Do you want to capture amazing photos of flowers…
…using only your kit lens?
Flower photography is one of the most rewarding photo genres, not least because you can capture some gorgeous images.
Images like this:
All you have to do is follow the tips I’ve laid out below, and you’ll be creating stunning flower photos in no time!
Let’s get started.
1. Only Shoot During the Best Light for Gorgeous Flower Photos
If you want to capture amazing flower photos, you’ve got to start by paying attention to the light.
But what counts as the best light?
First, you should avoid harsh light whenever possible. Harsh light includes the light of sunny midday, as well as midday on bright but cloudy days.
The problem with harsh light is that it causes unpleasant, dark shadows–shadows which are far from flattering.
Plus, harsh light creates a lot of contrast. Whereas flowers benefit from a more contrast-free look.
Which brings me to the best light for flower photography:
Heavily overcast light.
When clouds completely cover the sky, you get a softbox effect, where the clouds filter the sunlight to create soft, diffused light.
And this is amazing for flower photography.
The soft light helps prevent contrast and harsh shadows. It also brings out the beautiful colors of flowers, making them look deeper and more saturated.
Personally, overcast light is my absolute favorite flower photography lighting. I love going out to shoot on overcast days.
However, you can also take advantage of another type of lighting:
See, when the sun gets low in the sky, it starts to produce light that is both soft and warm–which looks amazing in just about any photo.
While golden-hour light isn’t quite as soft as overcast light, it can still look really, really good.
Note that you’ll need to be careful to shoot either during the very late afternoon (starting about an hour prior to sunset) or the very early morning (an hour after sunrise).
Otherwise, you might end up with harsh light–which will quickly ruin your photos.
Related Post: The 11 Best Macro Lenses for Nikon in 2019
2. Get as Close as You Can for Interesting Abstracts
While true macro photography is done with dedicated macro lenses, you can still get pretty close with a kit lens.
And that gives you the opportunity to capture some beautiful abstract shots.
You see, there are abstract subjects all over the place in flower photography–shapes and colors and lines that you can use to create something new and different.
But you won’t be able to create these abstract shots unless you really push your kit lens to its limits.
I recommend putting your lens into manual focus mode, so that you have complete control over your point of focus.
Then twist the focus ring so that your lens reaches its closest focusing distance.
Once you’ve done this, you should be able to get up close and personal with flowers–giving you the opportunity for amazing photos.
If you’re struggling to find abstract flower compositions, try looking for lines that can lead the viewer around the frame. Think of them not as flower stems or petal curves, but as shapes that you’re placing within your image. Let them move the eye around the frame.
You can also look for as much simplicity as possible, because when it comes to abstract photography, simplicity is key. Instead of showing five flowers, show one. Instead of showing two petals, show the edge of one.
And you’ll end up with some beautiful shots.
Especially if you’re willing to persevere!
3. Shoot With a Shallow Aperture for a Stunning Soft-Focus Look
One of my favorite ways to shoot flowers is with a soft-focus look.
I’m talking about shots like this:
Because the soft-focus look emphasizes the colors and delicate curves of the flower–but it doesn’t distract the viewer with annoying backgrounds or too much texture.
Fortunately, the soft-focus look is definitely something you can pull off with a kit lens.
(Note that the smaller the aperture number, the wider the aperture!)
Why is this important?
Because wider apertures limit the amount of the photo that’s in focus. If you use an aperture of f/2.8, you’ll get very little of the photo in focus, like this:
And if you use an aperture of f/8, you’ll get a lot of the photo in focus, like this:
The way soft-focus photography works is to exploit this limited area of focus (also known as depth of field) to our advantage. You dial in a wide aperture, then focus toward the very front of the flower (the tip of a petal, for instance), or even toward the very back of the flower.
Then you take a photo.
And you end up with a unique flower image!
4. Use a Narrow Aperture and a Tripod for Sharp, Intimate Shots
I just talked about the value of using a wide aperture for a soft-focus look.
But you can also use a narrow aperture for beautiful photos. You just have to use this effect carefully.
You see, a narrow aperture (e.g., f/8-f/16 or so) lets in less light than a wide aperture. So you’re often forced to use a slow shutter speed to create a bright photo.
Why does this matter?
A slow shutter speed can result in blurry shots–unless you take the proper precautions. You must either use image stabilization or a good tripod. And a tripod is much safer because image stabilization only works up to a point and varies from lens to lens in terms of its power.
Note that it’s possible to buy a tripod for a decent price, though if you think you’ll be doing a lot of tripod photography you may want to invest in a more high-end option.
Anyways, here’s how you should approach these narrow aperture shots:
First, put your camera in Aperture Priority or Manual mode and dial in an aperture of around f/8 or f/11.
Then look for compositions that emphasize the flower as a whole–while keeping the overall shot simple, and the background as non-distracting as possible.
(In fact, solid-color backgrounds work great for this. You can use a black backdrop, a white backdrop, or even the sky!)
If you can, get in close. This will create greater intimacy, though it’ll also decrease the area that’s in focus, so be prepared to narrow your aperture to compensate.
