See how these seven talented portrait photographers incorporate colorful flowers into their work for an unconventional twist on a time-honored genre.
Flowers are everywhere, from the dark, edgy floral patterns hitting the runway to the flower walls cropping up at wedding receptions. This year, “In Full Bloom” ranked among the major trends listed on the Shutterstock Creative Trends Report, with buyer searches for “flowerscape,” “bloom,” and “live wall” up by 141 percent, 136 percent, and 83 percent, respectively. On social media, trending hashtags like #flower_special_, #splendid_flowers, and #loves_flowers_ have racked up millions of posts.
From the California super bloom to the Dutch tulip fields, we can’t seem to get enough of nature’s bounty, and portrait photography is no exception. Read on for amazing tips by seven accomplished portrait photographers.
For a raw, harmonious image, shoot in nature. Image by AnastasiaNess. Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G AF-S lens. Settings: Exposure 1/1600 sec; f2.2; ISO 250.
“I like to shoot floral images outdoors, whenever possible,” Russian photographer AnastasiaNess tells us. “Natural surroundings, like a summer meadow or an emerald forest, make the people and flowers look even more harmonious and timeless.’
“Outdoor locations also seem to highlight the fragility and tenderness of flowers, somehow. The meadow in this photo, for example, is a sacred place to me. I spent most of my childhood there. So, it was perfect for this photo shoot with my close friend, who had just gotten married.’
“While many other spaces are getting built-up with blocks of flats, this field has stayed untouched, and every spring it gets flooded with flowers. It’s my secret place, where I come to escape and clear my mind. That lazy sunset sun, the bees buzzing around, and her messy hair, flower wreath, and simple wedding dress all made for memories that I cherish.”
When working outside, remember to respect your environment. No photo is worth trampling flowers or interfering with nature.
Gather Inspiration from History
Do some research on the flowers you’re shooting to create a more authentic image. Image by Dmytro Buianskyi. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM. Settings: Focal length 100 mm; Exposure 100mm; f2.8; ISO 100.
The history of flowers in art is a rich and storied one, from Dutch still life paintings to the Victorian obsession with poppies and chrysanthemums. Dig into that heritage, and you’ll find a treasure trove of classic ideas worthy of reinvention.
“I always want to pay tribute to tradition and, at the same time, do something modern and stylish,” Dmytro Buianskyi tells us. “The idea behind this shoot, for example, was inspired by Asian culture, Japanese cinema, and the Japanese sakura (cherry blossom).”
Practice with Artificial Flowers
Experiment with artificial flowers when brainstorming new ideas. Image by Nadya Korobkova.
As several of the artists we interviewed remind us, fresh flowers are delicate, so you can always practice and play around with (more durable) artificial ones when brainstorming new ideas. “It’s not necessary to limit yourself to fresh flowers alone, especially since they’re so fragile,” Nadya Korobkova explains.
“In today’s market, you can find a lot of high-quality artificial flowers. Many of them look real, and it is great fun to experiment with them.” You can also use artificial flowers to create images and scenarios that would be impossible with natural ones. Korobkova remembers, “One day, my husband and I sewed an entire dress with such flowers, and those photos ended up being some of our best shots together.”
Refine Your Vision
For a cohesive image, make sure each element compliments each other. Image by Nadya Korobkova. Gear: Leica M9 camera, Summicron 55mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/180 sec; f8; ISO 80.
Everything in your frame, from the flowers right down to the hair and makeup, should come together to tell a story or evoke an emotion. To ensure that every element forms a cohesive whole, Korobkova often does her own hair and makeup, in addition to the styling of the flowers. “I always think through the entire image in detail, and my models inspire me greatly in this process,” she tells us.
“Sometimes, I choose the makeup and hairstyle first, and then select the flowers to match the image I have in mind. On the other hand, it can happen in the reverse, as well. I am sometimes inspired by some unusual flowers and think of an appropriate hairstyle, makeup, and outfit to match.”
Push the Boundaries
Be creative when experimenting with flowers. Image by Nadya Korobkova.
