How to Take Pictures of Flowers with a Black Background

A newly bloomed Hyacinth on my deck.  The black bucket works well with the Nikon Micro lens.
A newly bloomed Hyacinth on my deck. The black bucket works well with the Nikon Micro lens. | Source

I love those photographs with a beautiful, well lit flower in front of a black background. It highlights the flower as the center of attention and draws the viewer in to the elegance and dramatic beauty of the petals.

The pure black background can be created in a studio with a light dampening backdrop and a series of powerful off-camera strobe lights. If you don't have the money or time to invest in such a controlled situation, you can create these images with a few simple tips. The most expensive tip cost about $2.50 and used some spare duct tape. That is my kind of price!

With a little bit of practice and an eye for composition, you will be able to create these dramatic shots during your next photo shoot. Don't worry if your background isn't perfectly black. If you can't get another shot to correct the light areas, you can always correct the blemish in post-processing.

I used the bucket method for this shot.  I used natural light, a f-stop of 3.5 and an ISO of 250.  I should have used an off-camera flash to make the white flower really pop!
I used the bucket method for this shot. I used natural light, a f-stop of 3.5 and an ISO of 250. I should have used an off-camera flash to make the white flower really pop! | Source
I like the lighting on the flower, but I got too much light on the mulch that I was using to hold the bucket in place.  I could photoshop it out, but I wanted to show you the types of problems you may encounter.
I like the lighting on the flower, but I got too much light on the mulch that I was using to hold the bucket in place. I could photoshop it out, but I wanted to show you the types of problems you may encounter. | Source
This is my high tech camera accessory.  It is a black pot from the local garden center.  I used duct tape to cover the holes.
This is my high tech camera accessory. It is a black pot from the local garden center. I used duct tape to cover the holes. | Source

Black Bucket Method

I like this method a lot. It is non-destructive, easy, and stabilizes the flower in the breeze.

Essentially, a black bucket is placed behind the subject which creates and artificial black background. The inside of the black bucket is very dark, which makes for an outstanding background. The flower can remain completely outside of the bucket in full sun, or can be slightly inset into the bucket to protect it from movement caused by the breezes.

There are some logistical challenges associated with using a bucket. Unless the flower is conveniently low to the ground, you will need some means to support the bucket. A friend can hold it, or you can tape or clamp it to a tripod. Be creative, as I can almost guarantee that the perfect flower won't be at a convenient height or location.

Picture of the Bucket Method

My miniature daffodils and the bucket method.  I did not use my Macro lens on this one.
My miniature daffodils and the bucket method. I did not use my Macro lens on this one. | Source

Quick Tips

  • I use small pieces of felt from JOANN or Michaels. Most of my shots are of small flowers, so I don't need a big backdrop. I also don't worry if it gets beat up a little bit as it is only a few cents.
  • Small clothes pins will help hold the felt in place and not damage the plants.
  • A flashlight will also help light up a flower and may be easier to control than a dedicated flash.
  • I have used a black sweater or jacket when I couldn't find my felt and the background was too bright to use the other methods. It worked like a champ!

Black Felt Method

One of the staples of your camera kit should be a piece of black felt. I keep mine in a ziplock bag to minimize the chances of it getting dirt and lint on it. It is easy enough to remove the blemishes on the picture in photoshop, though.

Felt is important because it does not reflect very much light. Other soft fabrics may work, but stay away from high sheen or high gloss options.

  • When you find a flower that you would like to shoot, simply arrange the black felt behind the subject. I try to keep the fabric as flat as possible. If needed, the felt can be wrapped around a book or board to secure it in position.
  • Avoid picking the flower and placing it on the felt. It simply won't look right and it means that no one else will be able to take a picture. I prefer a non-destructive approach whenever possible.
  • Try to have the flower in natural light. That gives the best illumination and helps to "black out" the background. In some cases, you may augment the natural light with your flash. If you do, consider moving the flash off of the camera and setting it up at a complementary angle to the flower.

Benefit of a Black Backdrop

One of the benefits of using a black backdrop (either bucket or the felt) is that you have the option to use a higher F-stop. While that will result in a slower shutter speed, the benefit is that the depth of field will improve and more of the subject will be in focus.

Black Fabric and a bit of directional light on the flower makes all the difference.  Unfortunately, the picture is slightly out of focus.  The light spots in the background can be addressed in post-processing.
Black Fabric and a bit of directional light on the flower makes all the difference. Unfortunately, the picture is slightly out of focus. The light spots in the background can be addressed in post-processing. | Source

Low F-Stop and Flash Method

This is a fun method that you can try out just about anywhere. Change your camera setting to a lower F-Stop and target a flash directly on the subject. The background will be out of focus and dark, especially if it was darker to begin with. Watch the video at the right to see it in action.

