Photographs of flowers are almost always better when they are taken against a plain background, and for tall flowers like hollyhocks, sunflowers, etc, the best background of all is the blue sky. Sunshine is not essential but it helps to add modelling and texture.
Most flowers require a 2x or 3x yellow or green filter and panchromatic film. The shutter speed must be kept short enough to deal with movement of the subject in the wind.
If the natural background is fussy, the subject should be photographed against a large piece of card, light or dark grey to suit, supported behind the plant or fastened on to it by paper clips. With short-stemmed plants the background card may be pinned between wooden stakes pushed into the ground. The card may be curved behind the chosen flower to protect it from the wind.
The color of the background should be chosen to contrast with the subject, a light flower being given a darker background and vice versa. It is generally better to take a few flowers well grouped than a large mass of blooms of the same sort. The whole group, including the foremost petals, must be sharply focused.
Backlighting emphasizes the delicacy and transparency of flower petals and foliage, and sidelighting shows up the texture. Over-dark shadow areas should be lightened by holding or supporting a piece of white card or cloth so that it reflects the principal light into the dark parts.
Photographing Flowers Indoors
When cut flowers are photographed indoors, much of the appeal depends on careful arrangement and choice of setting. The container should be in keeping with the type of flower; dainty flowers need delicate, fragile containers; large, sturdy blooms look best in a substantial jug or vase. And as the flowers are the important thing, the container should be plain and unobtrusive. For the same reason furniture and other ornaments should be kept out of the picture.
Grouping flowers attractively calls for some skill and flair; it is generally better to avoid symmetrical arrangements and the blooms should not be bunched in the dead centre of the picture or spread out at regular intervals.
Photographing Small Flowers
Very small flowers call for true close-up technique. They can be held in position with Plasticine and photographed by artificial lighting but the work must proceed quickly because the flowers wilt when they are out of water and under the warm lighting. Alternatively a sheet of heat-resisting glass can be placed in front of each lamp to minimize the heating effect. The grouping of such small subjects must be kept as nearly in one plane as possible because of the extremely shallow depth of field of the lens at such close distances.
Lighting indoors should be made to look as natural as possible, i.e: it should fall from above and to one side. Often the best lighting arrangement comes from standing the flowers on a window ledge (but not in direct sunshine) and brightening up the shadow side with a reflector.
The best camera for flower photography is either a plate camera with back focusing, or a single lens reflex. Both of these cameras have focusing screens on which the picture can be comfortably studied, and can be fitted with long focus lenses which give big pictures without the distortion of a too-close viewpoint. Miniature cameras—particularly those with special close-up magnifying reflex attachments^can also be used. Finally, almost any camera with a supplementary lens of about 1-2 diopters can be made to turn out good flower photographs within its own limitations.
There is no room for artistic falsification of tone values in flower photography. All the colors of the subject must be reproduced in their true brilliance or the photograph will look false to anyone who knows anything about flowers. So the subject demands a medium speed panchromatic film with perhaps a 2 x green filter.
This means that deep red, blue, or mauve flowers and their foliage will all reproduce in more or less identical shades of grey. The result is that such flowers are lost amongst the foliage. It is of course possible to lighten the colors of the flowers with a suitable filter, but only by falsifying the tone values. If the photographer simply wants to make flower pictures, he should avoid flowers of such deep shades and use lighter colored varieties.
Color film is the only material that will do justice to flowers, and there are few better subjects for turning into transparencies. Here, as elsewhere, the photographer must resist the temptation to cram as many highly colored blooms as possible into the picture. The best effects are undoubtedly achieved in subtle tones of the same color or combinations of pastel shades. The colors will be true to life only if the subject is given the exact exposure.
This means that all exposures should be measured with an accurately calibrated exposure meter. Where there is a mixture of colors in the scene, the exposure may have to be measured within inches of the most important color to ensure that it is reproduced correctly.