Creative Flower Photography – Tip #2: Let the Sun Shine In

by F.M. Kearney | May 14, 2013

© F.M. KearneyConventional wisdom tells us to always keep the sun at our backs when taking a picture. This is a pretty good rule to follow for most subjects – especially if you don’t want details lost under a heavy silhouette. However, always following conventional wisdom will usually result in conventional-looking photographs. If your subject is fairly close and you use proper lighting, it really doesn’t matter where the sun is. In fact, I often deliberately include the sun in many of my flower shots.

Daffodils © F.M. Kearney

Each spring, the New York Botanical Garden comes alive with the blooming of tens of thousands of daffodils in about 350 varieties. A vivid sea of white and gold carpet the grounds in two primary locations—the Murray Liasson Narcissus Collection on the northern end and Daffodil Hill in the southern section.

I’ve photographed these daffodils in almost as many ways as there are varieties. One method I find that really adds drama is to shoot them just after sunrise. At this time of day, the sun is low enough in the sky to easily place it anywhere in the shot. My favorite spots are small openings within tight flower clusters. To emphasize the sunburst, I shoot on manual and slightly underexpose the sky. With my exposure based on the sky, I’m able to shoot at a hand-holdable shutter speed. In order to position the sunburst exactly where I want it, I need to depress the depth of field preview button and keep it depressed while taking the picture. This allows me to view the scene at the “taking aperture” as opposed to wide open. The slightest camera movement (I’m talking millimeters here) is all it takes to go from seeing a brilliant sunburst to not seeing any burst at all. With one finger on the shutter and another on the depth of field preview button, my hand is in a pretty weird, contorted state. I can only stay in position for so long before it starts to cramp up.

To combat the strong backlight of the sun, I use two flashes mounted on mini tripods on either side of the subject. If you don’t have two flashes a single one will also work, but it shouldn’t be placed too far to the side because it will create harsh shadows.

Daffodils bloom very early in spring—even before most of the leaves on the trees. The stark contrast between bare branches and delicate flowers adds even more drama to the scene. I’ve also used this technique when shooting early morning images of daylilies, as seen in the photo below.

Sun and daffodil, New York Botanical Garden © F.M. Kearney

Say goodbye to the same old tired-looking photos, and don’t be afraid to let the sun shine in.

Editor’s Note: This is the second 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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