Sunday, 27 October 2013

How to Photograph Flowers with a Black Background

Black backgrounds have been an all time favorite of flower photographers. The reason is simple, no matter what kind of flowers you are photographing (from tulips to exotic orchids) and no matter where you intend to shoot (from the comfort of your studio to the vast outdoors) you can never go wrong with using black as a background. 

Tips for photographing flowers with a black background
photographing flowers with a black background

Black background works all the time, it’s clean, elegant, brings out the colors in your flowers and does not distract the viewer’s attention from the subject. In this article we will discuss how to photograph flowers with a black background, both indoors and outdoors.

Equipment Required

  1. A light source (flash, studio strobe, an incandescent bulb or even natural (sun) light will do.
  2. A black card or a black piece of paper preferably A2 size (black velvet works even better)

Well that’s it, all you really need is a light source and a black piece of paper, of course having a couple more of black cards will help you control light and prevent it from spilling on to your background. But in most cases it won’t be necessary. If you are planning to use your flash you will need some method to trigger your flash off camera. It could be a Sync cord, TTL cord, Infra red or wireless triggers. Using on camera flash or external flash mounted on top of camera is not recommended as the light from it will also illuminate the background (unless the background is very far from the subject).

how to photograph flowers with a black background
In this setup we used two lights the one of the right is the key light illuminating the subject and the one on the left is for the reflections on the rim of the glass and also for illuminating the stem the picture taken is the one given above.

 The primary requirement is to get your flower lit in such a way that it is at least 2 stops brighter than the background.

Achieving Black Background in Studio

how to photograph flowers on a black background
how to photograph flowers on a black background

  1. Place your black material at least a couple of feet behind your flower.
  2. Set up your light it could be from above the flower or towards the side (lights at 90° angle to the lens is the most commonly used setup).
  3. Make sure light is not spilling on to the background, if necessary slightly change the angle of the lights or use another black card or any other material to shade the background. You could also try tilting the background at an angle, this could help avoid light being reflected back to the camera.
  4. Experiment with your light by moving it around the flower and observe how the petals respond, you could bring life to your flower photographs by capturing radiance or translucence etc of the petals. Be careful of light spilling on to the background though.
  5. If you find there are hot spots (very bright areas) on flower petals move your light source a bit away from the flower.
  6. Slightly underexposing your shots will help obtain more saturated colors and darker backgrounds.  

Achieving Black Background Outdoors

Getting a completely black background outdoors is a little more difficult than getting it in studio.

  1. Set your camera to Manual Mode
  2. Set ISO to ISO 100
  3. Set shutter speed to the camera’s Sync Speed.
  4. Set aperture to f/11 and take a test shot, experiment with narrower apertures till you get a completely dark frame.
  5. Whenever possible shoot from an angle that makes the flowers sidelit by the sun.
  6. Place your dark material a few feet behind your flowers
  7. Try tilting the background material so that it does not catch the sunlight. It is not necessary to have the black background parallel to the sensor plane; I have found many people trying to do just that.
  8. Now all you need to do is light your subject using flash making sure light from the flash is not illuminating the background material. Adjust your flash power till you get a proper exposure.

Post Processing

If you shoot RAW (which I highly recommend) you could use the “Blacks” slider and if you are a JPEG shooter then you could experiment with Levels, Curves or simply the Burn tool to fix any spots on the background that did not come out dark enough.