A review of the book Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds, by Harold Davis.
Flowers offer wonderful creative opportunities. It’s no coincidence that some of the world’s greatest painters have spent a lot of time working with them. For photographers, they can be very rewarding subjects. Whether your preferences lean toward the classical or abstract, a single flower can offer both. And you don’t need fancy gear. While a specialized macro lens can certainly come in very handy, especially if you want to get in very close, you can also make beautiful flower photos with something as simple as a basic nifty-fifty (50mm prime) lens, smartphone camera, or compact.
“Every individual flower is different from each other flower. An important statement worth repeating: no two flowers are exactly alike.” [p32]
There are a number of excellent books on photographing flowers and gardens, and with spring upon us, and some enforced home time, I’m in the process of reviewing some of the best.
The one I’m focusing on here is Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds, by Harold Davis.
Mr. Davis is an American photographer and one of the most prolific writers of photography books around.
“If you are interested in photographing flowers too, this book shares my knowledge and experience related to flower photography. I’ll explain what I look for in my floral models, and the techniques I use in the studio and in the garden. By the way, the techniques I’ll show you for making stunning close-ups and macros can be used on any subject matter–not just flowers.” [p8]
Focal Press makes beautiful photography books, and this is no exception. There are plenty of full-page photos, beautifully reproduced, to really let the photos shine.
The photos are stunning, but one of the things I particularly like about this book is that he doesn’t skimp on the how and why. There are two threads running through much of the book: a more general thread that discusses the background, including a healthy dose of information on types of flowers and their beauty. And another that gets into the photographic weeds (pardon the pun). Each photo is captioned, and it doesn’t just include the exposure details–it explains where the flower camera from and why he chose to photograph in this way.
“Flowers can be photographed in fields where no one tends them, in the wilderness, in a public or private garden, in my garden, indoors in an arrangement, and indoors in a controlled situation in a photography studio.” [p12]
I also like the variety of styles. Mr. Davis has an unusual range of photographic versatility, and it really comes through in these photos. They might all be of flowers, but they certainly don’t all look the same or take the same approach. There are abstracts, extreme macros, backlit, studio, and in-the-wild shots, along with a wide range of colors and forms. Taken together, it really reinforces that flowers offer something to almost everyone.
“Where else can you find such a riotous display of colors and shapes contained in such a small package? Every flower is different.” [p8]
Some of the specific techniques covered include multiple-image focus stacking, creating extreme color shifts with LAB adjustments, and mimicking famous painterly effects such as a Georgia O’Keeffe look or the explosions of color of post-impressionism. I particularly enjoyed the how-to guide for creating the illusion of transparency using a lightbox for backlighting.
Harold Davis is an internationally-known digital artist and award-winning professional photographer. He is also the author of many bestselling photography books, including The Way of the Digital Photographer (Peachpit Press, awarded as a Best Photography Book of the Year by Photo.net). Harold’s book, Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook (Focal Press), has been termed “a great accomplishment” by Steven Pressfield.
His Photographing Flowers (Focal Press) is a noted photography “classic,” and is rated the Best Guide to Flower Photography by Digital Photographer Magazine. Harold Davis’s latest book, The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook, combines technique with travel adventure stories in an art-book presentation. It will be available from Monacelli Press and distributed by Random House in early 2017.
The publisher has made available a sample chapter. [PDF]
Harold Davis also has an earlier, more general book on close-up photography.
He also has a new book coming out in fall 2020 called Creative Garden Photography: Making Great Photos of Flowers, Gardens, Landscapes, and the Beautiful World Around Us.
And if your budget stretches to it, he also has a high-end limited edition book of botanical prints, which includes some of the same photographs used in Photographing Flowers.
He also has an online course on photographing flowers, which you can find at Bluprint).
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