Shooting the Blooms

Flowers shots are fun. There can be lots of color, lots of textures, lots of interesting shapes, and lots of opportunities. Many times we (myself included) get bad shots but we don’t see it since not every photo pops right out of the camera and we have nothing to compare it to.

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Background: Things that help get better photos include having a sharp lens, a steady hand (or tripod), and a flash. Most people are either stuck with the lens they have (point and shoot) or they already have a reasonably sharp lens for their camera. You should have a calibrated monitor for photo-processing. I have not done that yet (it’s coming soon). I also recommend changing the lights in the room. I replaced all of the halogens in my basement with 5500 Kelvin fluorescent lights. There’s a lot less heat, and after a few minutes the light is nice and white (my halogens had a deep yellow cast).

I find making good floral images usually requires a flash, especially outdoors. Also, most of my shooting is with the camera in manual mode. I use a 580EX flash with E-TTL. In manual mode on the 580EX acts as a fill flash, and most light in the image will be ambient. This differs from aperture priority which assumes that the flash will be the main source of light. I like fill light in manual because I can obtain a nice, colorful background and yet accentuate the main part of the image without blowing out the colors.

So, I start playing with several positions. I am used to crawling on the ground, lying on my back, or doing whatever it takes to get the camera in the right position. Heck, sometimes I will not even use the viewfinder and just aim the camera where I think it’s good, shoot, chimp, play with the settings (aperture, shutter speed, and focal length), and then re-shoot again. I can get some pretty neat shots that way. And I delete all the odd shots.

So I started with this one today. I shot various angles and picked this one for this lesson.

Some might say “Wow - nice shot!!” However, I am my own worst critic. I look at this and say it’s o.k., but needs a lot of work. Work in this case is mostly Lightroom. As you can see this was shot at 1/250sec., f/10, 33mm, ISO200 I wanted to keep the flowers reasonably sharp as I was quite close to the subject. Opening up to f/4 (widest for the lens I was using) was not desired as all the background flowers would have been out of focus and I did not want that.

The first things I noticed in this image were:
a) the composition is not want I want and
b) the petals are very, very flat and not at all white.

First thing I did was rotate it. That looks neat. There’s nothing in the image that has to be landscape, and I think that portrait mode makes this more interesting.

Next - white balance. Click that eye dropper on the upper right on Lightroom. Find an area on the image that should be a neutral grey (not something you want to change to grey). In this case I clicked on a small area on the left edge (see the red dot). I did not select the petals. I want them white - not grey. After clicking notice the instant change to the petal’s tone.

Next, in this I bumped the exposure up a 14/2 to 3/4 stop. Why? Light metering system a white subject will cause the image to underexpose by 1/2 to 1 stop or more. That is why when shooting snow you need actually need to increase the exposure by a stop or more or it comes out grey (sounds counter-intuitive, but that’s the way it is). I could have made the adjustment in the camera before I shot, but I wanted to show it to you in the images.

Notice the petals are starting to shine. Next, I used Lightroom’s Dark, Shadow, Light, and Highlight settings to increase the contrast. I am oftentimes very drastic with shadows. Notice the difference in the histogram, too.

Now I crop, boost the reds and oranges to make the centers really stand out (not absolutely necessary here, but I wanted to share with you all what can be done), and then purged the small bug on the petal in the foreground’s flower (using Lightroom’s healing tool). I also played with the yellows and greens to make the flowers stand out from the background a bit more.

At this point I will sometimes go into Photoshop and do/use the following:
a) resizing to the desired pixel dimensions;
b) Noise Ninja to remove noise and clean up the image some;
c) the burning tool to enhance the shadows on the petals, especially on the edges.
d) a curve layer if I still want to tweak it a bit more.

The end result is here. I hope this helps.