Cross-over Artistry: Applying Floral Techniques to Other Genre
Floral images in which the subject shines amidst appealing backgrounds can be achieved by employing selective focus. The most helpful thing one can do to hone this skill is to develop an eye for backgrounds. Attributes of backgrounds that simplify, as well as enhance, the subject consist of:
- pleasing light and color,
- are free from distracting objects or bright/dark blobs merging with the subject,
- and are far enough from the subject to be rendered out of focus (this will vary depending on lens and your distance to the subject).
Once everything is composed, the two key steps are setting aperture and focus. Select a wide aperture (f-stop) on your lens. Typical apertures for this technique using my Canon 100mm macro range from 3.2 to 4.0 with the subject less than arm’s distance from the lens. When shooting with a longer focal length lens, such as the Canon RF 100-500mm, I’ll open as wide as possible, which can range from 4.5 to 7.1 or greater when adding an extender.
The focus should be set where you’d like to draw the viewer’s eye. This is typically the center of a flower, a petal edge, or, in the case of an animal, the closest eye.
Images that lend themselves to a black and white conversion have contrasting lines and/or curves that help define the subject. Occasionally a floral image presents itself as a good candidate to strip away the color and invite the subject to come to life through its shape, shadows, and character. I typically begin the process by selecting one of the color profiles in Lightroom.
The softness of the tulip shown in this example can be attributed to the fact that it was shot with a Lensbaby optic at its widest aperture. In this case, the conversion replicated a charcoal sketch. A similar effect was applied to the tri-colored heron. Although shot with an entirely different lens, post-processing delivered results that also appear to mimic a pencil or charcoal drawing.
Taking the black and white image one step farther by reintroducing color becomes an opportunity to infuse a bit of tonal surrealism to the subject. Both the Calla Lily, which was shot on a light pad, and the praying mantis, shot outdoors, stand out against their background and made good candidates for black and white, but I didn’t stop there. They also benefited from the addition of color by way of color grading and, in the case of the Calla Lily, the tone curve.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as bad lighting. Naturally, soft, diffused light is optimal. However, learning how to modify or manage harsh or dappled light is a definitive advantage in creating well-lit subjects. Careful attention to the light source(s), in terms of direction, amount, temperature, and quality is the first step in determining whether additional steps are necessary. Tools to add, modify, or enhance lighting for flowers include handheld LEDs, Speedlites, colored gels, diffusers, and reflectors.
In both images shown here, the red Matsumoto Asters were shot indoors in a darkened environment in which all light was introduced and directed at the flowers, as well as the background. In the example with the Snowy Egret, the backlight from a setting sun was augmented by a Speedlite which offered just enough light to brighten the bird and open the shadows without overpowering the magic of the sun. If flowers are outdoors and shot against a bright background, Speedlites can come in handy as well, taking care to maintain a delicate balance.
When you find yourself in a garden, a wildflower field, or shooting other subjects in nature, from landscapes to wildlife, it’s helpful to grab textures to incorporate later in post-processing. After some practice, a trained eye will be able to discern colors that, when blurred, will bleed into each other, with the light, and/or with interesting shadows or other features. I refer to these as color washes. In-focus images of rock, bark, or other textured surfaces and, on occasion, recognizable elements such as ornate wrought iron or sculptures, make excellent textures. Combining these as layers in Photoshop with wildlife, landscapes, architecture, and even portraits can be just as artistic as with flowers. Texture layers can be applied individually or in multiple. Blend modes and opacity levels, applied with layer masks, can offer endless possibilities. Exploring the nuances can yield wonderful surprises and oftentimes, multiple attractive versions.
Have fun exploring how you can merge art and nature together in new and exciting ways!