One of my favorite genre’s is taking photos of Spring Flowers at my local Garden Center. Mine is a local grocery/general merchandise store in Camby, Indiana. Meijer. I am thankful that they allow me to photograph their beautiful flowers. Which brings me to this point. I have gone to several local garden shops in my area, Menard’s, Wal-Mart’s, and Meijer’s. I asked each time I go there, and only Wal-Mart won’t allow me to photograph their flowers in their outdoor garden shop. It is private property, that is open to the public. So I respect their policy’s. If I where in a City Botanical Garden, I would have no need to ask because that would be a publicly owned and tax payer maintained garden.
One of the first things that will confront you, is there are a lot of flowers placed very close to each other. And, if you are new to this, it can be overwhelming as far as were to start. The first thing to think about, is to think in small 6 – 8 inch frames. That is: Start looking at the “Small Picture”, not the big picture. There are many photographic opportunities that are small and detailed. Which is what you want… Detail. Flower Photography is about the details, the peddles, the textures, the supple colors.
The gear you have can make a difference also. Many “Kit” lenses may focus close, but, are also not made to the higher optical resolution standards of a proper macro lens. I own such a kit lens, and is pretty good for most casual shooting needs I have, like when I visit family relatives. And, I have used it at times for some garden photography with decent results, but not stellar, in the sharpness area. If you plan on getting a bit more serious with Flower Photography, I suggest a lens made as a Macro Lens. They won’t be fast, f/2.8 at best, typically f/4 to f/3.5. With Micro 4/3 cameras that can adapt any lens made in the past, getting a manual focus macro lens for under $125.00 is normal for high optical quality lens. I use a Nikkor, the 55mm f/3.5 Micro Nikkor. Before the auto focus era. Plus a macro lens can focus to a 1:2 or 1:1 image ratio, allowing very close focusing.
All the photographs in this article are taken with the Olympus OMD E-M5 mounted with a 55mm f/3.5 Micro Nikkor. I used f/11-f/22 and ISO 1600 to 3200. The reason I use such small apertures, is to give me a greater Depth-Of-Focus (DOF). Focusing this close will result a shallow DOF of only a few centimeters using f/11. So focusing on the center of flower is essential to give the appearance of a properly focused photograph.
Other things you need to pay attention is the lighting. A flash that connects to the TTL hot-shoe that has some height to it will help a lot. You will need a white piece of cardboard that is taped to the flash head that can aim the light down on your flower, if your unit does not have a built in slide-out diffuser.
Now, for some E-M5 specifics:
You will want to use the magnify mode for MF lenses to help you focus better. I have my “Video” button mapped for that. I have the Fn2 mapped for the “AEL” lock. (witch I use more than the magnify view.). Since with macro photography, the lighting can vary quite a bit, using the “Auto ISO” is another great tip. I use Auto ISO from 200 to 2500, but it usually sets itself around 640 to 2000 in most cases. No worry, the E-M5 has great higher ISO Image Quality. At very small apertures, you have maintain a high shutter speed, and using the E-M5 in “A” mode, it will kick the ISO higher with f/stops like f/11 or f/16.
Another thing you might want do, is make sure the Auto-Eye LCD/EVF is on. This helps in quick previewing after you take the photograph.
As you frame your flowers, you may see a need to have the magnified view point changed so you can focus on an off center flower like the photograph to the right. The 4-way is very well placed for many people to use to move the magnified point where you need it without moving their face from the back of the camera (us left eye users are doomed for life with right sided 4-ways :-()
As you see, you can use background flowers as a framing tool. That will give the photograph a little different viewpoint, than always having a dead-center flower. If you notice my examples here, I try to use the “Rule of Thirds” when framing. The main thing is to mix up your main flower if you can as far as the placement of that flower.
- A Macro Lens (50mm to 105mm) (AF or Manual… But, before spending $500 on the Panasonic/Leica 45mm f/2.8 Elmarit Macro. Get an older manual focus macro lens)
- Auto ISO 200-2500
- Map a button for the Magnify View
- Use Aperture Priority Mode (“A” Mode)
- External TTL Flash may be needed with a white diffuser in harsh natural light.
- Vary the placement point of the main flower if you have several flowers in one photograph
- Use f/11- f/32 to have deep DOF.