Photography is light. And when your subjects are small, botanical items, creating your image starts with viewing the light falling on the flower. Using the light as a creative tool, you can establish a mood for the botanical portrait. Perhaps you want to convey an ethereal look by using soft natural light – you can add drama to the portrait through the use of a Speedlite. Your choice of lighting may be dictated by how you are going to use the flower image, as part of a blended work or as a straight shot.
Photographing the garden in the morning is often the best time for reproducing that soft, gentle light. I walk around my garden in the early morning, not only to see what is in bloom, but also to examine the available light for creating a portrait. If the plants are in the sun, this is the time for creating that ethereal look, accenting the delicate nature of the flower through light.
With the low sun behind the flower, you can backlight the petals to create a beautiful glow. When shooting a strong backlight, your front of the flower will be underexposed. You may want to direct light onto the front of the flower to show detail and color with a reflector. With it held at an angle to the sun, light will be thrown back towards the front of the flower while still maintaining the beauty of the backlit portrait. In the case of the bird of paradise, I used a gold reflector to mimic the early morning sunlight and to warm up the flower. Be aware that the color of the reflector not only changes the amount of light, but the quality and color of the light that falls on the flower. For example, a gold reflector on a red flower will make it appear orange.
Photographing flowers without direct sunlight can produce pleasing results. People do not look best in bright sunlight and neither do flowers. By simply moving into a shaded area, you can avoid the harsh sunlight on the subject and maintain the best color saturation. If there isn’t a shaded area nearby, you can create one by holding a black reflector or board over the flower. Your color will pop and the flowers will appear fresher.