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Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis

Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis

by Harold Davis

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Capture stunning macro floral images with this gorgeous guide by acclaimed photographer Harold Davis. You'll learn about different types of flowers, macro equipment basics, and the intricacies of shooting different floral varieties in the field and in the studio.

Harold also shows you techniques in the Photoshop darkroom that can be applied to flower photography


Capture stunning macro floral images with this gorgeous guide by acclaimed photographer Harold Davis. You'll learn about different types of flowers, macro equipment basics, and the intricacies of shooting different floral varieties in the field and in the studio.

Harold also shows you techniques in the Photoshop darkroom that can be applied to flower photography to help you get the most out of your images.

Beautiful and authoritative, this guide to photographing flowers is a must-read for every photographer interested in flower photography. Photographing Flowers will also win a place in the hearts of those who simply love striking floral imagery.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this book Davis offers his knowledge and experience in the art of floral photography, presenting not only the results of his beautiful creations, but explanations of how each photograph was captured: the set up, the equipment and even the camera settings used for each brilliant image. The author takes you beyond the point of capture and discusses processing, both in a lab environment and digital post processing, as well as offers side-trips through history to learn a bit from the masters of art and photography, such as Van Gogh and O'Keeffe. Davis even goes so far as to share affordable and easy use studio setups which he has designed over the years. Using his techniques wonderfully artistic images can be created! For any photographer interested in floral photography - whether amateur or pro - this book will not only tutor them, but will inspire them."—San Francisco Book Review

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Taylor & Francis
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Read an Excerpt

Photographing Flowers

Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis
By Harold Davis

Focal Press

Copyright © 2012 Harold Davis and Phyllis Davis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-240-82090-3

Chapter One

The Worlds of Flower Photography

Place and Scale

For a botanist, flowers are categorized according to a taxonomy in which individual species are grouped within a plant family, or genus. I'll be taking a look at understanding this system of categorization in the context of flower photography later in this book (pages 24–27). Plant identification according to genus and species is certainly important when it comes to understanding flowers, and also marketing photos. But the truth is that two other ways to categorize flowers are more important to me as a photographer than the botanical taxonomy and nomenclature.

When I plan a shoot involving flowers, the most important things I need to understand are where the flowers are located and the scale of my photography.

Flowers can be photographed in fields where no one tends them, in the wilderness, in a public or private garden, in my garden, indoors in an arrangement, and indoors in a controlled situation in a photography studio. The images of iris in a vase on a black background shown on pages 22–23 are examples of studio flower portraits.

Each of these very different environments leads to different scenarios about the equipment I can use, likely possibilities and issues having to do with lighting, the kinds of images that can be created, and potential problems.

Regarding pitfalls, as an example, think of wind. Outdoors, flowers are usually in motion because of wind—although on still days this motion can be slight. Motion limits the shutter speed one can use, which in turn has implications for the aperture and depth-of-field you can choose (this issue is explained further on pages 98–105). Of course, every photographic problem also has a potential creative benefit. Flowers in motion because of the wind can lead to a beautiful blurring effect (see example on pages 104–105).

Knowing that I will be capturing subjects in motion can lead me to leave the tripod at home, and focus on other aspects of the photographic craft besides creating an image that is end-to-end sharp.

By "scale" I mean how big is the portion of the flower I will be photographing, both in relationship to the flower as a whole and to the environment or landscape the flower is part of. I can photograph flowers in a way that shows the landscape they belong to; alternatively I can capture groups or bouquets of flowers, or a single flower. Moving closer in still, the macro details within a flower provide the possibility of creating images that show entirely new worlds.

As Ansel Adams famously declared, photos are made, not taken. When I begin the adventure of photographing flowers on a given day, I usually have an image I want to make in mind. Of course, the result often doesn't match my preconceptions, and I always need to be open to profitable detours.

Flower photography is great fun, and there is probably nothing I would rather be doing. But to get really good results, as the great microbiologist Louis Pasteur put it, "Fortune favors the prepared mind."

