5 ways to take better flower portraits

5 ways to take better flower portraits

5 ways to take better flower portraits

Plants expend a lot of energy to make flowers beautiful. They do it because there’s a major payoff at the end. Pollinators like bees and hummingbirds will spend extra time around the most interesting and attractive flowers. And this means the plant is more likely to reproduce. 

And of course, the most beautiful flowers are grown again and again by humans and other animals that spread their seeds. As photographers, we’re often trying to capture their beauty and spread their likeness in our own way. It likely doesn’t benefit the flower, but their art does bring lasting joy to our homes.

But often snapping nice flower photos isn’t just about capturing the petals top down. Sometimes that makes for beautiful imagery, but most often, thinking outside the box will result in the best images. There are a few key factors to consider. The background, composition, lighting, and color theory. 

Blur out the backgorund for better flower portraits
Blurring the background reduces the number of distractions in an image. In this case, the blur makes the flowers stand out in the mid-day sun.

1. Use aperture to blur the background 

Taking a photo of a bouquet, or flowers in the wild typically means shooting macro, or close up. Try to fill as much of the frame with the flower as possible. If it’s large, this shouldn’t be much of a problem. But the smaller the flower, the harder it’ll be to fill the frame. 

If the closest your lens can focus doesn’t allow it to fill the frame, there’s an easy work-around. The cheapest way to make any lens into a macro lens is to use an Extension Tube. This handy little device sits between the camera and the lens, increasing the distance between the lens and the sensor. By doing that, the lens will focus closer on your subject. But, it does lose the ability to focus to infinity. So you won’t be able to put an extension tube on your camera and go take a landscape photograph. The great thing about extension tubes is that they’re extremely cheap. And even a $30 set will still allow your camera to focus. 

Once you’re able to fill the frame, you’ll notice that everything in the background of your image becomes blurry. If you’re close enough, even apertures like f/8 or f/16 will still produce background blur or bokeh. Most people find this effect pleasant, as it makes the flower stand out from the background. But if you use too small of an aperture, like f2.8 or f1.4, there might be so little in focus that it’s hard for the eyes to focus on any one thing. 

One of my favorite shots ever.  Here the converging lines in these lavender fields lead the eye to the single tree surrounded by lightning in the background.

2. Using flowers as leading lines in a composition

This is one that I’m a huge fan of. I flew to France just so I could capture images of lavender fields. Places like Holland and France are famous for planting rows and rows of flowers to farm. And the results are just gorgeous and speak for themselves. 

If you’re lucky enough to live in a region with flower farms, go and visit in the season they bloom. And then photograph the rows from the bottom up so they lead the viewer’s eye to a destination. If the flowers are going left to right, they can still make an interesting composition, but the best is always if there are lines leading to a destination. 

Leading lines are powerful tools for keeping people’s eyes on your photograph for longer. And apps like Facebook and Instagram are always measuring the amount of time people spend on your photos to see if it’s high-quality content. If there aren’t flowers in your region, look for other crops that are grown in rows, like tomatoes, sunflowers, or corn.

If you’re photographing up close, you can use the stems to make leading lines as well. If the stems are leading up to a point in the background, be sure to close down the aperture so some of the background detail comes through.

3. Following the light to make beautiful flower photographs

Flowers next to a window.

Light can make or break and photograph. But flowers are especially brilliant when there’s a bit of light to increase the contrast. If they’re in your home, put the flowers next to the widow for some gorgeous directional light. This will add light to the petals, but keep the stems and undersides darker. 

The bright parts of an image draw the eye in since there are more details to be found there. But the dark sections are also very important because they bring the viewer’s eyes to the bright spots. I talk a lot more about photographing for contrast in this article here. 

If you’re outdoors, photographing flowers at sunrise or sunset can be a brilliant way to add contrast. The warm light is directional, like window light, and is prized for the contrasty beauty it lends to photographs. Sunrise and sunset will also simplify the color palette in the image, which helps makes the flowers stand out. I’ll talk about this more in the next section. 

Photographing these flowers at sunset simplified the color palette.

4. Think about Color Theory when photographing flowers

Nature understands color theory like no one else. Flowers are the some of only natural beings on earth that use such bright, contrasty, and vivid colors. And the reason for it is so that they can be found. Think about it, if all flowers were green, bees, and birds, which are attracted to color, would have a much harder time finding them. In fact, some flowers even produce colors that humans are incapable of seeing! 

The contrasting colors of flowers is another reason why they look so heckin’ good in photographs. A red rose stands out against a green, leafy background. And a yellow sunflower stands out perfectly against the sky above, and is still visible against the Earth tones below. 

How to use Color Theory

Color theory is extremely important when photographing flowers. I’ve written about how to edit colors in Lightroom here, but if you want to find it in camera, there’s 2 steps to think about. 

Step 1. Simplify the background. You can do this by blurring busy backgrounds, or making sure that it’s full of leaves. 

Step 2. Look for complementary colors. If the flower is red, orange, or yellow: look for a green/blue background. If it’s blue, white, or purple: look for earth tones. 

By using those two steps, you’ll have a major head start on creating beautiful flower photos. This is one reason why photographing at sunset is so beautiful. The yellow light warms up all of the colors in a scene, and simplifies the color palette. So if a photograph looks dull mid-day, try taking it again during the golden, or even blue hour. This kind of light makes a huge difference. If you’d like to know more about planning a photograph like this, I’ve got more details in this article. 

If there’s a specific flower that you know you want to photograph, you can take a look at color.adobe.com to see a color wheel. This free tool is a great place to learn and practice color theory.

A picture of flowers as an example of practicing photography indoors during the harsh winter months

Making a good Black and White flower photo requires a different thought process.

5. Flowers in Black and White

The ultimate test to flower photography is if you can make them look amazing in Black and White. Flowers create their own contrast so perfectly, but they often look dull in B&W for one key reason. They just don’t stand out against the background. 

So this is the challenge. How do you make something stand out against the background without color? 

This is going to use a few of the steps that I’ve outlined above. But most often, you’ll need to take the flowers out of their natural habitat. This is because the forests and bushes are just too chaotic to make a beautiful black and white flower photograph. Having just one or two flowers against a simple background with contrasting light will make all of the difference. 

If you don’t have a studio, or professional lighting to take the photos, you can again use a windowsill with a blank corner. If possible, use a dark background to make the bright flower stand out. If you can take a good flower photo in Black and White, you’ll know exactly how to take an amazing photograph in color. 


Where can I learn more about photography? 

Ready to learn more about photography? I have a free web class that’ll teach you the basics of how to plan for the perfect photo every time. It’s a simple, 4-step system that I use for every photograph I take. And over the years, this is the system that has helped me become an award-winning landscape photographer. Learn this system and more by signing up for my free online web class today!

Tim Shields

Tim Shields is the founder of Photography Academy, the author of The Photo Cookbook, and the creator of the Photography Transformation 4-Step System. He holds the designation of Master Photographer in Fine Art from Master Photographers International.