Fine Art Flower Photography

By Geoff Harris

Where to focus in close up photos of flowers.

People often ask me where you should focus when you're photographing flowers.

When you take photos at close focusing distances, depth of field becomes very shallow, with the zone of sharpness sometimes only a millimetre or two deep, so the decision about where exactly you want your point of focus to be becomes very crucial.

And not only is the decision crucial, but actually focusing on the place you have decided on will require great precision!

crocus 2

There are no hard and fast rules about where is right to focus and where is wrong.  The answer about what works will vary from one type of flower to another.  Usually your intuition will tell you when you have it “right” in any given situation.

Often it will be something in the structure of the flower which will determine your decision.

In this photo of a crocus, I felt it would be wrong not to have the stamens sharp.  This was not just because they were at the centre of the flower, but also because they were a strong, dominant colour – yellow will always pull the eye in an image – while the rest of the flower was a cooler, receding mauve.

It would have seemed odd to focus on the nearer mauve petals and have an out of focus area of attention-pulling yellow behind them.

daisies focus front  daisies focus middle

In other flowers the decision may not be so obvious, for instance in flat, daisy shaped flowers.  Here are two photos of a daisy, one with the focus on the nearest petal tips, and one with the focus on the daisy’s centre.

I think a case can be made for either of these choices.  However, the one choice which would feel wrong to me would be to focus on the petals at the back of the flower.

Somehow it would seem uncomfortable to have to look beyond an un-sharp centre to focus on petals behind it.

Once you’ve made the decision about where to focus, it really helps to have some kind of camera support, such as a tripod or a bean bag, because the depth of field can be so shallow at close distances that a small movement on your part as you’re about to take the photo can result in the sharpest area being just in front of or behind the place you’d chosen.

It’s also a good idea to use manual focus, rather than auto focus, to be sure of focusing exactly where you want, and not where the camera thinks you want!

If you are interested in learning more about flower photography why not join me on my 4 week online course, which start on the first Saturday of every month.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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