Before I can begin the process of pre-visualizing, and considering the equipment and techniques I will use, I need to understand place and scale. With this understanding I can have handy the gear I am likely to need, and start considering how to approach conditions in the field, garden, or studio to create the best and most appealing flower photos possible.

Different Families of Flowers

By some estimates, there are approximately 5,000 different garden plant genera. Genera is the plural of genus. Essentially, within each plant family there are a number of genera, and in turn a number of specific species within each genus.

For example, the general family of poppies is called the Papaveraceae (the suffix "aceae" is used to indicate a family). Most of the Papaveraceae are decorative with flowers, and therefore of interest to flower photographers. Although classifications do tend to shift a bit with time, there are about 26 genera and 250 species within the Papaveraceae.

One well-known genus of Papaveraceae is Eschscholzia, which contains twelve species. You may be familiar with Eschscholzia californica, a plant native to North America and commonly called the California poppy and named after Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz, the doctor on the Russian exploration vessel Rurik. A part of California's semi-forgotten early history, the Rurik explored California in the early 1800s. The expedition's naturalist was one Adelbert von Chamisso. Von Chamisso was Eschscholtz's good friend, which is why he named the genus after Eschscholtz.

However, the largest genus within Papaveraceae is Papaver. With somewhere between 60 and 100 species, Papaver contains such luminaries as Papaver nudicaule (Icelandic poppy), Papaver somniferum (the opium poppy), and—one of my favorites—Papaver rhoeas, also called the corn poppy. In the Linnaean classification taxonomy, these Papaveraceae are cousins to the Eschscholzia californica, not siblings.

Why should you care about these categorizations? Well, at some level you may not have to. You can take the attitude that you'll recognize something to photograph—such as a beautiful flower—when you see it. Sometimes this approach works for me, but in the long run I prefer to know as much about my subjects as possible, whether this subject matter is people or flowers.

I'm sure you get the idea that there are many different decorative and flowering plant species, but it is actually a bit difficult to pinpoint how many there are that you may be interested in. Of the 5,000 estimated genera, many don't have flowers that are of much interest to photographers—and others that do flower grow outside the garden. Of course, within each genus there can be quite a number of species. So one reason for focusing on a particular genus is to become familiar with the species within it and their interesting and individual aspects. Among other things, you'll be able to learn what these flowers are likely to do at various stages in their life cycle.

But don't settle down too quickly! Like human relationships, there is something to be said for playing the field before you specialize. The attractions and beauties of the different flower families can be quite different from each other—and you won't know what you prefer unless you've sampled more than one genus.

Understanding Flower Geography

Photography has its zone system—and so do plants. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) first began its hardiness zone classification system in the early 1900s. Starting with plant hardiness Zone 1, each zone is 10° Fahrenheit warmer than the previous zone in terms of average winter temperature. So areas in the Zone 1 geography have an average winter temperature of –50° F (–45° C) going up to Zone 11's average winter temperature of +40° F (4° C).

Although how cold it gets in winter and how hot it gets in the summer are the single most important limiting factors in determining what flowers will grow in a given location, temperature isn't the only issue. Water, altitude, health of the soil, and various other environmental factors also play a role. In my neck of the woods—San Francisco Bay in California—the climate is essentially maritime, with a huge role played by microclimates. You can move a little bit in one direction or the other, and if the shelter or direction of the sun has changed, you'll find that the USDA zone is also different.

But wherever in the United States you are, with just a little bit of research, you can determine the likely hardiness zone you are in. Outside the United States it is equally possible to get an idea of the hardiness zones involved, although the USDA definitions have been modified to fit local conditions.

With some exceptions—for example Papaver somniferum for opium, and some species of Echinacea for herbal remedies—flowers are cultivated for beauty rather than utility. This makes flowers pretty unique in the plant kingdom—sort of like a domesticated house cat of flora, with no mice around to catch.

