Less Can Be More

For those of us who enjoy flower photography, remembering that less can be more is an important composition concept. The images in this article were captured during my Olympus Pro Loaner test period back in June 2019, using an M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 zoom lens.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-200, -0.7 step, subject distance 955 mm

Regardless of the size of the sensor in our camera we often want to achieve good subject separation when photographing flower blossoms. One of the reasons that I originally tested the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 zoom lens is that I have always enjoyed using a longer focal length zoom for flower photography.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-200, -0.7 step, subject distance 1.3 metres

Using this type of lens provides a photographer with a lot of composition flexibility. Many of the images in this article were captured shooting the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 lens wide open and at its maximum focal length. This can be challenging for many lenses and allows a photographer to look at the sharpness of the lens.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/320, ISO-400, subject distance 700 mm

When trying to create ‘less can be more’ flower compositions the first thing for which I often look are blossoms that provide good shooting angles against backgrounds that are somewhat distant.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/250, ISO-400, subject distance 720 mm

It can also be helpful to look for ‘less can be more’ in terms of the dominant colours in a composition. The centre section of the flower in the above image commands a viewers attention because of the tri-colour orientation of the photograph.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO-400, subject distance 750 mm

The tiny bud in the above image may be an optimal example of a less can be more composition. I actually captured this image as a test of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X single point auto-focusing accuracy.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/5.6, 1/25, ISO-64, subject distance 875 mm

I wouldn’t typically use an ISO value below a camera’s base, which in the case of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X is ISO-200. I purposely did this with the image above as I was using my camera settings in order to achieve a relatively slow shutter speed as an IBIS test. This photograph was captured handheld at 1/25 of a second using a focal length of 150 mm or an equivalent field-of-view of 300 mm.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/800, ISO-200, -0.7 steps, subject distance 1.1 metres

The flower photographs above and below both take a less can be more approach through the use of smooth, monochromic  backgrounds, and a dual colour palette.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-2000, subject distance 775 mm

For these types of less can be more compositions to work it is important to pay as much attention to the background as to the subject blossom. Any bright areas in the background that create contrast, even if out of focus, can draw a viewer’s eye away from the subject blossom.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-2500, subject distance 1.2 metres

Achieving a simple dual colour palette can also help with compositions that incorporate compound blossoms.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-400, subject distance 740 mm

Choosing the right focusing point can also help achieve a more can be less composition. In the photograph above very little of the branch is in focus. This draws a reader’s attention to the tip of the branch.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-400, subject distance 750 mm

Finding a bright blossom up against very dark backgrounds can create a high contrast ‘less can be more’ type of¬† flower composition. These photographs can be particularly dramatic.

In summary, less can be more flower compositions can be achieved by keeping backgrounds smooth and monochromatic. By finding shooting angles that produce good subject separation. Looking for high contrast opportunities. And, by limiting the number of colours in a composition.

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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6 thoughts on “Less Can Be More”

  1. I got my 40-150 Pro with the MC14 converter some years ago. It cost more than the E-M5 MkII body and represents the biggest lens purchase I’ve ever made. And from day one is has been worth every penny – and in the years since it have been in countless rainy downpours, splashed by saltwater at the beach , gripped by slimy hands when fishing and survived gusts of dust and sand. As your article shows it can do fantastic close up detail and bokeh with flowers as well as fast AF for bird photography around the backyard. It has seldom been off my camera body so I had to get a second body for my 12-40 Pro to live on. With the COVID lockdown in effect here in New Zealand I will be looking forward to getting some camera time in the back garden on the garden and bird life. All the best to you and yours in the challenging times ahead, at least with our photography we can make some postive memories in the days ahead.

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comment and sharing your experiences with the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8! This is the finest lens that I think I’ve every owned regardless of format. It is so sharp, fast focusing and flexible I consider it to be the chameleon in my camera bag. I have the MC-20 rather than the MC-14 and find it excellent. Like you, I will also be using my M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 in the back garden… probably experimenting with some extension tubes with it, as well as flower and bird photography.

      My wife and I have been to your wonderful country five times in the past, and have spent almost 5 months on the ground exploring New Zealand. If it had not been for COVID-19 we may well have visited again in 2020. Once the world can view COVID-19 in the rear view mirror, I would heartily recommend folks visit New Zealand. Incredible natural beauty and some of the friendliest people we have ever had the pleasure to meet.

      Our sincere best wishes that you and those you love stay safe and healthy.


  2. Super nice. I also like to take most flower photos with a long lens and get up close to the flower. But I do like some light spots in my background from time to time. I put the light spot right behind my main flower to help draw attention to that one.

    1. Hi Joni,

      I agree that having a light part of the background when positioned well can really help accentuate a flower! Thanks for adding to the discussion!


  3. And some say: “you can’t get shallow depth of field with m4/3 cameras”…. LOL

    Dear Mr. Stirr
    I use to come to your blog for the photos, some times for your written thoughts.
    This week is some way like therapy. But I also got some value information. When you wrote about sensor comparison. It was very enlightening.
    This time I also write to wish you and your family to be safe, be strong and good luck for this outbreak.

    1. Hi Antonio,

      I’m glad that my articles continue to be of value for you… whether that means that they have been entertaining from a photographic standpoint… are informative… or are a form of therapy!

      Thank you very much for your comment… my family and I deeply appreciate your best wishes!

      You can rest assured that we are doing everything we can to practice effective social distancing and to stay safe. We are only going out when we absolutely need to… and when we are out we are staying at least 2 metres away from other people. When we go out for walks for some exercise we always maintain a safe social distance from others in our local area. All of our neighbours are doing the same thing in terms of maintaining a safe distance from others. Folks here are being very cautious and respectful of the health of others.

      Our youngest son is well versed in social distancing and proper pandemic hygiene. He is doing some errands for us as needed… like buying some groceries for us when he is out buying groceries for himself and his wife.

      Again… thank you for your supportive words and concern for our well being! Hopefully you, and those you love, are staying safe and healthy during these challenging times.


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