By Antonio E. Amador (©2011, All Rights Reserved).
Besides the 10 Basic Elements of a Good Photograph there are more specific guidelines for great flower, garden or botanical photography. These are very basic elements, as further down we'll get deepen in some of these aspects as well as present new ones.
1. Overcast Days are The Best.
Since most of flower photography has to do with close-ups, there is no use for nice blue skies, which usually come with sunny days. Direct sun on flowers create rather unappealing contrast, with possible loss on highlights as well as shadows. Shadow areas may also acquire the blue cast of the sky above. The great soft box that overcast days create provides even, unchanging light that's very pleasant, neutral, and actually brings out the best color and saturation of subjects. With such light, the photographer can concentrate on so many other important variables rather than dealing with changing sun light and sudden sun blocking cloud shade that are common on such days. Also, overcast days will provide you with sufficient light levels during most of the day for your shooting, while waiting for very early or evening shooting for this light may lower considerably the amount of light for comfortable work.
As an alternative, find subjects in open shadow (any shade area) which is usually fed by the blue sky-atmosphere light or reflected light from other surfaces. There are, for sure, great opportunities for sunny days, in many cases for higher impact and contraster images; nevertheless it requires much more care, and certainly more sweat!
2. Wind is Your Enemy.
One of the marks of substandard photography is motion blur, whether from you hand shake, or from subject movement. If the wind is hitting foliage, you will most likely get blurry images that won't look good when magnified. You may spot easily the blurriness of a flower or leaf in a close-up, but a more elusive one is that of entire trees (moving leaves) due to wind moving it's leaves.
Breezy days make your shooting harder and demands time and energy that could otherwise be invested in more exploration and experimentation.
So, on windy days, wear your patience shirt, or else, leave your camera at home and go for the stroll (it's good every once in a while).
3. Shoot Handheld for Mobility.
When out in a garden, there is a great amount of possible shots awaiting that demand mobility and agility from the photographer. During regular day hours, the amount of light should be enough to be able to hand hold your camera and get sharp pictures. A tripod will multiply your work time, limit your choices and experimentation, and may anyway be useless under breezy conditions.
There is, of course, a place and a case for a tripod, but unless you know why, do without.
4. Pick the Best Specimen for the Job.
Flowers have a peak bloom time, its prime, which will make your photograph a much better one. It will look new, fresh, radiant; petals silky, pollen abundant, strong fragrance, bees all busy!
And conversely watch for the competing flower; one that is too close or positioned in a way that dilutes the attention from the main one. Make sure your pick is favored by the composition.
5. Control the Background.
Great flower photography is usually characterized by its relationship with the background. Garden photographers are usually so mesmerized by the beauty of the subject that they pay little attention to its background. Adding to this, in terms background focus, what you see in your camera's viewfinder is usually not what you get. This is due to the fact that your DSLR camera's aperture idle aperture is the widest, which produces the softest backgrounds. Even after successfully defocusing a background there may still be distracting elements that may need physical removing, blocking or choice of a different angle. Overall, you should be looking for good subject definition or differentiation against its background. Other ways that a good background can be are darker or lighter (tone), different color, different texture or pattern, different saturation, distance, among others.
6. Pick the Right Focus Point.
There is always a natural or sweet spot for placing the focus in a given angle or composition. It is either determined by the physical characteristics of the subject (e.g. a flower's filament/anthers on frontal or semi-frontal angles) or the natural line movement or balance point according to the chosen composition. The important thing is to get this focus point right. Most times than not, this will actually fall within the center region of the frame, which is where people's more naturally tend to look while viewing a picture. Of course, if you are shooting with a long depth of field, most of the subject's element may be in sharp focus. This principle also applies for flower bed shots, where you should always pick one good flower from the rest to place your focus on.
7. Get in There, Fill the Frame!
You don't need to show the entire flower to tell the story. Sometimes a flower is about its color transitions, its texture, its peculiar curls, its majestic filaments and anthers. Even when a flower or leaf have an interesting silhouette, it can probably be captured by a tiny, representative part of it; and edge, its curves. In trying to include the entire specimen in the frame we may lose impact as well as risk getting more competing elements in sight. So in short, be daring, be bold... competition is tough!