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Old 08-12-2012, 07:55 AM
Location: Tennessee
32,690 posts, read 29,871,710 times
Reputation: 46088


When you take photos of outdoor flowers in a formal garden (like at a university/botanical gardens), flowers by type are usually in close proximity to each other. First, like me, you probably spend a lot of time looking for perfect flowers (or as close as you can get). But then when I find one that suits me, the flower is usually close to other flowers. If you blur the background with your f stop to focus on one particular flower or group of maybe three, you still have bright colored blurred flowers in the background that are distracting in the photo because of the colors or just because they are so close to your subject you can't blur them all that much.

I find it hard to isolate flowers in these places so that maybe I just have shades of green in the background.

Do you just go ahead and take the best flower you can find and do something about the brightly colored spots in the background in post processing? Do you take a so-so flower (spots/holes/dead parts) because it's isolated and fix the flower, rather than the background, in post processing? Photograph the lowest or highest flower in a group of flowers so there's less of a chance of other flowers in the background vying for attention? Something else I'm not thinking of?

I tend to blur the background (a lot) or flood fill the background in post processing but that's not always easy to do with some flower types. I'm thinking maybe there is something easier to do when taking the photo.

Any tips will be appreciated.
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Old 08-12-2012, 03:56 PM
54,928 posts, read 57,358,940 times
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laura heres my take on it.

i cant say it enough, painters think long and hard about what to paint in a photo.

photographers have to think long and hard about what to exclude in the picture.

once i decide what has to go if i cant do it controlling my background either by focus or by flash then ill see what i can do in post processing. if nothing works then its just a bad photograph to me.

i hate cluter and distracting backgrounds around my subject.anything not adding to the photo is subtracting from it.

i work and plan out every shot so there is no clutter.

i think what will help you big time is to learn to shoot in manual with flash so you can controll your background better.

i did a tutorial on it a few months ago here in the forum. if you cant find it ill see if i can dig it up for you.

by utilizing good flash skills you can change the background from black to bright and everything in between.

if you go through some of the flowers i posted in the forum you will see all kinds of backgrounds done by controlling the lighting in broad daylight by flash.

all of the below had backgrounds that distracted from the photo or had blotchey colors poking through. by using flash and manual settings on camera i got the camera to do what i wanted,not what it wanted .
if you dont shoot in manual the camera will strive to bring the background up in brightness killing the shot,

Last edited by mathjak107; 08-12-2012 at 04:51 PM..
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Old 08-12-2012, 04:40 PM
54,928 posts, read 57,358,940 times
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i forgot to mention ,you need a seperate external flash ,not the pop up . i can only speak for nikon as im not familiar with cannons system.

the pop up nikon flash only works in ttl-bl not regular ttl . ttl-bl only tries to balance the light on the subject with the background.

no good here. you want the flash to over power daylight and be the dominant light

so assuming you have an external flash, set camera to manual.

set iso to 400

leave flash off and try a speed of 1/200 and a lens opening around f20.. take a shot.. thats what the background will look like. to darken set a smaller aperture. for a brighter background use larger opening.remember we are only setting the back ground,the photo should be pretty dark right now with out flash.

now turn the flash on. i usually set around -1 to start.

that will control the subject. take a few shots and adjust the flash to taste,eventually you will have a nicely exposed subject and a non distractive background

by shooting in manual you have 2 different exposure systems going on at the same time. the flash controls the subject and the camera settings control the background.
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Old 08-13-2012, 08:28 AM
Location: Tennessee
32,690 posts, read 29,871,710 times
Reputation: 46088
Thank you for your help. Your photos are gorgeous, as usual. I don't use an external flash so I'm thinking that's my next purchase. I usually blacken the background or gaussian blur it in post processing but for me, with some flowers (the kind with stringy petals) it's harder than others. It's also difficult to do that (for me) when butterfly antennae and legs are directly in front of the background and not against the subject flower so I knew there had to be another way and preferrably with the camera rather than post-processing. The ones I do successfully, I'm pleased with but there are so many more I discard.
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Old 08-13-2012, 11:01 AM
54,928 posts, read 57,358,940 times
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you loose so much in background options by not controlling the lighting around you and just taking pot luck with lighting and depth of field.
using the flash and controlling the lighting lets you also shoot with small apertures extending depth of field if you want to include so much more of the subject.

i find mastering your flash in macro is the key to getting good results more ofton than not and when done right as you see there is very little hint a flash was used.
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Old 08-13-2012, 11:13 AM
Location: Dallas, TX
31,776 posts, read 22,279,266 times
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IMO, flash tends to impart a bit of harshness that may be acceptable only occasionally. I am more of an available light shooter and the best conditions would be partly cloudy with no wind something I feel I always miss. These less than ideal conditions, and having little time to spot the perfect flower, set up and shoot, don’t help either and I tend to see things that I missed but the lens and the camera did not.

If muting the background is desired, I sometimes switch to Spot Metering, as I did recently to re-visit RAW mode in my nine-year old friend (Sony F828). I opted for Aperture Priority (f/2), close focusing at wide angle 28mm (35mm equivalent) and ISO 64. The camera metered 1/2000s. This allowed somewhat darkening of otherwise brightly lit grass in the backdrop. The smoothness of bokeh has never been a concern with this lens:

On occasions with potential for distraction, my favorite lens (Sony 135mm f/2.8 STF) comes to the rescue. It is not just an exceptionally sharp lens, but it delivers silky smooth Gaussian bokeh and enables turning a potentially bad situation into one I actually want to have. This is an example with the lens where a few azaleas were in close proximity that I wanted muted down as a backdrop. Now only if I weren’t dealing with a cloud cover and wind:

So, it may be possible to utilize other flowers for a theme. Here is another example where I wanted to maintain visibility of the old to go with another going through “middle age” (another windy day, this one along Trinity river in Ft Worth, but it helped to have some sun!).

And finally, using a bunch of blue/lavender pincushion flowers in proximity as a muted backdrop against the yellow.
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Old 08-13-2012, 11:36 AM
54,928 posts, read 57,358,940 times
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available light always look the nicest but mother nature co-operates rarely. rather than be out of control more ofton then not i learned to be in control of the lighting when ever i chose.

personally i find natural light leaves the backgrounds not only to bright but with those ugly blotches coming through that laura is referring to far to ofton. it spoils otherwise very nice shots that could have been terrific if the lighting was better controlled..

i dont find i get much harshness anymore with the flash . i can tell you this, switch to a ring flash and there is no harshness at all. i find just the opposite. things are so evenly lit i find it some what boreing.
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