I feel incredibly honored by the number of absolutely talented florists around the world who are taking the Eyes Open Creative Photography E-course! I wanted to design a short lesson specifically for you that will hopefully help you in growing your business and presenting a professional presence online.
I had the pleasure of working with Amy Maloney from Pretty Flowers Maine on this shoot in my home studio where she provided some beautiful arrangements and fantastic flowers! So thanks to her, this is all possible!
First off, I should probably tell you that I know absolutely nothing about flowers, or arranging them. I have photographed hundreds of bouquets and table top arrangements at weddings, but beyond that, my experience is limited. Being a professional photographer, I wanted to step outside the box a little bit and try to figure out the best way to allow you (as a florist) to be your own "professional photographer" because from what I have heard, it is very hard to obtain images from events that you have done, or all those wedding photographers that can't seem to get their act together and actually send you images. (Full disclaimer...I am one of those wedding photographers, and let me tell you...by the end of the season, I have about 60 vendors I could e-mail with images. To dig through every wedding and pull out images for each vendor would likely take me 7 solid 8-hour days. So really...it's not because we don't want to get them out there, it's just we have no spare time!)
The key to a successful online presence and website is good quality design and really professional images. So seeing as how this is your livelihood, I would take the plunge and (if you haven't already) purchase a basic DSLR like this one or this one, and most importantly you need the 50mm 1.8f lens (for appropriate camera body). You have to be able to depend on yourself to provide great images of your work, and in the long run, investing in a good camera and appropriate lens will only save you money!
After you have invested in the appropriate photographic equipment, you are going to need to start thinking about the best place to photograph your work. Because we learn all the essentials to understanding photography in the e-course, I'm not going to go over that here, but will share appropriate settings to achieve the look you want in terms of photographing arrangements and other images for your site.
It is now known to me that florists are often in a big rush when styling, arranging, and getting their product out the door to wherever it is supposed to end up. I understand this, so I want to make this as easy as possible for you. If you can designate one small area of your home/studio (preferably near to where you do your work) as a ready-to-go available area to photograph, it will be so much easier. You need to start thinking about documenting your own work, much like an artist catalogues their pieces over the years. Try to tell yourself that no arrangement or bouquet is going to leave your studio without being photographed first!
So let's get to it...
The Photographic Space
First off, you need a go-to space to photograph every arrangement you put together. Something that can be left set up and everything ready to go. It doesn't take much, but I know how space is precious and thinking about devoting a 3-4 foot area seems impossible. Above is my studio setup (taken with an iPhone) which I use for a variety of subjects, so I actually have a large space to devote to my work. But if you have a 2-3 foot wall space, preferably near a window so it is well lit, and maybe a table or chair or even just the floor, you are good to go. That's all it takes! I used an old table that had a very textural, well worn finish that adds a little something extra to the photographs.
If your wall space is brightly colored, or too dark, or wallpapered, invest in a roll of small seamless background paper. You can choose from a variety of colors here, but I would recommend a nice deep gray and a white for contrast. And you can set this up anywhere...just tape it to a low ceiling and hang down if you don't have enough available wall space! That's the beauty of the backdrop. Or you can use any beautiful background to your advantage like beautifully textured wallpaper, wood paneling, siding on your house, etc. Use your imagination! But make sure whatever you are using in the background is not distracting from you subject. Whatever you choose, make sure it is easy and accessible! Otherwise, you will find an excuse not to photograph your work!
Now, in terms of lighting, you want natural light as much as a possible. Indoors, this can be hard so you want to make sure whatever space you designate as your "shooting space" is near a source of natural light like a window. Below is an example of a setup:
In the arrangement above, you have a small corner to designate as your photographing space, and a window close by for some natural light. This would be an ideal setup.
Once you have your space ready, you need to leave your camera in a handy place where it is easy to grab when you need to shoot something. You can have it set up on a tripod by your shooting area, or just simply on the table where you will place your arrangements. That way it is readily available and you won't have to think about it.
I would also pick an object to photograph on that has some type of texture or interesting finish. It only adds something unique to your images...after all, you do want them to be your own. Have a pile of props to add to the images as well, so you're not just showcasing your work, but also how they would function in a setting like a table arrangement, etc.
