One of the favourite pastimes for many photographers is capturing images of flowers. This brief article provides a few general tips, as well as focusing on the use of Nikon 1 camera gear, for flower photography. In order to make this article as relevant as I could for owners of Nikon 1 gear I captured all of the images in this article hand-held and composed them using the rear screen of my Nikon 1 V2. So, whether you own an S-series, J-series or V-series Nikon 1 camera these images are representative of the types of images that can be captured with your camera.
I also used an affordable Nikon 1 lens that many folks would have, the 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 Nikon 1 VR zoom. Most of the images in this article were captured with the use of a set of Vello Auto-Focus Extension Tubes. These extension tubes are quite affordable and also simple to use. While many photographers use tripods, dedicated macro lenses and expensive camera bodies for their flower photography, it is possible to capture pleasing images using very simple, and affordable gear.
NOTE TO READERS: Since posting this article I have noticed that my Vello Extension Tubes for Nikon 1 are experiencing some quality issues with the plastic flanges cracking and starting to break. This is the same issue I had with my first set of Vello tubes. While I can certainly recommend using extension tubes with the Nikon 1 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 VR lens, I cannot in good faith recommend the Vello Extension Tubes until they are re-designed with metal mounts.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
When capturing images of whole flowers as in the image above it is important to consider the background of your photograph as well as the subject itself. Since Nikon 1 cameras use a small CX sensor with a 2.7X crop factor it can be more of a challenge to separate the main subject from its background. Try to choose subject flowers that are well separated from the background elements in the frame.
When using extension tubes it is easier to get separation of your subject from the background even when shooting in close quarters. One of the drawbacks of using extension tubes is that you will lose light. When using both the 10 mm and 16 mm Vello Auto-Focus Extension Tubes I found that I lost about 2-stops of light. This is not reflected in the EXIF data with each image.
When framing or cropping flower images it can be helpful to try to leave equidistant background framing as in the image above.
Regardless of the camera being used, shooting on a somewhat overcast day, or in shade, is recommended. Your flower images will have less chance of blown out highlights when you can avoid harsh, direct sunlight.
All of the images in this article were shot on a very dark, overcast morning about an hour before a heavy rainstorm hit. This made exposures harder to get than would be the case if I had been shooting under lightly overcast conditions, or in shade during a sunny day. As a result you’ll see that many of the images were taken at very high ISOs as well as somewhat high shutter speeds. This was to compensate for breezy conditions.
Often smaller sized flowers can yield interesting images of patterns as seen above. You may need to take multiple images to get one that you like in terms of the positioning of multiple flower heads.
I’ve included metering information with each image for you. While I would typically use matrix metering when capturing landscape images I usually switch to either centre weighted average or spot metering when taking images of individual flowers as I find this tends to work better for me.
I always use single point auto-focus when capturing images of flowers as it is important to get the key portion of the frame in focus. Obviously this will vary based on the image, but it is often in the centre of the flower – as seen in the image above.
At other times I will place the single auto-focus point on the most forward element in the flower – as was the case in the above image.
You can add some interest to your flower images by incorporating insects when you have the opportunity to do so. Make sure to place your single point AF on top of the insect. It can also help to position the insect off centre as in the image above. The angles of the daisy petals and the cropped yellow circle of the flower in the bottom right-hand corner all help to accentuate the fly in the image.
On occasion you may have a simple and somewhat elegant flower bud you want to capture. To direct the viewer’s eye make sure that the tip of the bud is in focus.
It can be difficult with very complex subjects to decide where to focus. This may require that you take a number of images, using different focusing points to see which composition you prefer. Stopping down your lens is also an option as it will give you increased depth-of-field. The trade-off is that you will lose light and you may create some softening due to diffraction in your image.
Finding flower subjects, or parts of flowers, that have strong colour contrasts and dramatic shapes or lines can help create pleasing images.
When shooting flower images I typically shoot in Manual mode and use auto-ISO. Make sure to monitor wind conditions when shooting outdoors and adjust your shutter speed accordingly. Flowers with wider, softer blooms will move more readily and to a greater extent necessitating faster shutter speeds.
When shooting in close quarters where it is impossible to eliminate parts of other flowers being in the frame it can be helpful to position your main subject to the right or left of centre. This allows you to use the colour of the other flower to draw the viewer’s gaze into your main subject.
Have some fun with your images by trying various filter techniques with them. I often use Topaz to create ‘photo art’ versions of my flower images, like the ‘sponge’ version above, or the ‘dry brush’ version below.
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Article and images Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication of any kind, or adaptation is allowed without written consent.