How to Take Pictures of Flowers with a Black Background
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.