of the colors in this picture to shine. It turned out I wasn’t the only one interested in this particular magnolia flower.
You can get great pictures of flowers at any time of the day. Just make sure you know where the sun is and how it will impact your pictures. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be able to make better choices about the pictures you are going for.
Types of light in flower photography
Backlighting vs. front lighting
Backlight is when the main source of light comes from behind your subject. This can lead to some creative scenarios, especially when used to shoot subjects with rim lighting. Conversely, front light is when the main source of light comes from the front of your subject, usually behind the photographer.
Either one of these types of lighting works great for flower photography. However, you need to understand how backlighting and front lighting affect your flower pictures, so you know which one to use. I photographed the flower below with front lighting. The sun was behind me as I took the picture.
Front lighting makes the purples really stand out, especially against the background. There are also some prominent shadows along the left-hand side and at the base. These are neither good nor bad, just a result of using front lighting.
A similar flower, shot in the same location a few minutes later, reveals a much different image when employing backlighting.