Examples of props to acquire:
- vintage forks, spoons, knives (mismatched is fine and fun!)
- simple plates or bowls to arrange in a place setting
- a variety of linens (table cloths, napkins, or table runners. avoid lots of loud patterns so you don't distract from subject)
- different vases, baskets, ribbons
- braches, twigs, to add to the tabletop
You want your website and blog to include a variety of images, so the potential client can see that your work is diverse and varied.
Styling Your Images
In the initial phase of acquiring professional images for your portfolio and website, you will want to put some intention in how to style the photographs. You're not just going to want to throw the vase of flowers on a tabletop and photograph it. No, you want to put a lot of thought into each shot. In terms of styling with props, look for things that compliment the colors and textures of your arrangements. In the image above, I couldn't help but think of the blue and white striped linen to compliment the pop of yellow of the mini daffodils. Amy also had the craspedia floating around, and I wanted to make the photograph a little more dynamic by adding something more. But if I had added another color, I don't think it would have been as cohesive, and also would have likely made the viewer have a hard time deciding where to focus.
You don't need much to make an image unique interesting. The image above just looked too plain against the white. When I moved the vase so the flowers faced the appropriate way, a few leaves fell. I was about to pick them up when I realized I liked them there, to give the image some depth. So I grabbed some more from the bucket of loose flowers and scattered them around the floor. Bottom line: be inventive. It doesn't have to be fancy, or cost a lot of money, or take a lot of time. Think outside the box!
Composition and Framing
When it comes to setting up your shot, you also want to think outside of the box. Visit your favorite florist's websites and take note of what images they have chosen to showcase their work. I bet you they are not all photographs of arrangements stuck smack dab in the middle of the frame. You want variety. The image above was an idea after seeing those small vases Amy brought. I decided to cut the stems off of the loose flowers so I could fill the vases with contrasting flowers. I spaced them evenly, then knew I wanted to shoot them towards the bottom of the frame in order to leave enough negative space in the upper two thirds for text (think website banner, advertisement, etc.).
So take a look at your website and decide what it needs. I created a Pinterest board for floral inspiration in terms of photographing your work and how to style it. So many amazing ideas, and if you have a good grasp of your camera and lighting (as you should after this course), you have endless possibilities for creating your own stunning images.
It doesn't need to be a fancy centerpiece or bouquet, leftover miscellaneous stems can be the inspiration for a very original image! For the above image, I arranged the single stems on the tabletop, then actually stood on the tabletop to shoot from above. So the grey to the left was the floor! I just adore this image and think it makes for a very eye-catching and original image for advertisements.
Don't always center your subject. You want to make an effort to have your main focus in various places in your frame. That means your bouquet or centerpiece can be to the left or right of your frame. If you choose to center it to make a bold statement, think about the space on the top and bottom...you can choose to have more space on either side which only adds to the composition.
Think about cropping your center piece or bouquet to get a closer look, but also focusing on a certain part of the arrangement. Make sure you are leaving a consistent space around the other three sides. Again, it all comes down to intention...what are you trying to do with your images? By cropping off one side of the arrangement (like the the image above) while maintaining negative space around the remaining sides, it seems very intentional instead of like a mistake.
When centering an image, you want it to have a purpose. A bold arrangement or bouquet deserves to be completely shown off and centered, such as the image above. There is nothing to distract from the arrangement itself, and it's because of the nature of the subject (there is a lot going on) you want your background to be very sparse.
A Human Component
Let's face it, if you're a client looking for a florist, you want to see the flowers in action. It's not that you need to have photographs of your work at actual events, but it helps to have some sort of human presence in some of your images. That means various things...have an assistant who is willing to volunteer at least an arm for the photographs, or host a dinner party and adorn the table with arrangements that you can photograph while people are reaching for various plates and glasses, or buy a wireless remote and just use yourself if you have no willing participants.
Have a body in some of the images allow the viewer to connect on a more personal level. Create a headpiece, or a boutonniere, or a bouquet. These are all obvious things that should be connected with a person to make a meaningful image.
In the images above, I put on a simple linen dress (to not distract from the colors of the subject) and simply held the loose stems in a very anonymous way. Not only does this add just enough, but it will also vary your online portfolio a bit. So don't be afraid to jump into the frame yourselves!