“Flowers can be used in unexpected ways to great effect,” Korobkova adds. “I recommend shooting as many portraits as possible, and trying out many different ways of incorporating flowers. I experiment all the time.’
“You can use flowers anywhere: in the model’s collar, cuffs, shoes, or even a man’s beard. Once, for example, the flowers I had in a vase at home fell over. But, instead of throwing them out, I selected the most beautiful petals and used them in my makeup on a shoot.”
Select the Right Palette
Pay attention to your color palette when matching flowers with skin tone. Image by F8 studio. Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV camera, 85mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/1000 sec; f1.4; ISO 640.
Fresh flowers and human skin tones work well together, so pay attention to your color palette. “We always take a look at the colors of the flowers we use, whether it’s a planned photo shoot or something more spontaneous,” Dan and Vitaliy of F8 studio explain.
“We always want the model to be interacting with the flowers, whether it’s holding them in her hands or against her face, so we think about how the colors of the flowers harmonize with the color of the dress and the model’s skin tone. You can choose contrasting colors on opposite ends of the color wheel or analogous colors, depending on the look you want.’
“Beyond that, we always try to use big branches and big, lush flowers that fill the frame. We also recommend shooting with a dedicated portrait lens, like a 50mm or 85mm, and shooting with an open aperture, like f1.4-2.8, for a shallow depth of field.”
Watch Your Wardrobe
Make sure the color of the flowers match the color palette of the clothing. Image by AnastasiaNess.
Speaking of color palette, clothing is a key element in any portrait shoot. “Make sure the outfit on your model matches the flowers you picked,” AnastasiaNess recommends. “For example, floral print on a dress might get lost in fresh flowers. The colors don’t need to be the same, but they have to be in tune and work together to create the right mood.’
“I usually pick pastel outfits for floral photo shoots, as they look quite simple and elegant. At the same time, they also help emphasize the complex textures of flowers. I might also introduce some bright elements into the pastel-colored scene to freshen up the picture.”
Mark Your Calendar
With fresh flowers, time is of the essence. Image by Dmytro Buianskyi.
You can make photos with artificial flowers year-round. But, if you have your heart set on fresh ones, timing is of the essence. “The period of flowering for many flowers and trees is quite short, and it is not always possible to know the exact date of when a tree or flower will bloom,”Buianskyi explains. “For that reason, every participant in the photo shoot needs to be prepared and ready to go, at a moment’s notice.”
If you have seasonal blooms in your area, track them in advance of your shoot. If the timing is tricky and hard to predict, it can help to follow local social media accounts or blogs monitoring the bloom. If your subject is time-sensitive (like cherry blossoms), you’ll also to upload your photos before buyers start to search for images to use in their seasonal campaigns.
Be well-informed of weather conditions of any given location. Image by Laura Battiato.
Preparation is the key to success. And, for artists who prefer working outside, this rule is doubly important. “Because I like working with flowers in natural environments, I try to stay as informed as I can about the weather and climate conditions of any given location,” Laura Battiato says.
“Sometimes, you might have to delay a session, if there is strong wind or rain. It’s a good idea to have a ‘Plan B,’ so you don’t waste any time, or end up canceling at the last minute. Solid shoes and protective gear for your equipment are always good to have on hand when you’re working in nature. Also, be prepared to be surrounded by bees or little insects, as they love flowers, too. And, make sure your models are okay with working in this kind of environment.”
Take Care of Your Flowers
Choose seasonal flowers to ensure the freshest look for your shoot. Image by AnastasiaNess.
“I always pick seasonal flowers for photo shoots. That’s the alpha and omega of flower photography,” AnastasiaNess explains. “They will look the freshest and will harmonize nicely with your natural surroundings. At the same time, they will help you save a dime, as they are usually the most affordable.’
“If you need to carry the flowers around for a long time, it’s better to have some water and a container on you. A glass, a small vase, or a bottle will do the job and help your bouquet stay fresh and neat. One more thing: When I photograph flower bouquets, I always orient the floral heads directly towards the camera. It guarantees I catch the whole shape of the blossoms.”
