Flower photography with white backgrounds is something that interests me, but I do not always want to carry with me the right material to do it. The proper way to do it requires, obviously, a background with the right colour, but once you find flowers under the right conditions, you can trick viewers into thinking you did a studio shot.
Flower photography with white backgrounds is nothing new, people have been doing it for a long time. More recently, the work of MYN – Meet Your Neighbours photographers has shown multiple examples, not just with flowers but also with animals, of the use of white backgrounds. But that's a very specific technique, I also use, as I am one of the photographers associated with the project.
A photographer and friend, Paul Harcourt Davies, also with MYN, has also explored the use of white backgrounds the MYN way, but has ventured other ways to use clear backgrounds in his images. As, I guess, many other photographers have, but I point Paul because I know his work well and enjoy looking at the fantastic imagery he does, a lot of it in his own garden. Do check for his work and amaze yourself. If you like macro photography you're in for a treat.
Now, I always enjoy exploring other ways to do things, also because, sometimes, we do not have the right equipment with us, but still want to make a special picture. The search for solutions lead me to create this process: the lazy photographers white background.
This is not a ripoff of Paul’s and Meet Your Neighbours concepts – go to Paul Harcourt Davies articles and you’ll find all the answers there – but a path that is derivative of theirs and also works, although not all the time.
I must admit that I’ve been doing flower photography with white backgrounds for some time, but not in a very scientific way or as organized as Paul's – and please see also the Meet Your Neighbours experience, let me say this again. Exploring is, anyway, always a good thing, so the lazy guy in me has been trying to get the whiter backgrounds I can without having to carry gear with me.
Doing flower photography with white backgrounds the lazy way means that I can not work with all specimens I find, so I am forced to look for flowers that are at the right angle and height to be photographed. I guess that can also be considered a challenge, what is a good thought for a lazy photographer always finding excuses to carry less gear with him.
Here are some examples of images using white backgrounds that in fact were not there to start with. The sunflower image is a good example. It’s an interesting photograph, and there’s something special I like about it and that I want to share with you: the subtle out of focus line at the bottom, which is just the sign of the horizon line behind the flower. I framed the sunflower against the sky, letting a narrow line of land at the bottom, and I must say I like the way it looks, so I've explored this further in other images.
I show here the image with the normal background, and the final image once I got the sunflower against the sky. This is not a cutout, but the result of moving my position and shooting from a lower angle, against the sky. As for exposure, I wanted the flower, that was in the shadow, to be properly exposed and I did not care about the sky, which as lighter than the sunflower, so I just exposed to get the right light. My original RAW is already white, but a bit of Photoshop later I had my final image. This was taken on an EOS 600D with the EF 70-300mm L IS USM lens from Canon. Not my usual 100-400mm for flowers, but it also works fine.
Just to show you a different approach, I’ve here another example of a white background flower shot. Taken with an Olympus E-PL1 with the normal kit lens – 14-42mm -, the flower was in the shadow with a yellow background wall bathed by the sun. The difference in light washed the background completely when I measured the exposure for the flower, a lazy, lazy way to get a white background. But it does work.
The third example is from a Canon EOS 5DMk III with an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens, the old version, not even USM. Here the background was the sky, again, but with flash used on the camera to open the shadows and show the detail on the leaves and flower. Once you get the exposure right, it works fine and gives you the results you're aiming for.
So, as shown here, you do not always need to have the right material to do a white background. Once you understand what you can do with what is available in terms of light, or position yourself in a way to use the sky as background for a flower in the shade, you might find a new way to create photographs. A lazy but smart way, I should add…