Creative Flower Photography – Tip #6: “Add a Flash of Color”

by F.M. Kearney | July 24, 2013

© F.M. KearneyThere are several ways to add more color to your photos—many of them in post. But, I’m a little old-school. Although I run all of my photos through Photoshop, I primarily use the software to enhance what’s already there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a purest who believes it’s a mortal sin to process a photo into the realms of the otherworld. Some of the most breathtaking images I’ve ever seen never actually existed in the real world. I don’t see anything wrong with that as long as these types of images are clearly represented as artistic, as opposed to an accurate documentation of reality. In any event, when I do decide to add a little “something extra” to my photos, I prefer to do it in the camera at the time of the shoot. I guess I just find it more personally rewarding to do it that way. Also, considering the fact I’m not that proficient with Photoshop special effects might have some bearing on my decision.

One of the easiest ways to add color to flower portraits is through flash gels. Since I normally use a flash anyway for better lighting, this fits in perfectly with my standard work flow. I have a LumiQuest FXtra Gel Holder which attaches to the flash via Velcro strips. It’s equipped with two pockets—one for storing several colored gels and a clear one that wraps around the flash head. To change the color of the light I simply place an individual colored gel into this pocket. The red gel produces the most realistic-looking effects, so it’s the one I use most often.

I generally seek out white or light-colored flowers in order to make the color more noticeable. However, the key here is to make sure it’s not too noticeable. I only want to add a hint of color, not completely change it. Even though my flash is set to “Fill,” I still dial down its power output slightly. That’s very important when using the red gel, which can be quite overwhelming if not kept in check. As with most other subjects, flowers look best when lit at an angle. This will add more depth and eliminate that direct, flat light look. I take the flash off-camera and hold it either to the left, right, above or below the subject—whichever position that produces the most dynamic result. If the winds are exceptionally calm, I’ll do a double exposure where I aim the flash at opposite sides outfitted with two different colored gels for each exposure.

Delicate flowers with water drops © F.M. Kearney

Floral lighting with red flash gel © F.M. Kearney

The white Peruvian lilies illustrate the before and after effects of the red flash gel. As you can see from the “before” photo, they were shot in the shade. The flash gel makes it appear as though they were bathed in early morning or late evening light.

Tree trunk in forest © F.M. Kearney

Forest tree trunk using colored soft gel © F.M. Kearney

Flash gels can be effective on many other subjects besides flowers. I shot the photos of the tree with a 50mm lens, but I to avoid discoloring the leaves, I “tunneled” the flash to 70mm and aimed it at the bare spot on the right. It created a natural-looking color which balanced nicely with the leaves on the ground.

You don’t need to be a Photoshop guru to add a little more color to your flower photos. Not only can it be done easily in the camera…it can be done in a flash!

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth 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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