I recommend using a low F-Stop. While this will result in a narrow depth of field, it will help to make the background appear even darker than normal. While you are out shooting pictures of flowers, you will probably be faced with awkward shots where this technique won't be possible, but keep an eye out for situations where you can arrange a large separation between the subject and the background.

Most of the flowers we take pictures of are small, and it may not be possible to direct the flash to highlight the subject and not the background. In those cases, consider removing the flash from the camera and moving it to the side. You may need an off-camera shoe cord to help with that.

This Iris picture was taken without any accessories.  Irises work well with the low F-Stop and a flash since they are typically two or three feet above the ground (which is typically darker).
This Iris picture was taken without any accessories. Irises work well with the low F-Stop and a flash since they are typically two or three feet above the ground (which is typically darker). | Source

Sunshine and Shadows Method

This technique is very similar to the one listed previously. Essentially, you need a very bright spot for the flower in front of a very dark spot for the background.

This is a great option as it doesn't require any special tools, but it does come with a big drawback. Odds are that the flower you want to shoot is nowhere near good shade. In that case, you either need to pick the flower and move it, or create your own shade. I am not a big fan of picking flowers just to photograph them, so this option has its limitations.

The video shows how this technique is performed.

While not a picture of a flower, the idea is the same with this butterfly.  The background was very dark and I was able to use the natural light on the subject to make the background look pitch black.
While not a picture of a flower, the idea is the same with this butterfly. The background was very dark and I was able to use the natural light on the subject to make the background look pitch black. | Source

Photoshop

Of course, it is possible to create a black background using photoshop. I typically don't mind touching up a bit using this software, but I am not a supporter of drastically altering the photo using the tools in the program.

Please look closely at the images above. They are not perfect! A few of them have some lighter areas in the background, and those I don't mind darkening using Photoshop. I wouldn't attempt to color an entire picture though. I am not a purist, but most of the work can be done with settings on your camera or a few simple tools.

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Comments 13 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

What fantastic tips. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. This is definitely something I will try in the future.


ytsenoh profile image

ytsenoh 3 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

Very, very cool. I particularly liked your bucket method. You did a nice job with your subject and explanations; loved the pictures too.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

Thanks for the great tips on how to achieve a black background behind a flower! I've tried darkening a background in my photo editing, but it's never as easy and effective as just having the black background to begin with. Enjoyed your photos and all the useful information!


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I love taking pictures of flowers and will be giving these ideas a try when the weather warms up here! Thanks for all of the tips. Well done.


GinnyLee profile image

GinnyLee 3 years ago from Arlington, VA Author

Thanks billybuc, ytesnoh, Stephanie and random creative. I love taking shots like these. I think they look very elegant. Fortunately, it isn't expensive and you don't need a dedicated studio to publish them. I look forward to seeing your photographs!


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

Very cool! I never thought about using a black background. I'm just starting to fool around with trying to take interesting photos.


christin53 profile image

christin53 3 years ago from UK

Very interesting, I would never have thought of the black bucket. I shall be trying this just need to buy a black bucket first.


Marsha Musselman1 profile image

Marsha Musselman1 3 years ago from Michigan, USA

What a great idea;I would never have thought of taking pictures in this fashion. Unfortunately, I have an inexpensive Kodak digital camera that is about ten years old. One day though I hope to own a newer camera. I will have to remember this hub at that time so I can put some of these ideas into practice.

I may still try some out, but I can't change my shutter speed so probably I won't do the picture justice, although it would be fun to give it a shot. Pun intended. :)

Voted up, awesome and pinning.


sallybea profile image

sallybea 3 years ago from Norfolk

GinnyLee - I hope to spend quite a bit of time doing some table top photography this winter. I hope to do this indoors with a black background, I am sure this Hub will come in useful. Thanks for sharing.


kerlund74 profile image

kerlund74 2 years ago from Sweden

Great tips, I often think my backgrounds get a bit to "noisy", with to much details.


mbgphoto profile image

mbgphoto 2 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

Thanks for the great tips. I too love the black background to highlight a single flower. I have found that a black velvet skirt placed over a chair with the flower in a vase on the chair works well too!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 20 months ago from The Caribbean

How kind of you to share these tips. I will definitely try them. Thank you.


Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 20 months ago from Mississauga, ON

I have been taking flowers pictures since ages, but never thought about this idea. Very creative indeed! Thank you for sharing.

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