When photographing flowers, go for the close-up. Lean in to allow the flower to fill the frame, watching that your camera (or, more likely, smartphone) doesn’t cast a shadow over your subject. If possible, stand above the flower and shoot down into its petals, focusing on the bloom’s center.
And always look at the background.
That’s the advice of Carolyn Parker, former fashion designer turned author, blogger and professional flower photographer.
“You’ll be surprised how much better your photos will look,” she said. “We all want to share how gorgeous our flowers look, be it on Instagram or Facebook. We can all be better flower photographers.”
The author of two books devoted to roses, Parker photographs thousands of flowers a year. Her popular blog, Rose Notes, also boasts vibrant blooms and bouquets photographed (and often grown) by her.
“A bouquet is never more lovelier than when you first pick it,” she said. “Right after you put the flowers in water, start taking photos. The amazing thing about photography is it preserves your flowers instantly.”
Parker grows her favorite subjects – a bevy of old garden roses. She planted more than 300 varieties at her Lafayette home, just east of Berkeley. She also grows a wide assortment of other flowers, big and small.
She’s convinced anyone can take better photos without expensive special equipment or lenses.
“I’m so excited about the smartphone for photography,” said Parker, who uses an iPhone for many of her garden photos. “I’m enjoying it more than my big cameras, which I spent thousands to buy.”
For beginners, Parker urges imitation. “Get some magazines or books with beautiful photos you love, then study them. How did they do that? What’s the background? Which way is the camera facing? Try to copy every picture. It seems more complicated than it is.”
For her flower photos, Parker shuns a studio environment, lights or special reflectors.
“I never use anything but natural light sources,” she said. “I always shoot by a window or outdoors.”
To filter light through a sunny window, she suggests using sheer white or cream-colored curtains as a backdrop. The sheer fabric also softens the light.
“You’re working with shadows and light,” she explained. “When I first started, I didn’t know what that means. Now, it’s all I see. Learn to see the shadows, where they’re coming from and how to use them to advantage. Some shadows are very subtle. Sometimes that shadow is from your phone or you casting a shadow.”
The right background makes all the difference, she added. Parker keeps handy black and white posterboards, available at crafts stores, and carries them with her in the garden. That way, she doesn’t even have to pick the rose off the bush to give it star treatment, eliminating a cluttered or distracting background. The white posterboard doubles as a reflector to cast extra light onto a bloom.
A clean black or white background gives a very professional look to flower photos, she noted. Parker also likes interesting surfaces – stone pavers, weathered outdoor furniture, freshly cut lawn, wood planks, etc. – as earthy backgrounds for less formal flowers.
Red roses, the most popular color, are the hardest to make look good.
“They tend to look flat,” Parker said. “Go a little darker with your exposure to bring out more definition. If it looks too dark in the middle, turn the bloom toward the light to take away some of that shadow.”
As a finishing touch, Parker occasionally accessorizes her flower portraits. For example, detach a few petals from a bloom and scatter them under the bouquet. Or pull a stem or two from the bouquet and place them on the tabletop next to the vase; the result looks as though the bouquet is a work in progress.
Such easy touches can transform ordinary snapshots into memorable photos, Parker said. “It just adds so much interest.”
All it takes is practice and imagination. For her own photos, Parker poses flowers in different containers against various backgrounds until she finds something she really likes.
“Try to think of all the things you can do with every flower,” she said. “It’s a real mind stretch – and really, really fun.”