Camera Settings for Spectacular Floral Images
There's no super big secret to professional-looking photographs, but there are a few things that can help differentiate your photos from more amateur ones. You want your photos to have a professional quality, which means you need to be comfortable with basic manual camera functions. Understanding depth of field, proper exposure, and composition is critical and also something you will have a firm grasp of after taking this course.
I am going to list a few examples of photographs I took, including my camera settings, and tell you why I chose what I did:
This photo works for a variety of reasons. One is the angle it was taken. You don't always need to shoot straight on, or at the same level as your subject. For this image, I shot from above to add an interesting angle, as well as a complete focus on the arrangement itself and not the vase or surroundings.
While photographing flowers, I did come to a conclusion that a wider aperture really benefits your photographs. It creates a very softened, dreamy look which is something that not the average person can do with their camera. I found that a f2.8 or larger was exactly the ticket for photographing flowers. The above was taken with a f2.2 and shutter speed and ISO were adjusted accordingly. You don't want a shutter speed of below 1/100th, because it is hard to hand hold a shutter that slow and have the image turn out sharp. So whatever you need to do with your ISO to get a shutter speed of 1/100th or faster is preferable.
When you use a wide open aperture, you need to be very careful of where you focus. Focusing on the the stem, leaf or flower closest to you is often what amateurs tend to do, but hardly ever makes the most sense. In contrast, pick the flower that has either the most color, texture, or size, and is most obviously the focal point of the frame and focus on that. Whatever your natural eye goes towards first it what your focus should be.
Here is another example of a f2.2 aperture. Can you see how the vase and her arm/hand lose necessary details so the focus is fully on the flowers? That's the beauty of a wide aperture...it can really help create some stunning, beautiful images as long as you nail the focus.
Images like the one above are so good to mix in with your website portfolio, or even just a simple blog post stating "we got the most beautiful roses in today!" to generate some excitement. Let's face it, flowers are beautiful subjects. You really can't go wrong after you have a good understanding of basic camera functions and your desired look.
Another way of adding personality and interest to your photos is to show the process behind your artistry. It always creates an intimacy between you and the viewer. You want the fact that you are behind all of this work to be displayed in your images. Most of us are camera shy in some form or another, so using just parts of yourself (like your hands, arm, legs, or feet) is enough. You just want interaction with your designs to show in your images.
Again, all of these shots are using a 2.8f or wider. You really want a limited depth of field so you create this softened, dreamy image.
As I mentioned earlier, adding props and other objects that not only enhance your visual presence of your business, but also add something dynamic to the photographs are a wonderful way to mix it up. Amy from Pretty Flowers has spent years collecting antique vases and wire baskets for her arrangements, so we chose to add those to the shoot to not only showcase her available products, but also add interest to the images.
Things to Be Aware Of
There are certain things that can make an image great. Proper settings, a good grasp of aperture and depth of field, composition, and one of the easiest things that often goes unnoticed: straight lines.
Often people take a picture of say, a tree, and the horizon line is completely tilted and distracts from the intention and focus of the image. Look at the image above. What if i focused on those egg baskets, but I neglected to make the table horizon line straight? What if the whole image looked like this:
See the slight tilt to the table? To me, my eye is completely distracted by the unintentional tilt of certain lines that would normally ground the image, and I can't even think about what the objects I should be focusing on are.
When taking photographs, make sure that everything is level. Whether it's just a vase, or a flower, or props…whatever horizontal lines you see in the image, they should be level with your frame. Which means when you look through the camera, the outside frame of your image should be level with whatever is in your viewfinder. It helps a lot, and allows the viewer to be undistracted when viewing a subject.
So now you are ready to start being your own photographer! After taking your fabulous image, some things you can focus on adjusting in an editing program (say iPhoto, Lightroom, or an online free editing software) are:
- adjust exposure (if needed)
- decrease highlights and shadows if need be
- add some contrast (just increasing contrast a tiny bit can make an image pop)
- sharpen image if you feel it is necessary
- add a filter (but decrease the opacity to almost nothing so it's not overbearing or distracting from original image)
- resize for web (i find usually 900 pixels wide is enough for any website or blog)
So have fun! You can be your own photographer! And just think of the benefits. Please e-mail me with any questions, and also let me know if there's anything else that would be helpful specific to florists.