Low-Key Flower Photography Tips
If you have visited our website, you will notice our varieties are photographed on a black background. The purpose is to draw focus to the variety and its floral characteristics. Low-key photography is the art of being creative with light to expose the subject while concealing the background with shadows.
- Strobe Lights
- White Balance Card
- Black Backdrop
Setting Up Your Studio
You don’t need a fancy setup. A dark black cloth or matte black poster paper will work perfectly as a backdrop. Be sure that it is a thick cloth, otherwise, the flash will permeate through the cloth. What you want is the light to bounce off of your backdrop.
Place your camera on a tripod and place your flowers in a vase. Use a table or pedestal to give some height. You will need 1 or 2 strobe lights. Set them a few feet away from where you have your flowers set up. Pointing toward the flower in the vase on opposing sides.
Adjust your flower by positioning it the way you would like it to be photographed. Think about the purpose of this photo: Is it a product photo for your website? For Virgin Farms we use low-key photos for our website’s product catalog. A 45-degree angle works best to show the flower’s characteristics including colors, petals, size, and aperture.
Set your strobe lights to activate in sync with your camera’s built-in flash. Turn your camera to manual mode and make sure the flash is on. In your camera settings, adjust the flash compensation to negative. To capture just the flower and all its details, zoom in your lens—210 mm is a good focal length. Place your camera and tripod a few feet away from your flower. Also, be sure to separate your flower from the backdrop at least 12 inches away, otherwise, the flash from the strobe lights and camera will cast a shadow on your backdrop and you will not achieve the low-key lighting effect. Your subject should look like it is drowned in darkness.
In settings, turn your camera’s color mode to neutral and change the white balance preset to custom. Hold the white balance card up in front of your camera. Take a photo of the gray card side, and that will set your custom color balance. Next, hold the color card side up to your flower (you may need an assistant) and take a photo. The purpose of this preparation is to edit in post-production. When working with artificial light the color of flowers may be altered and the hue may not be truly represented. Always shoot your images in RAW format to allow editing in software such as Lightroom or Photoshop.
To achieve a low-key photo, your settings must harmonize to produce the light and shade effect.
- ISO: Use a low ISO to prevent grainy photos. Try about 250 to 350, but experiment as needed to brighten or darken your photo.
- F-Stop: Use a mid-point f-stop. The higher the number, the less light enters the lens. At F7 or F9 you’ll let just enough light in while keeping your subject in focus and blurring the background.
- Shutter Speed: The shutter speed determines how fast your lens stays open, freezing your frame. Since we are using strobe lights and camera flash, you want a quick shutter speed just enough to allow light but produce a shadow to surround the subject. Try 160, but again experiment with the settings as you see fit.
Try to underexpose when photographing. In post-production editing, you can always adjust the exposure. It is always more difficult to correct overexposed photos than to brighten up an image. Similarly, a photograph that is too underexposed will be too dark to adjust. Your photo should be in the middle ground as far as exposure goes, giving you room to make minor adjustments.
The Low Key Effect
If you have followed these steps, your result should be a well-lit subject engulfed in shadow. The synchronization of light and your camera’s settings all perform in unison to produce a scientific masterpiece. After you have taken your photos, import your files into editing software such as Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. Choose which photos make the cut and flag those as keepers. Make adjustments to your photos such as exposure, highlights, and shadows.
Choose your flower based on your goals for your photo. Select one that is nicely formed and has little to no blemishes. Trim the stem if necessary and place it in a vase leaning slightly at a 45-degree angle. Take a test shot and adjust the flower until you’re happy with the composition. Tilt or rotate your flower, and remove any flawed or bruised petals. Take multiple shots—you will probably discard most of them, but that is the beauty of digital photography. Later in post-production, you can choose the best photo and edit it.
When editing your images, don’t apply filters or unrealistic color adjustments. If your images are used for product showcasing, you want the photos to be a representation of the actual flowers. Unless you’re going for a creative effect, then you can experiment with unusual alterations.