How to Photograph Flowers in a Landscape Scene
During the long, warm days of spring and summer, swathes of colourful flowers enrich our landscape. Flowers – of various size, colour and design – can be found growing in meadows, along coastal cliff tops, carpeting woodland, and at altitude within an alpine setting. While the temptation at first might be to attach a macro lens and home in on a single plant to highlight its structure and delicacy, often a better option is to go wider and capture flowers in context with their surroundings.
In fact, flowers can provide ideal foreground interest to big views. Not only do they add colour to a landscape shot, but also interest, depth and texture as well. They provide an obvious entry point to wide-angle compositions, while flowers can help to convey a seasonal message too. Few subjects that occur naturally within the landscape will give your shots more life and vibrancy than flowers – and there is no better time to shoot them than now.
You don’t need to be a keen horticulturalist to appreciate and enjoy the ephemeral beauty of flowers – either occurring naturally or due to commercial growth. Their colour, design and delicacy will enhance and enliven any landscape image and when they are growing en masse few subjects look more spectacular. Some shows are renowned. For example, in parts of Europe, bluebells carpet ancient woodlands in their millions, while the super bloom in the deserts of California occurs once every decade. In Provence, fields of lavender create a visual delight, with row upon row providing colour impact and compelling lead-in lines. Spectacular displays of flowers can be found almost anywhere in the world.
Timing is an important consideration for a number of reasons. For example, some flowers don’t open fully until the sun is high in the sky, while others follow the sun’s path in order to stay facing the light. Flowers are ephemeral (last for a short amount of time), so it is essential to visit wildflower landscapes when the display is close to its best – or photograph crops before the vast swathes of lavender, sunflower or oilseed rape are harvested. The optimum time can vary one year to the next due to weather and temperature. Therefore – when practical to do so – closely monitor progress by making repeat visits to landscapes where flowers are the integral feature. For example, visit arable land in early summer just when poppies start to bloom and then once they are at their peak, visit when the conditions are most suited. As always, the light’s quality will further enrich your landscape images, so (when possible) shoot in the golden hours near sunrise and sunset.
Wind speed is another consideration – in blowy conditions, delicate flowers will be wind blown. This will result in subject blur unless your shutter speed is fast enough to prevent this. Ideally, photograph flowers when the wind speed is forecast to be below 10-15mph. In blustery weather, increase ISO speed to generate a sufficiently fast shutter. Alternatively, you may decide that a degree of subject motion is attractive and creative. Much depends on the scene and subject and also personal taste.
Flowers can enhance your landscapes in a variety of ways. For example, they can act as an entry point to the landscape beyond, or actually provide the main focus for your shot. The grandeur and impact of a wildflower landscape can be greatly diluted if your composition isn’t carefully structured and thought through, though. Camera height, orientation and perspective are all important considerations and to help you identify just the right shooting angle; I recommend working handheld at first. Doing so will give you added freedom to quickly and instinctively explore various viewpoints unhindered.
Once you’ve tried various angles and focal lengths, review the results. You can then set up your tripod and closely replicate – and perfect – the composition that you feel works best. Low viewpoints tend to work well, placing emphasis on your colourful foreground. By using an ultra wide-angle – in the region of 17-35mm – and getting close to foreground flowers you will be able to distort perspective and make foreground blooms look larger and more impactful in relation to their surroundings. Tilting your camera slightly downward will help ensure the emphasis remains on your foreground subjects and not on the sky. If you want to emphasize the colour and density of a carpet of flowers, it can be worth selecting a short telephoto length instead and shooting from slightly further away – doing so will foreshorten perspective and exaggerate the intensity of colour.
Moisture will often enhance the vibrancy of flowers, helping make colours appear more intense. Therefore, shooting after rainfall – when blooms and foliage have been washed clean – is often a good ploy and a polarising filter is a must-have accessory when shooting flowers within the landscapes. Why? Well the filter will reduce glare radiating from petals and foliage and help you record naturally strong, vivid colour.
When using flowers as a key foreground ingredient in a wider view, you will generally desire front-to-back sharpness. To generate a sufficiently large depth of focus, select a small aperture in the region of f/11 to f/16. You will also need to think carefully about where in the frame to place your focus. Roughly speaking, depth of field extends one-third in front your point of focus and two-thirds beyond it. Therefore, if you focus too close or far away, you are wasting depth of field. However, for every focal length and aperture combination, there is one distance that will maximize depth of field. This is called the hyperfocal distance – to discover more about how this focusing technique can help you achieve bitingly sharp images throughout, read our article Staying Sharp: How to Use Hyperfocal Distance. When photographing flowers within the landscape, I use an App like PhotoPills to help guide me and always use the precision of LiveView focusing.
Flowers have undoubted ability to bring your shots alive with seasonal interest and colour impact – so this spring and summer use nature’s blooms to enrich your landscapes!