You Can Do It

Capture spring's photographic bounty close up and in full bloom.



Looking for subjects? Chances are, hundreds are blooming outside your door. Never shot flowers? You can learn the basics pretty quickly by photographing tulips. They are popping up in parks and gardens everywhere. And for the ultimate in tulip-shooting, make your way to Ottawa, where each spring more than 3 million flowers bring a rainbow effect to gardens during the Canadian Tulip Festival. With more than 125,000 visitors, organizers say it's the largest event of its type in the world.

For photographers, the scale of the festival is both a blessing and a curse. That is, it can be tough to capture all the flower power without getting people in the picture, a common problem when shooting in public gardens. The solution is to get low and close. That's what I did for all of the images shown here.

While you can handhold your way to respectable flower photos, carefully composing your shots requires a tripod designed for low-down work. Use one with a center column that mounts horizontally, as on my magnesium-fiber Manfrotto 055MF3. This not only lets me shoot close to the ground, but also offsets the tripod legs a little, making viewing easier when I'm kneeling or lying down -- usually on a blanket or tarp.

Lighting is tricky, too. I've found that mid-to-late morning is best; 11 a.m. is optimal. Any earlier and the nearby trees cast long shadows that darken backgrounds and add a greenish-blue cast to the scene. Any later and the sun is too high, creating blotchy black shadows that mar colorful backgrounds. Arriving early at public gardens also means smaller crowds.

While there are millions of flowers, finding good subjects can be challenging. Where do you start? First, look for colorful backgrounds that are uncluttered and people-free. Next, search for tableaus in which individual flowers can be juxtaposed against larger groups. The best scenes offer fore- and background blossoms of contrasting colors.

Blur the backgrounds by shooting wide open (f/2.8) in aperture-priority mode, and use shutter speeds fast enough to stop any wind-blown movement. A good starting point: 1/250 sec. These photos were shot with my tripod-mounted Canon EOS 30D. I set the white balance to Auto and the ISO to 100, and used a Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro Macro lens.

Tulips are excellent subjects for anyone who wants to break into flower photography. They're color-drenched and large enough to fill the frame using almost any macro lens. Practice on these classics until you're ready to move on to smaller and more delicate blossoms.

Got some time May 2-19? You can hone your skills at the 2008 Canadian Tulip Festival. You won't be disappointed.