And pretty soon, you’ll be taking some wonderfully intimate flower photos.
5. Experiment With Frontlight, Backlight, and Sidelight for Unique Photos
I’ve already talked about the importance of finding good light.
But while a big part of capturing stunning flower photos with a kit lens is about shooting under the right lighting…
…you also need to understand the directionality of lighting.
In other words:
Does the light come from behind the flower? In front of the flower? To the side of the flower?
These three types of lighting are known as backlight, frontlight, and sidelight, respectively.
And while all of these types of lighting can create fun flower photos, there are different situations where certain types of lighting work best.
First, if you’re interested in creating very standard flower photos, frontlight is best. It’s a very safe form of lighting, because it’ll illuminate details in a nice, even way.
To frontlight a flower, make sure that the sun comes from behind you, over your shoulder, and hits the petals.
Second, if you want to create dramatic, textured shots, sidelight is a good choice. Sidelight creates heavy shadows on one side of the flower, which serves to emphasize the flower’s shape and three-dimensionality.
To create sidelight, simply position yourself so that the sunlight falls on the flower from your left or right–parallel to the image sensor, and perpendicular to your lens.
Here’s a sidelit shot:
Third, if you want to create punchy shots that are full of light, backlight is the way to go. Backlight will get you images like this:
Notice all the bright light in the background? That’s because the shot was lit from behind, which is how backlighting works.
One thing to bear in mind is that it’s easy to overexpose a backlit photo, especially when you’re working with a powerful sun. So I recommend you position the sun outside of the frame, or behind the flower itself.
6. Change Up Your Angles for a Different Perspective
When it comes to flower photography, it’s common to see beginners take a shot from standing height and move on.
But this is exactly what you don’t want to do.
Shots from standing height aren’t creative. They’re rarely intimate. They just don’t create anything interesting.
So instead of shooting and moving on, take some time with your flowers. Get down low. Find a high vantage point. Do whatever you can to stay away from the basic, boring standing-height shot.
Personally, I like to shoot on a level with flowers. I get down to the ground–sometimes I even lie in the dirt–so that I can become a part of the flower’s world. And this is something that comes through in images; they feel more intimate.
It can also be interesting to get even lower than flowers and shoot up (with the sky in the background). This can create a “small viewer in a big world” type photo.
Finally, you can try shooting from high overhead–so that you’re aiming straight down at the flower. This is a nice way to emphasize the flower’s geometry, and to focus on interesting petals.
Whatever you do, just remember:
Experimentation is good.
Try different angles, and you’ll eventually end up with a fantastic new perspective.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative With Slow Shutter Speeds
Here’s one final trick for shooting flowers with your kit lens:
As much as possible.
Because creative shots are new, and unique, and exciting!
If you think of a cool idea, try it! It won’t always work. But when it does, it’ll be amazing!
Here’s one of my favorite ways to do creative shots:
Put your camera in Manual mode or Shutter Priority, and dial in a slow shutter speed.
I’m talking something in the area of 1/20s to 1s. But you’re free to experiment with different options.
Then take some flower photos–while moving your camera along the main features of the flower.
In other words, follow the lines of the stem with your camera. Follow the curves of a petal.
And make sure you continue to move your camera as you take the photos. The point is to create motion blur.
You’ll end up with some very creatively blurred shots. One of the coolest things about them is the colors, because the blur will take away focus from the flower’s details, and instead emphasize the gorgeous blues, reds, pinks, and more.
Related Post: Best Cameras for Nature Photography
Flower Photography Tips: Conclusion
If you’re looking to capture beautiful flower photography with a kit lens, you should now feel much more confident than when you started.
You can create all sorts of amazing flower photos just using the tips above.
And with only a kit lens.
So get out and get shooting! Amazing photos await.
Of course! You can capture amazing flower photos with pretty much any lens, especially if you’re determined. But kit lenses are actually quite good for flower photography, because they allow you to focus fairly close. This, in turn, helps you emphasize details and capture some truly stunning scenes.
No. While you can use a tripod for flower photography, it’s not a requirement. There are plenty of shots that you can take without a tripod as long as you’re mindful of your camera settings. Plus, if you have a kit lens with image stabilization, you can worry less about image sharpness, anyways. Note that tripods are good for intimate photos that are sharp throughout, and they’re important when shooting flowers indoors, so you shouldn’t shy away from a tripod if that’s the type of photography you’d like to do.
No! You don’t need a macro lens to do flower photography, and you can absolutely take great flower photos with just a kit lens. Macro lenses are good if you want to focus extremely close, but this isn’t a requirement. All of the tips I’ve given in this article assume that you don’t have a macro lens, and show you how to take beautiful photos without macro magnification capabilities.
To improve your flower photos, make sure you’re shooting in the absolute best light: golden-hour light, or light on cloudy days. You should also experiment with different aperture settings, such as a wide aperture for shallow focus images, and a narrow aperture for more intimate, fully-sharp photos. Finally, you can think about using creative techniques, such as shooting from a low angle or with a long shutter speed, to really spice up your flower photos.
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.