The 7 Best Tips for Photographing Flowering Tulips
One of my favorite sights in the spring is a Tulip peeking up from the ground in the full sun of the season. Flowering Tulips are gorgeous and cheerful; they beg for their own photoshoot. Since spring is just around the corner, it’s time to think about getting the camera dusted off from the winter blues and be ready for when those buds pop up from the thawing ground!
Because I live in Holland, Michigan, home of the world-famous Tulip Time Festival, I have a particular affinity for these beautiful flowers. In my hometown, tulips are EVERYWHERE! The city of Holland plants over five million tulip bulbs each fall in preparation for the festivities at bloom time in the spring!
If you aren’t lucky enough to live here in Holland, you can easily find tulips at your local nursery or check your nearby parks and gardens. You can even plant them in your backyard garden. Hop online to Veldheer Tulip Gardens and order some tulip bulbs and flower bulbs for your hardiness zone. Get them planted in the fall, and by mid-spring, you will be able to enjoy your very own flowered tulips!
In this post, we will talk about how to capture the very best images of tulips of every color, shape, size, and variety. And if you can’t manage to find a tulip anywhere around you, don’t fear! These tips will work for just about any flower.
Flowering Tulip Photo Tip #1
It’s All About Perspective
As in any image, perspective can make or break an image! We’ve talked before about looking up, down, and around, and getting low to get the best and most compelling angle for your image. This rule also holds very true with flower photography.
A Word About Live View
If you have a drone or a high ladder, you can get an amazing shot of the tulips from up high. Or get low by putting your camera in live view and holding it down at ground level to get an exciting view of the tulip from below. Using live view allows me to get super low-down images without actually lying on the ground. This hip grandma may never be able to get up, so live view is an excellent and safe tool. This technique is especially fun at sunrise or sunset to get a great shot of the sun peeking from behind a flower. You can capture amazing sunbursts with this technique.
On a side note, one of the reasons I love my Canon camera is because it has a fully articulating screen. I can twist and turn that screen in any direction to get the most use out of live view. It’s impressive, and no other camera brand has this type of screen.
Another fun perspective is straight above, looking directly into the open tulip. The tulip stamen is fascinating, and each one is unique. Now is the perfect time to talk about using macro techniques to capture the detail of each tulip.
Another great read: The Top 5 Most Amazing Holland Michigan Beaches
Flowering Tulip Photo Tip #2
Capture the Details with Macro
One of the best ways to capture the minute details of any image is to get even closer than what you can see with the naked eye. Macro photography makes that super close-up view happen! Many folks will swear by the need for a macro lens and if that’s your thing, then go for it! I am a little jealous because I have a macro lens on my wish list. But in the meantime, since I can’t run right out and buy every expensive new lens as soon as I want it, my collection includes a handy little device called a macro diopter.
This handy little device along with the 50mm lens is a much less expensive option than the macro lens.
You will get a slightly less crisp image using this setup, but it is a great way to begin exploring macro photography.
This 100mm lens is meant for macro photography and can get up close and personal with even the tiniest details of your subject.
The diopter snaps on quickly and easily to the outside of your lens. It is small, lightweight, easy to carry, and simple to use. Until I can afford that expensive lens, it’s perfect for capturing images like these:
When you use this diopter, you’ll want to be sure you’re opening up your aperture, so you get a sizeable depth of field. You’ll need it! There are a couple of other options to achieve a macro image. Some people like to use extension tubes, which fit on your camera between the body and the lens. And another option is to use magnification filters, which screw onto the front of your lens. Both of these options are inexpensive and work well. I find the diopter a much simpler and more accessible tool.
Now that we’ve talked about the tool options for capturing macro images, we can move on to the techniques you’ll want to use. Don’t be afraid to be choosy. Take your time and look closely at the many flowers. Check the petals for those with the smoothest textures or those with unique character. Upon close inspection, you will find that each flower is unique, just like a fingerprint. Capture those details up close and personal. Try out some abstract imagery by finding attractive curves, patterns, and textures in the flowers. It’s okay if the viewer can’t identify the flower. Sometimes the colors and textures are enough.
Flowering Tulip Photo Tip #3
Pay attention to your background
One of the fantastic opportunities we have here in Holland, Michigan, is to see tulips by the thousands planted in giant tulip fields. Our community shares a very close connection with the Netherlands, and a trip here will give you the feeling of being in what my husband calls “The Mother Country.” He is a third-generation Dutch boy from both of his parents and has all the characteristics of a true Dutchman. But I digress.
Here in Holland, we can enjoy giant, patchwork fields full of flowering tulips of every color and variety. Both Windmill Island and Veldheer Tulip Farms offer photo opportunities that you can only find here and in the Netherlands. These fields make backgrounds a bit of a non-issue. But around town, we have thousands and thousands of small patches and gardens of flowers, and if you’re photographing them in that setting, the background becomes a critical issue.
Always keep an eye on what you see in the background of your image. A beautiful flower becomes less beautiful when there are parked cars, shopfronts, or dirt piles. One would think it would be quick and straightforward to frame up your flower and snap the image, but patience and attention to detail can make all the difference between a meh image and a knockout.
Explore Your Options
Walk around the area, look through your lens at multiple angles, and don’t be afraid to move the flower into a bit better position gently. Here in Holland, we do not pick the tulips. EVER! Rumor has it that there’s a fine of anywhere between $50 and $200 per tulip picked in Holland during Tulip Time. I have never tried it because I am unwilling to take the chance! But there is nothing wrong with gently guiding a tulip or two into a slightly better position if it allows you to capture a prettier or more compelling background. And if you want some tulips or other cut flowers that you can maneuver however you’d like, you can find them at any local florist.