To earn their keep, and to gain the privilege of reproducing and spreading across their potential range, flowers have to captivate us with their appearance and fragrance. Flowers also have to interest pollinators such as bees on an ongoing basis, but that's a different story. In fact, as status symbols and objects of beauty, flowers have spread around the world to the extent that their hardiness zone allows.

This means that—given a comparable temperature range—in today's global economy the same floral species grow on each of the continents.

One limiting factor is specifically temperature based: does the climate provide hard frosts in the winter? Some flowering plants including peonies and most lilacs simply cannot exist without this kind of cold. One can solve this issue with many bulbs by bringing them indoors to the refrigerator or freezer to "force" them. So there is a big contingent of flowers that require a cold winter; if other conditions are right, these flowers will grow without too much regard to summer temperatures.

Other flowering plants can't take it when it gets too cold. Outside of jungle environments, the single largest cohort of beautiful flowers probably falls into this so-called "Mediterranean" climate, which includes the Mediterranean Basin, coastal California, parts of Australia, central South America, and South Africa. Flowers that grow outdoors in Mediterranean zone climates are often grown elsewhere as indoor or hothouse plants, sometimes taken outside in the summertime.

Flower Commonality

Every individual flower is different from each other flower. An important statement worth repeating: no two flowers are exactly alike. The same thing can be said for people, but somehow we are more wired to accept the distinctiveness of Homo sapiens than we are of plant species.

An implication: Since flowers differ from specimen to specimen, an important job for the flower photographer is to pick out the most beautiful individuals—or at least to isolate interesting and unique features of each flower.

When I photograph a model with beautiful and unusual hair, it is very likely that my photo will include her hair. The same presumption applies to special and distinctive features of individual flowers—although perhaps my floral models don't respond to compliments in the same way as human models.

Besides differences between individual flowers, in some flower families—Ranunculaceae, for instance—the genera are so different in appearance from each other that you'd never know by looking that the flowers are closely related. Nor is distinctiveness limited to the genera level. Within a genus such as Dahlia there is an incredible amount of variety in color, shape, and form.

With all this variety, what do flowers have in common with each other? A great deal, it turns out, including:

* Reproductive organs: if a flower can't reproduce the species won't survive.

* Attractiveness to pollinators: most flowers need pollinators such as bees as part of their reproductive scheme, and therefore evolve mechanisms to appeal to them (see pages 138–149).


Excerpted from Photographing Flowers by Harold Davis Copyright © 2012 by Harold Davis and Phyllis Davis. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Harold Davis is an award-winning professional photographer. He is the best-selling author of more than 30 books, including The Photoshop Darkroom 2: Creative Digital Transformations (Focal Press), Creative Porraits: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Composition: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Close-Ups: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), The Photoshop Darkroom: Creative Digital Post-Processing (Focal Press) and Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers (O'Reilly). Harold writes the popular Photoblog 2.0, www.photoblog2.com, and is a regular photography and Photoshop columnist for Photo.net, a photography site with more than one million members.

Harold is a popular presenter on a wide range of digital photography and Photoshop topics. His workshops are sought after and often sold out.

In addition to writing and photography, Harold has been a software engineer, an enterprise technology consultant, and an Internet company executive. Photographic adventures and assignments have taken him across the Brooks Range, the northernmost mountains in Alaska. He has photographed the World Trade Towers, hanging out of a small plane, followed in the footsteps of Seneca Ray Stoddard, a 19th-century photographer of the Adirondacks, and created human interest photo stories about the residents of Love Canal, an environmental disaster area.

Harold is well known for his night photography and experimental ultra-long exposure techniques, use of vibrant, saturated colors in landscape compositions, and beautiful creative floral imagery. He is inspired by the flowers in his garden, hiking in the wilderness, and the work of great artists and photographers including M.C. Escher, Monet, van Gogh, and Edward Weston.

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