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BTL: Summer Flower Photography

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Beyond The Lens Blog Post: One of my favorite things to do during the summer is venturing out to an aquatic or botanical garden to photograph the variety of aquatic plants, garden landscapes, and fascinating insects and amphibians found there. Usually, you can find a variety of waterlilies at most aquatic gardens, and they are a popular subject to photograph. The best time to photograph flowers is in the early morning or early evening hours to capture the flowers in the ideal light. The intense light of midday can cause unfavorable harsh shadows and bright highlights on the plants and their backgrounds. It is also best to do flower photography on overcast days when the sunlight is softened by cloud cover.

When photographing waterlilies, the time of day matters if you want to catch them in full bloom. There are some varieties of waterlilies that begin to open around mid-morning, and they start to close around mid-afternoon. When these waterlilies are in full bloom on a clear day the light from the sun will be less than ideal to photograph in without some type of light diffuser, reflector or fill lighting to deal with the harsh shadows. And then there are the night-blooming waterlilies that begin to open when the sun goes down and close back up in the morning. The best time to photograph these night-bloomers is in the mornings before they start to close and being lit by the beautiful early morning light of the sun.

For your adventure into an aquatic garden, here is some equipment to consider. For lenses, a 24-70mm zoom is an excellent general-purpose lens that can cover a wide range of shots from wide-angle aquatic landscapes to closeups of easily accessible waterlilies. For closeups of those waterlilies that are further away from the waterline of the ponds, a 70-200mm zoom or longer is ideal. A macro lens in the 100mm to 150mm range is nice to have for the extreme closeups of the waterlilies and insects that you can find around the aquatic garden. A circular polarizer can be useful to eliminate the glare on the waxy surfaces of the lily pads and water surfaces. To help with softening harsh shadows and add fill light bring along one of those 5 in 1 circular reflector kits that include a white reflector and translucent diffuser. They are easily folded up and can fit into your camera bag. A tripod and shutter release may be useful to steady a shot in low lighting conditions or for slow shutter speed shots.

When composing your shots, pay attention to the backgrounds. Avoid cluttered backgrounds and distracting hotspots. You can use a wide aperture setting like f/5.6 or wider to blur the backgrounds and isolate your subjects with selective focus. Dragonflies, damselflies, and bees are attracted to waterlilies, use a fast shutter speed like 1/1000 of a second to freeze their actions and prevent motion blur. Be mindful of the rules of composition such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, an odd number of like elements, and s-curves. Experiment by varying your apertures, shutter speeds, and shooting angles. Look for insects, and other little creatures to include in your shots to add interest.

Plan a visit to your local aquatic or botanical garden on the next overcast day and use the tips outlined here to come away with some award-winning images.

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