Flower photography is one of the most popular types of photography. Nature provides an endless display of different subjects. And the beauty remains even after the flower has long faded. Here are a few tips on camera settings to ensure your flower photos are as lovely as possible.
Aperture and depth of field
The most important element of the composition when taking photos of flowers is depth of field. Depth of field is how much of the scene is in sharp focus. And for photos of flowers, I either want to photograph the entire area of a group of flowers or isolate a single subject. The way to do that is controlling the camera’s aperture setting.
Aperture (or f/stop) is easy to understand with a little background. The aperture of the camera is the hole where light passes through the lens to the camera. The f/stop number is a rating for how large or small that hole is. However, it’s a little counter-intuitive because the larger the f/stop number the smaller the hole is. And vice versa.
When I raise my f/stop number, more of the scene I photograph will be in sharp focus, as well as the main subject. Because I’m taking close-ups of flowers, it doesn’t take much to capture the entire scene in sharp focus. And as I lower the aperture setting while keeping the subject the same, slowly the background blurs and becomes less focused.
How far I can lower my aperture depends on the type of lens you’re using, because different lenses have different maximum apertures (low f/stop). These lenses tend to cost more than the kit lens cameras come with because they have more moving parts.
If you have an interchangeable lens camera, a prime lens is an excellent choice for flower photography. This is because the aperture settings open wider than the kit lens your camera came with. But they don’t zoom at all.
The lack of zoom makes them much cheaper to manufacture compared to zoom lenses with wide open apertures.
Exposure in flower photography
Raising and lowering the aperture setting means you’re changing the amount of light entering the camera. Therefore, the overall exposure changes. With a low aperture setting like f/1.7, a lot of light is hitting the image sensor. With a high aperture like f/11, you’re greatly reducing the amount of light received.
When I use a wide open aperture to isolate a single flower, I need to ensure my shutter speed is high. If I use a low shutter speed, the image will be too bright. For f/1.4, I might use a shutter speed of 1/500ths of a second on a sunny day.
If I decide I want to capture a few of the background plants, maybe I’ll raise my aperture to f/4.0. Now I need to lower my shutter speed if I want the brightness of the photo to stay the same. If the lighting hasn’t changed, that would be 1/60th of a second. The slower shutter speed means even though I’ve made the hole (aperture) smaller, the amount of light hitting the sensor is the same.
My ISO setting is the third consideration in exposure. ISO is the digital sensor’s light sensitivity, just like the ISO ratings for camera film. But unless the lighting is particularly difficult, it’s best to leave ISO setting on Auto.
Once these three elements of the Exposure Triangle are understood, I can take exactly the photo I want with the right gear. If I don’t have a lens with a wide open aperture, my options are a little more limited.
Most cameras have options to change the color settings as well. When I navigate the camera menus, I may see preset options called “Photo Style,” or something similar. “Vivid” is a great choice to give a little extra boldness to colors captured.
Though it seems strange, Monochrome (black and white) is also worth experimenting with in flower photography. Monochrome photos are colorless, but textures and details that would be overwhelmed by bright colors show up better. Fine hairs and patterns on the petals and leaves are much more interesting in a monochrome photograph.
So spend time with your camera getting to know aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Play with the color settings some. And don’t forget your tripod!