Picture This: Shooting Blooms
Smartphones boost options for flower photo creativity.
By Earl Nottingham
While it may be true that April showers bring May flowers, photographers who enjoy using their smartphones to photograph flowers will be glad to know that, just in time for a banner spring bloom, there is a perfect storm brewing with the combination of several new smartphone camera features and new apps that are guaranteed to open the floodgates of creativity.
On the technology front, smartphone manufacturers are including more professional features in their cameras to allow the user to manually set many of the traditional automatic features such as focus, exposure and white balance (all extremely important in getting those detailed close-up images). Additionally, third-party camera apps such as Pro Camera and Camera+ add many additional shooting options to their menus, such as image stabilization and — get ready for this — “raw” files for photographers who want to work with high-quality images in an editing application such as Photoshop.
Here are some tips to get better wildflower pics that incorporate some of the newer camera controls and some basic shooting practices for tack-sharp and colorful creations.
Stabilization: Use a tripod if possible, especially for close-up macro images. If you don’t have a tripod, brace the camera as steady as possible. Utilize the camera (or camera app’s) stabilization features.
Focus/exposure: Become familiar with the dual reticles, which allow you to set the focus and exposure points independently. This allows you to move the focus away from the center of the frame, providing more dynamic composition by moving the subject (focal point) to an area other than dead center, which is typically static (and boring). As you move the exposure reticle around the frame, you will see how the the image darkens or lightens, allowing you to select the “feeling” you want the image to invoke.
White balance: Smartphones have traditionally used “Auto White Balance” (AWB) to adjust the overall color of a photo, which can change drastically with different light conditions such as sunlight, cloudy days, shade or indoor lighting like tungsten or fluorescents. However, AWB can be fooled when shooting isolated close-ups of colorful subjects such as flowers. Many cameras, especially when using the third-party apps like those previously mentioned, allow you to manually set and lock in the white balance using icons such as sun, clouds, shade or other light conditions. Once you set the white balance to your existing lighting situation, you can be assured that the true color of your subject will be accurate and true to life.
Light: While everyone loves a sunny spring day with a blue sky, flowers typically photograph better in soft light, such as an overcast day or diffused sunlight. Bright sunlight will create harsh shadows and produce a very “contrasty” photograph, which is usually not artistically pleasing. When shooting close-ups on a bright day, consider using a diffuser (such as a cotton cloth or frosted shower curtain) between the sun and the subject. Also, find an angle that will put the predominant light behind the flower, allowing the light to trans-illuminate any delicate petals. Don’t forget that those golden hours around sunrise or sunset are ideal for flowers. If shooting indoors, window light (no direct sun) is a classic light source that can be very artistic.
Angle: Look for a variety of angles other than just straight into the face of a flower, which is referred to as a “bulls-eye” shot. This will usually mean getting down very low to the ground for “profile” shots or even putting the camera on the ground and shooting up.
Simplicity: Try to simplify the inherent beauty of a flower by eliminating any distracting objects in the foreground or background of the frame such as blades of grass, stems, people or structures. This is usually solved by moving the camera just a fraction of an inch or using the camera’s zoom feature.
Creativity: Snapping the shutter is only the beginning. There are an infinite number of creative looks you can give your image with post-processing. The native camera’s selection of artistic looks or filters and those from numerous third-party apps are ideal for flower photos. They range from simple changes in cropping, color balance and saturation to artsy looks such as oil paintings and watercolor. Snapseed, Glaze and RollWorld are three apps with lots of creative possibilities.
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