So this is the post I never knew I wanted to write. Not because I don't like flowers (of course, like most people, I love them), but because it's not in either of my usual fields of food or interiors. It's a whole different bag and one that - since I'm not a florist - isn't necessarily based on solid knowledge. I can obviously tell a rose from a daffodil and a peony from an anemone, but that's probably where my knowledge of flowers ends. Roughly there. Yes, I'm THAT person, standing in the florist's shop, randomly pointing at flowers exclaiming "I have no clue what it's called, but it's pretty and I want some.". I can only imagine how annoying this must be to anybody in the business...
Then I had a rethink. Because what I wanted to write here wasn't some kind of botanical guide that would require in-depth knowledge. I wanted to write about the photography part. And the styling. Which means that no matter what flowers you have, you could apply these tips to capture your blooms in the best possible way. When it comes to photographing flowers there are - in my humble opinion - two ways to go: 1. show flowers, 2. create a beautiful image. The first option is what you will see on the websites of large mail-order florists. You get my drift. The second option is the one to choose when you really want to convey the beauty of the blooms, create something personal and deliver images that evoke some sort of emotion in the viewer. Or at least makes them want to hit the "pin it" button. No prizes for guessing which option I'm going for.
Of course this is a huge subject and you might wonder how this (especially when it comes to the images) might apply to you when your taste might be totally different to mine. Well, this is a rough "how to", which means you can apply the same principles to any bouquet you might have and any kind of look you want to achieve. Whether breezy pastels or moody darks, the principles are the same. So, I hope this will be useful, but do let me know if you have any other questions by leaving a comment.
1. Choose the right vessel. Apart from the fact that plonking your flowers in some random glass vase will potentially look rather pedestrian (though it works if we're talking a single stem in a very simple glass, but that's a whole different subject), it certainly won't help create an overall look. When photographing flowers as a still life, you will want to consider the small details that make the surroundings. That includes the vase/bucket/tin or whatever you choose. I've chosen this particular pot specifically because the shape and size works extremely well with the shape and size of the bouquet and it has the sort of surface texture that creates a less "polished and pretty" look. I wanted a natural and slightly rough look for the images here and have therefore matched the accessories accordingly. Makes sense, right?
2. Make it yours. Now, I'm treading very carefully here because I certainly don't want to take anything away (I couldn't even if I tried!) from professional florists and their bouquets are of course beautiful and perfect. However, for me, that's exactly the "problem": they're perfect. And I don't want perfect, I want personal and imperfect. For a start, I will leave the flowers to age a little before photographing them because it fits the kind of look I'm after. Again, that's a personal preference and there's nothing wrong with preferring them to be super fresh and perky. In my opinion, flowers (just like a good wine that needs to breathe and a stew that has been re-heated somehow tastes better) look better on day two or three. A very slight droop and fade is perfectly acceptable in my book to make them look natural.
I might then "rough up" the bouquet a little. This goes for all bouquets and vases: don't just stick the bouquet still tied up into your vase. Take any ties off, cut the stems back a little and loosen the bouquet up before placing it in water. This is important if you don't want to end up with an image of a bouquet that looks like it's been taken straight from the above mentioned generic mass market florist's website.
Add a little of your personality. I've added a few twigs to the bouquet and some petals that had fallen off as well as the natural ties around it to create an overall look. This is not about completely changing the bouquet in itself, but about making it yours and about adapting it for the image you're looking to create. If you're perfectly happy with the flowers as they arrived, then that's great, but you should still consider adding a few little accessories like ribbons, some petals, cutting scissors or anything that goes with your look and story.
3. Look at it from a different angle. I always say to my students that they need to consider which side the camera will look at their still life (it's not a wedding reception setup where the result will be viewed from all sides!) and set it up accordingly. So, choose where the front (from where you'll be shooting) is and set up your bouquet and still life accordingly. However, once that is done, start looking at it from different angles. Straight on, at a 45 degree angle, in from the side, looking at your bouquet and composition from different angles will reveal different and interesting looks. Not every picture will be a success, but you will also be surprised at the images you might discover that you hadn't previously considered.
4. Crop your shot. People often get stuck trying to fit every detail of the still life into the frame. However, cropping your shot and nearly filling the frame can look really interesting and make for a very dynamic image.
5. Go in close. The most beautiful and small details often get lost when we're looking at a bouquet as a whole. Whilst it's of course the way the flowers have been put together that make the bouquet special, it's the individual details that really make it. By going in close and concentrating on those details, you're giving the viewer an insight into your still life as well as that feeling of "I can nearly touch it".
6. Think "outside the box". Apologies for the middle management speak... What I mean is that it can be a great idea to work out of context. Flowers meet vase. Ok, been there, done that. But how about taking the flowers into a completely different setting? We sometimes get stuck with one 'look' which is then repeated over and over. Not only do we risk boring ourselves with that, but also our audience. You might have one of those days where your usual "thing" simply doesn't come together (believe me, we ALL have those days!) and you look at your still life knowing something's off. Take it somewhere else - literally! Grab those flowers and walk around your house with them. Place them on different surfaces and in front of different backdrops and see what happens. Heck, put them in your sink! It kinda worked for me...
7. Leave some negative space. I know, this one has been repeated everywhere, but that is of course because it works so well! Whether light or dark, leaving some of your image frame blank will draw attention to the main item and create tension. Just make sure the backdrop is fairly plain as you don't want it distracting from the bouquet.
8. If all else fails, add cake! Sometimes things (see above) don't go to plan and the accessories are off and nothing is coming together. Just as I'd advise to add flowers to your cake (it always looks great!), why not add cake to your flower images? Ok, this one is just a little bit tongue-in-cheek and I don't expect anybody to bake a cake just to add it to their flower still life, but I had this one ready and figured it worked nicely. Oh, and if you're interested in the cake, the recipe for this gluten-free and vegan sponge/cheesecake with caramelised mango slices will be up here soon.
I hope this little guide is really helpful to you and you're inspired to spend your weekend photographing flowers. If you're looking for a florist to supply you with a beautiful bouquet, take a peek at The Real Flower Company who supplied these gorgeous blooms. And if you're looking to further your photography and styling skills, why not join me at one of my workshops? All details HERE and more dates will be added soon.