By eliminating a distracting background, you can keep the focus on the beautiful tulip, whether it be a single flower or a whole field of them. Talking about background leads us to another way to make the background work with your image, through the creative use of Depth of Field.
Flowering Tulip Photo Tip #4
Use Depth of Field to create gorgeous Bokeh
If you are not familiar with the term bokeh, now’s the time to get acquainted! Once you learn what bokeh is all about, you’ll want to know how to create it in your images. If you have a newer iPhone with portrait mode on it, you can easily see a great example of bokeh, the soft and creamy background behind your subject.
If you’re shooting with your phone, the simple solution here is to use the phone camera in portrait mode. Be sure to allow enough space between the flower and the background to get the best result. If you’re using a fancier camera and shooting in manual mode, you’ll want to make the necessary adjustments to create your bokeh.
The two best ways to create bokeh are first – using a wide-open aperture (small number) and second – assuring that there is plenty of space between your subject and the background. Of course, it all begins with learning to use your camera in manual mode. Once you’ve mastered that, you can learn all about Depth of Field and how to use it HERE.
When you throw the background into a blur by adjusting your settings, you keep the focus on the main subject, making a stunning image!
Flowering Tulip Photo Tip #5
Watch the Weather
Be aware of the weather when you get ready to photograph the tulips (or any flowers). Choose a cloudy day if you can choose when to shoot around the weather conditions. A cloudy day makes the best lighting for flowers because the clouds act as a giant diffuser and give you very soft light.
Suppose a cloudy day isn’t in the cards, no worries! Try to take your photos in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun isn’t directly overhead and when the light is naturally soft. This soft light will bathe your flowers in gentle light.
If you can’t avoid the middle of day and the harsh noonday sun, be ready for some heavy shadows. You can try to find tulips blooming in a shady area, or you can use a reflector to direct some of the harsh light back into the flower.
If you forget your reflector, you can choose to embrace the light, place the light behind your tulip and go for a backlit image. Because of their simple, large petals, Tulips can glow brilliantly with backlight. Shooting in bright sunlight is also a great time to create beautiful sunbursts by partially obscuring the sun with the flower. Try to avoid windy days, as tulips like to sway in the breeze. If you can’t avoid the wind, try to find a sheltered bed of flowers or use a reflector to serve as a wind blocker. If you bring your tripod, you can get a much more artsy image with a longer shutter speed to catch the natural movement of the flowers. This technique will work better if you photograph around dusk or add an ND filter to your lens, allowing you to drag your shutter without overexposing the image.
A Word About Tripods and ND Filters
If you’re looking for an excellent tripod that will easily travel and set up quickly, I highly recommend the Peak Design Travel Tripod. I waited far too long to make this investment. And, in fact, I probably spent as much money on inexpensive tripods that broke and became too heavy to carry before investing in this solid piece of equipment. If you’re looking for an excellent Neutral Density Filter, consider a set like this one that screws to the front of your lens and allows you to snap filters off and on magnetically depending on what you’re shooting.
A Note About Early Morning Dew
Beware that you may get a bit damp by getting down on the ground, especially in the early morning when the light is amazing. But a damp flower is a gorgeous flower! So don’t be afraid to get a bit moist. If you want to keep your knees and elbows dry and keep your camera bag from resting on the damp ground, throw a traveling waterproof blanket in your bag.
If you want to avoid shooting in the early morning, you can make some moisture. Keep a little spray bottle of plain water in your camera bag so you can make some water drops if they’re not already there! A few quick spritzes will make a pretty bloom into a beautiful bloom!
Flowering Tulip Photo Tip #6
Choose Your Lens
I carry my favorite three lenses with me whenever I shoot the tulips here in Holland. Whenever possible, I recommend bringing a variety of lenses so you can experiment and be creative. Just like a boy scout, it’s good to be prepared!
I shoot with a Canon EOS R if you’re curious, and here are the three lenses I keep in my bag.
I use the wide-angle lens for impressive shots of tulip beds and the surrounding areas. The 70-200 lens is great for closer images of the flowers from afar, and I love my 50mm lens for close-ups. Snapping that diopter onto the 50mm lens for the detailed macro shots is quick and simple. If you only have one or two lenses, be creative in using what you have. Zoom in or out with your feet if you carry a prime lens. Remember, the best camera is the one you have with you, and the same can be said of lenses. Use what you have!
Did you know Holland is dog-friendly?
Places To Go and Things To Do in Holland Michigan That Welcome Dogs
Flowering Tulip Photo Tip #7
Make the Tulip the Star
The final and best tip I have for you is to make the tulip the star of the image! Look for one tulip that stands out from those around it. Maybe you’ll find one bloom that stands taller than the rest. Or a yellow flower in a field of pink. Perhaps you’ll find two flowers touching. Use your imagination to make the image compelling. If you have a child with you, be sure and capture an image of them sitting in the tulips or sniffing them. I would love this year to capture a photo of my mom’s hands holding a tulip bouquet or gently touching a bloom. As I have aged, I’ve noticed how my hands look like hers. I would love to make her hands the star of a photo with a beautiful tulip. Two of my favorite thing wrapped into one image.
Wrapping it All Up
Now you are prepared to get out there and get shooting! If you live in Holland, this is your year to get some beautiful images to share on your social media feeds and hang on your walls. If you’ve never been to Holland, come on over! Check us out! You won’t be sorry!
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