Collaborate with Others
For great results, work with a team of professionals. Image by Dmytro Buianskyi.
“Most of my shoots take place with an entire team of professionals, including a wardrobe stylist, makeup artist, hair stylist, assistant, and models,” Buianskyi says. “I find that working with a friendly and creative team helps me to achieve the best result.’
“Even if you don’t have a budget for a full team, working with people you trust, whether it’s a model or an assistant, can push you outside your comfort zone and encourage you to take creative risks.”
Use Creative Lighting
Lighting is an essential element when creating a beautiful scene. Image by Dmytro Buianskyi.
Flowers can elevate even a simple portrait into the world of fantasy and daydreams, so don’t limit yourself when it comes to lighting. “My inspiration has always been cinema. I spend a lot of time watching films, analyzing every detail, and trying to figure out how beautiful scenesare lit,” Buianskyi says.
“I, then, use that knowledge as inspiration for future projects. I find that the most spectacular and beautiful moments in film are usually lit with artificial lighting. You can use it to achieve otherworldly images that aren’t possible in real life.”
Connect with Your Model
Use your model’s natural emotions to create a mood. Image by nakaridore. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Canon 50mm 1.4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.
“The most important thing in any good photo shoot is to connect with your model,” nakaridore stresses. “Get on the same wavelength and get to the point where you can improvise and experiment. People can always tell if emotions are fake or artificial, so I always encourage my models to be themselves.’
“Something important to me, when shooting with flowers, is not to forget or overlook that human element at the heart of the image. Flowers are just one piece of the puzzle. They work well as accents and can highlight different emotions, but they aren’t the main thing for me. When I work with my models, we talk a lot about emotions and try to get specific moods for different pictures.”
Get Some Candid Shots
Capture playful moments by allowing your model to personally interact with the camera. Image by Laura Battiato. Gear: Nikon D7100 camera, Nikkor 35-70 mm f/2.8 D AF lens. Settings: Focal length 62mm; Exposure 1/800 sec; f4; ISO 250.
“I think that maybe the best portrait pictures are the ones in which your model simply forgets about the camera and enjoys the situation,” Battiato tells us. “When using flowers to emphasize a portrait, I try to let people interact with them in a way that feels natural for them.’
“Even when I have a previous idea of what I’m trying to represent, I often discover new and passionate ways to express beauty, transience, power, and joy, just by letting the subject interact with the environment in a natural, non-scripted way.’
“In the case of this photo, it was one of the last pictures of that day, and we both felt relaxed and satisfied with our work. We planned to do these last couple of shots just for fun, and I think that is exactly what made this one stand out to me when I saw it later at home. She was simply confident and carefree, like the spring season itself.”
Get Back to Basics
Look to your natural surroundings for inspiration. Image by Zolotarevs. Gear: Canon 5D camera, EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f3.5; ISO 100.
“I don’t know how many ‘tricks’ I have, other than looking to nature for inspiration,” Zolotarevs admits. “I live on a tropical island and find many of my ideas in my surroundings. In the case of this photo, for example, I was inspired by an abundance of beautiful birds curling around the flowers around our house.’
“I wanted to create something bright and fresh. Some of the flowers were bought, and some were from our garden. We made this photo literally right in front of our house.’
“My biggest piece of advice is to reconnect with nature. Go to the botanical garden, or find a field of flowers and just sit there quietly. Take the time to observe the beauty of nature. I do this a lot, and perhaps that feeling flows into my work.’
“In my photos, I like to mix people with nature as much as possible. In my imagination, a model doesn’t just hold a flower in her hand, but feels it completely, as though she’s immersed in nature. The main thing is to find a balance between model and flower so that they don’t compete but complement one another.”
Cover image by F8 studio.
Want to learn more about portrait photography? Check these out.
Composition and Lighting in Portrait Photography with Kyle Cong6 Tips for Portrait Photography Using Natural LightingHow to Create Dramatic Portraits with Shadow PhotographyShooting Portrait Photography That’s Anything but Ordinary5 Cheap Ways to Improve Your Portrait Photography
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