The blooming of tulips always means that spring is firmly here and our long, cold winter is behind us. Spring is my favorite time to photograph. I love watching and capturing the re-emergence of life and color to our world and the exhilarating feeling of being outdoors again. The tulips at the Chicago Botanic Garden and in our area are rapidly opening, so the next couple of weeks are the prime time to photograph them.
When I photograph tulips I carry a variety of lenses to experiment with. Although my emphasis and true love lies with shooting the world up-close with my macro lenses, I never want to miss the opportunity to capture a few shots of the gorgeous beds of tulips using a wide angle lens.
I then move to photographing tulips up-close with either my 100mm, 180mm and my various Lensbaby lenses, including the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm, the Composer Pro with Sweet 50, Sweet 35 or Edge 80 optics and macro converters. The Lensbaby lenses are wonderful for capturing softer, more ethereal images of tulips.
Lensbaby Velvet 56mm
I like to photograph tulips and all flowers in the early morning, late afternoon or on overcast days when the light is more subdued. Bright mid-day sunlight is unflattering to flowers, creating burned-out highlights and hard shadows. When light is less than perfect or your only option is to shoot mid-day, a diffuser can soften harsh light. Backlighting tulips in strong light, however, provides the one exception to this rule. Because of their strong shape and color and their translucent petals, you can create beautiful effects by positioning yourself so the tulips are backlit, causing them to glow.
When photographing tulips up-close with a macro lens, I like to experiment with a variety of approaches. First, get down close to the ground and examine the tulips. Even though tulips in a bed all look similar at a distance, up close you will discover that each tulip has its own personality, some with interesting curves, lines, textures or variations. If you are lucky you might find a tulip with an interesting twist or curl to the leaf, so be sure to include that or make that the subject of your portrait. I focus on capturing those interesting details and bringing them into focus, moving in close and shooting at an aperture high enough to get everything important in focus. After a rain or an early morning watering is a wonderful time to capture tulips with water droplets. Using a tripod for shots like this is helpful, but not always necessary if you have a steady hand.
Experiment with different points of view and always be aware of your background, being careful to eliminate distracting elements. Sometimes moving a fraction of an inch will create a more pleasing background. Many photographers stand over the tulips shooting down inside to capture the inner tulip. There is nothing wrong with this approach – the inside of a tulip is beautiful – but try some different points of view. Get down on the ground and shoot up under the tulip, capturing the stem and underside of the flower. If the light is hitting the flower just right it will appear to glow from within.
When I find an interesting tulip to photograph I try many different variations and really work my subject. I might start photographing the whole flower and then move in closer and closer, so the entire flower fills the frame. I also shoot the flower with a range of aperture settings. Tulips are beautiful subjects for using a wide open aperture. I might open up to f2.8 or f3.5 and focus on one point of interest, a line or curve of the tulip, and let the rest fall dreamily out of focus. If you pay close attention to your background elements and move around, you can pick up beautiful background color that is completely blurred by the wide aperture. Shooting with wide apertures allows me the freedom to shoot hand-held because I am using faster shutter speeds and my macro lens is equipped with image stabilization. Shooting hand-held helps me to move around more easily, get very low to the ground and experiment.
I am always looking for the interactions between flowers to help create a story within my images. Because tulips are planted so close together, there are many opportunities to capture them interacting or to project a bit of a human element into your image, such as the following images, which I titled "Snuggled Up" and "Mother's Embrace."
Always remember to play, experiment and try new ways of shooting. That’s how we grow as photographers and discover a new way of seeing the world around us. Enjoy the tulips…and all the spring blooms!