Creative Flower Photography – Tip #3: Watch Your Back… Background That Is!

by F.M. Kearney | May 22, 2013

© F.M. KearneyI heard the sound of quick footsteps first. When they stopped I heard a click. Seconds later, the footsteps started again followed by another click. This pattern repeated itself another three or four times. When I finally looked up, I saw a man briskly walking through a cluster of daffodils. He would stop just for a moment to take a quick photo, then walk a few feet away and take another. This kind of “rapid-fire photography” can only result in mediocre snapshots… creative photographs, however, take time.

Unless you’re taking pictures in a controlled studio environment, your background is something you will have to deal with. It can either work for you or against you. This is especially true when photographing flower portraits. So often, very little (if any) thought is given to what’s lurking in the background, i.e., twigs, fences, people, you name it. I’ve actually passed up many perfect specimens simply because the background was either too boring or too distracting. However, this is a problem that can usually be fixed. In most cases, your subject is going to be fairly close. As such, your background will probably comprise a relatively small area that can be relatively easy to control.

Peruvian lilies © F.M. Kearney

Peruvian lilies

I usually prefer the even lighting of a cloudy day, but sometimes direct sunlight can work wonders. The white Peruvian lilies were in full shade when I began shooting them. As the morning wore on and the sun began to rise above a distant tree line behind me, various parts of the background were slowly becoming bathed in direct sunlight. I feared my photo shoot was about to come to an abrupt end, until I noticed that the sun was lighting up the bark of a light brown tree a few feet behind the flowers like a beacon. The flowers themselves, thankfully, remained in the shade. I quickly repositioned my tripod to place the light coming off the tree in the middle of the small opening between the lilies. The focal length of my long lens rendered it as a soft amber highlight adding a little more color to the shot. This perfect condition only lasted for a few minutes, until the sun eventually coated everything in ugly, harsh lighting.

Grandiflora rose © F.M. Kearney

Grandiflora rose

A busy background can be a blessing or a curse. The single red/yellow grandiflora rose was about 20 feet away from the large rose bush behind it. I adjusted the height of my tripod to show the rose at an angle that almost mirrored the natural slope of the bush. Using my depth of field preview, I selected an aperture that rendered the bush sufficiently out of focus to separate it from the foreground, but not to the point where you could no longer tell what it was.

Darwin hybrid tulips © F.M. Kearney

Darwin hybrid tulips

The yellow tulips are an example of the “less is more” philosophy. Rather than shoot the typical, wide angle view of the entire field, I thought it would make a bigger impact to feature just a few blooms up close in the foreground with the rest in the background. By placing the three yellow tulips on the dividing line between the red ones above and the purple ones below (I really would have preferred more contrasting colors, but sometimes you just have to take what you can get in the field), I was still able to show the diversity of the tulips, but in a much more interesting way. Once again, I used my depth of field preview to get the optimum amount of separation I needed.

These are just a few of the many ways in which the background can be used to your advantage. If done correctly, it should look like everything just seamlessly “fell into place.” The reality is that creative compositions take time to visualize. In fact, I find it to be the most time-consuming aspect of photography. It’s not at all uncommon for me to spend hours composing shots in one small area. In the short time it took that “rapid-fire photographer” to shoot five or six pictures of the daffodils, I hadn’t even finished setting up my tripod.

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of photo tips by F.M. Kearney on thinking outside of the box when photographing flowers. See all of F.M.’s articles in this series »

About the Author

F.M. Kearney is a award-winning fine art nature photographer specializing in unique floral and landscape images. His work has been exhibited in galleries, and featured in numerous magazines, calendars and gift cards. He is a frequent contributor to NANPA's newsmagazine, Currents, and the weekly photography blogger for Contemporary Art Gallery Online.

Kearney began his career as a photojournalist for local New York City newspapers. Using the subway as his primary means of transportation to and from his assignments, he became quite familiar with the system. It eventually became the inspiration for his newly-released horror novel, They Only Come Out at Night. A slight departure from photography, it's a supernatural thriller set in the New York City subway.

To see more of Kearney's photography and to learn more about his book, please visit

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