Backlighting and Flower photography

Recently a post in the Flora section at NPN made me think about some techniques you can use in the field to help with very complex scenes and backlighting. Who doesn’t love backlighting with wispy or fuzzy flowers? I always give it a go when I happen upon some, but it can be frustrating.

Only one of the two images here is backlit, but both presented similar challenges in terms of getting them to stand out from backgrounds and to be isolated enough to not be a jumbled together mess. I used telephoto zooms for both images which let me get some working distance.

That said, I’m a fan of what I call an Out of Focus Echo with wildflower photos – meaning another of the same type next to the subject and completely out of focus. These are tricky to pull off, but when I think I’ve done it, I like it. The key is to get enough separation from your sharp flower by distancing the two, then blurring it enough not to compete, but not so blurry that we can’t tell it’s the same flower. It won’t work all the time, so don’t sweat it and don’t force it if it’s not coming together.

Which brings me to another complication – focus point. These flowers are tall and deep from front to back and have a ton of tiny details. Having that wide aperture meant I had a narrow DOF to work with and had to precisely put my focus point on the leading edges of the flower groups so that the viewer’s eye would have a natural place to land and the focus fall off would be realistic. There’s nothing worse than a big OOF blob in the center of the picture.

Then there’s the wind! These things blow around like crazy, so I raise my ISO when needed and use a fast shutter speed. Then you just have to wait for the calmest moment. A tripod can make the waiting less of a pain if you’re using a long telephoto lens. I will use a cable release or the touch screen on the back to get the timing right.

So I hope that helps in your quest for backlit bushy flowers or closely packed complicated flower scenes. Late summer and early fall are terrific times to catch the last bloomers and the ones that have gone by, but still hang onto their special beauty.


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