Lighting and Composition for Flowers: with Nadeen Flynn

May 23, 2018 1 Comments

I know a lot of portrait photographers struggle with flowers as subjects, because they feel they don’t know how to best use lighting or compositions.  Well, today, Nadeen Flynn is sharing how she uses lighting and composition in her floral work, to help us all out!  Nadeen is a talented nature photographer, and her work has just recently been published in a book! So, let’s get a look into Nadeen’s workflow, and learn some tips about lighting and composition!

Which lighting works best for flowers?

There is really no one best lighting for flowers. Since lighting is one of the components that helps create mood, different lighting can help tell different stories. Soft window light streaming in from a northern exposure can help create a very gentle feeling. Whereas, strong bright light can create a much more powerful tone. With flowers, I tend to like a soft er feel, so inside I tend to shoot using a northern wi ndow exposure early in the day. Outside, I seek the light at sunrise before the sun gets too high.

But, depending on the story and your style, flat light is often a ‘go to’ for flower photography for a couple of reasons. The color of the flowers is less likely to be out of gamut in flat light. Since we often want to show the beauty, softness and detail of the flower structure, flat light gives that environment. Flat light can be found outside on a cloudy day, by using shade, or directly facing a window.

Side light is a favorite for creating drama in our images, and flower photography is no exception. By allowing the light to fall on the blossoms and perhaps fall off the stems, we can create a moody or even a bright romantic image.

I also really love the effect of backlighting on blossoms. Rim light and flare can really elevate an otherwise ordinary image. Often the resulting background bokeh enhances our images.

How do I decide on composition?

I am very much drawn to lines in all of my work. So, highlighting the lines and form of the flower is often evident in my images I look for and focus my compositions using the lines within the flower. I also look for repetition within the frame if possible.  Once I’ve identified compositional elements, I begin shooting while moving around my subject and trying different angles if possible. I usually rely on the rule of thirds or golden spiral for my compositions, but I am also often drawn to centered subjects.

A look at the equipment I like to use.

My favorite lens for flower photography is my Canon 100 2.8 L macro. The open aperture enables that yummy blurred background we all seem to love. Yet, I will often close down a bit to achieve better focus. It is surprising how much you can close down and still achieve a soft background. I sometimes use Kenko extension tubes if I want to get really close. I also use my Sigma Art 50 1.4 for more distant shots or studio work.

While I’m working in my studio, I use a tripod and some times tether my camera to a tablet so that I have a large live view of what I’m shooting before I actually press the shutter. Whether I ‘m shooting a bouquet of flowers or a single blossom and want a lot of detail, I close down my aperture to f5.6–f8, and sometimes more.

How I approach a scene or set up a shoot.

If I’m outside, I look for flowers that attract me either by color, shape, or anything unique. I always look at the angle or the intensity of the light. If it is really bright outside, I try to position my body to create shade over my subject if I can still achieve the composition I’m looking for. Occasionally, I will use a reflector/scrim to help control the light.

To set up a shot inside, I decide on the feel I’m going for and any props I may want to use. I begin by gathering everything I think I’ll need and set up the composition that I have in mind. I often try different angles, add or remove props, adjust the blinds to change the light, and just generally try different things until I’m pleased with the outcome. I sometimes use a reflector to bounce the light and fill the shadows.

What do I do with the images when I’m done?

When I’m satisfied with what I shot, I go through and cull the images. I rate them in Lightroom using the Star system. Anything I think I want to edit gets two stars. I will select among those two-star images one that I particularly like and I will edit that. If I’m pleased with it, it gets three stars and I save a copy for my website. If an image is going to be available for sale, I will go back and save a high resolution copy to a monthly High Res file that I’ve created. Any high res images that are submitted for shows, competitions, or for a client get four or five stars.

Nadeen Flynn is a multi-genre fine art photographer living in rural northern California. She enjoys capturing the unique beauty of everyday moments, people, things, and locations. She mentors others and will soon be announcing her new on-line and in-person workshops. You can find her work on her website, Instagram, Facebook and published in Growing Heirloom Flowers: Bring the Vintage Beauty of Heritage Blooms to Your Modern Garden by Christ McLaughlin.

Emily Hamson

I'm a mom of 4 wild boys, who photographs mostly nature (partly because they don't run away or pull faces at me like my boys do). Being behind my camera is my therapy! In 2017 I decided to embark upon a personal photography project to find more creative ways to use my camera, and the CIC was born. I love to learn anything that goes along with photography, but I really love helping others learn new techniques even more!

1 Comment

  1. Reply


    May 24, 2018

    Such a wonderful article, Nadeen. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with the CIC community.