How to photograph flower close-ups in natural light

How to photograph flower close-ups in natural light
(Image credit: Future)

Photograph flowers with a superzoom lens to capture beautiful, bokeh-filled imagery.

Harsh midday sunlight isn’t ideal when you photograph flowers, so you’re always better off choosing an overcast day or periods when the sun is lower in the sky. But while natural light doesn’t offer the absolute control of studio lighting, you can still manipulate it. Here’s how to capture a floral close-up and realize the budding flower photographer in you.

You might think only a macro lens is suitable for stunning close-up flower photos, but you can capture beautiful flora portraits with a superzoom lens. We photographed our black-eyed Susan with the new Nikon Z5 and Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR lens. 

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The optic’s 0.7m minimum focus distance allowed us to get close enough to our subject so that it filled a good portion of the frame. The lengthy distance between subject and background also allowed us to capture large discs of bokeh, despite the modest aperture. 

How to photograph a flower close-up

(Image credit: Future)

1. Dutch tilt

A tripod will allow you to refine your framing, and free up your hands so you can hold a reflector and diffuser (should you need them). Don’t be afraid to tilt your camera if it improves your composition, there’s no reason why your frame needs to be perfectly level.

(Image credit: Future)

2. Clean as a whistle

A clean background will direct attention to your subject. You may have to gently reposition it or nudge nearby flowers aside to achieve this (you can purchase specialist clamps to help). Do not risk damaging any plants. If in doubt, search for a more suitable subject.

(Image credit: Future)

3. Diffuse the situation

We’d recommend photographing flowers on an overcast day or when the sun is lower in the sky, so the light isn’t overly harsh. If you have to shoot in the middle of a sunny day, angle a diffuser between your subject and the sun to soften the light, and prevent the formation of dark shadows.

(Image credit: Future)

4. Camera settings

Set your aperture wide open. Despite our modest f/6.3 aperture, the lengthy 185mm focal length and decent distance between our subject and background produced a suitably shallow depth of field. We used a shutter speed of 1/250 sec to mitigate movement caused by a slight breeze.

(Image credit: Future)

5. Find the stigma

The centre of your flower, or the stigma or stamens should be your focal point (if visible). We used single-servo AF and placed a single focus point on the centre of our black-eyed Susan. We then checked our area of focus was perfect using the Z 5’s handy focus peaking overlay.

(Image credit: Future)

6. Reflect the light

Use a reflector to direct light onto your subject, and fill in any shadows. Wait until there’s no breeze and fire the shutter. You can use a remote shutter release or self timer if you need your hands free to hold a diffuser and reflector. However, the latter may take a little trial and error as it’ll be more difficult to time your shot between gusts of wind.

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Mike Harris
Technique Editor

Mike is Deputy Editor for N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine, and brings with him over 10 years experience writing both freelance and for some of the biggest specialist publications. Prior to joining N-Photo Mike was the production editor for the content marketing team of Wex Photo Video, the UK’s largest online specialist photographic retailer, where he sharpened his skills in both the stills and videography spheres.  

While he’s an avid motorsport photographer, his skills extend to every genre of photography – making him one of Digital Camera World’s top tutors for techniques on cameras, lenses, tripods, filters and other imaging equipment, as well as sharing his expertise on shooting everything from portraits and landscapes to abstracts and architecture to wildlife and, yes, fast things going around race tracks.