Capture flower photography outside: diffuse light with a DIY studio

Watch the video: capture flower photography outside

A bright sunny day can be the perfect opportunity to capture some flower photography, but while fair weather makes for a pleasant walk, it can also mean harsh shadows and blown out highlights in your photo. Luckily, we've got a great DIY studio technique to help diffuse light for a beautiful floral still life. 

Our solution is to take control of the lighting by using a light tent. This acts as a large diffuser, which you can place over the flower you’re shooting to produce softer, lower-contrast lighting. You can either buy a light tent or make your own out of translucent white plastic. 

As well as diffusing direct sunlight, light tents are ideal for adding more controlled light on dull, overcast days, when the whole scene can otherwise look too flat. To do this you need to put the tent over your chosen flower, as before, but use an off-camera flash positioned outside the tent to simulate sunlight. Instead of the harsh, high contrast light you’d normally get from using flash, the translucent walls of the light tent diffuse it to produce a even, soft light on the flower.

Use a makeshift light tent to diffuse harsh sunlight and create a beautiful still life photo

Use a makeshift light tent to diffuse harsh sunlight and create a beautiful still life photo

(Image credit: Future)

Using a light tent also enables you to control the background. You can use the white material of the tent as a backdrop or place a piece of colored card behind the object you’re shooting for a more colorful image. Because the subject is enclosed, using a light tent can even reduce the possibility of subject movement on windy days.

Commercially produced light tents are available, and these cost from around £35 /
$38. However, you can also make your own out of any solid, translucent white plastic. We made a DIY version out of three semi-opaque white A4-sized ring binders, and used duct tape to join them together to form a foldable enclosure…

01 Get your light tent

(Image credit: Future)

To build a light tent like this you’ll need three ring binders. Join two together with duct tape to produce the main three sides. Cut one of the flaps off the third file, and then attach it to the middle of the three existing sides to form a ‘roof’. Alternatively, you could buy a commercially made light tent.

02 Position your subject

(Image credit: Future)

Position the light tent over the subject, ensuring that the light falling on the flower is diffused over the area that you want to shoot, and the opening that you will use to shoot through is positioned so that you can create a good composition of the flower.

03 Set up your camera

(Image credit: Future)

Once the light tent is in position, set your camera to manual exposure mode and select an aperture of f/5.6, then set the shutter speed to 1/200 sec so you’ll be able to use the camera handheld, and set the ISO to 200. Take a test shot to check the exposure, and if it’s too light reduce the ISO.

04 Choose a background

(Image credit: Future)

You can shoot simple, effective images using the white material of the light tent as a background, or for more color you can use a piece of A4 card or stiff paper in a color that suits your subject. Try using blue or green for the most natural-looking results.

Top tips: Useful accessories 

Eager to try this floral still life technique? Take a gander through our list of useful accessories to elevate your DIY studio photos to the next level. 

(Image credit: Future)

01 Off-camera flash cord

The cheapest and easiest way to use TTL flash off-camera is to use a cord such as the Nikon SC-28 that we're using here.

(Image credit: Future)

02 Off-camera triggers

Alternatively, radio triggers are a great way to take your flash off-camera without having to worry about leads getting tangled up.

(Image credit: Future)

03 Macro lens

Getting close enough to shoot flowers can be tricky with a normal lens, so use a macro lens – we're using the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Macro.

Read more: Best macro lenses

(Image credit: Future)

04 Reflector

Even when you are using a light tent, a reflector can be handy for bouncing light back towards the flower to bring out even more detail.

Read more: Best reflectors

(Image credit: Future)

05 Tripod

If you find it difficult to get sharp results handheld, use a tripod. Make sure that it will allow you to place the camera as low as possible.

Read more: Best tripods

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Focus stacking: how to get amazing depth of field in macro photography
Free lensing: get the Lensbaby look and take macro shots with any standard lens
How to use extension tubes for low-cost macro photography