Get Connected to the Underworld: Discover the Beauty of the Underside of Flowers

Rear of floribunda roses shot from below.
Rear of floribunda roses shot from below.

Story and photos by F. M. Kearney

Flowers are definitely one of the most popular subjects in nature photography. They’ve been photographed with limited depths of field to convey a soft, romantic look. They’ve been photographed with large depths of field to show the abundance of a large group. Sometimes, the sun is included for a more dynamic shot. A vast array of special effects have been employed to produce some truly stunning imagery. Indeed, flowers have been photographed in every conceivable way imaginable. However, the one way in which I hardly ever see is from the rear. I did a Google search of “Creative Flower Photography,” and out of the 100 or so results, only 2 or 3 photos featured the backside. That’s a shame because so many great opportunities are going unrealized.

It’s easy to ignore this part of a flower and to focus on the more traditional views. But, as is often the case, it’s the unusual angles that capture the most attention. I was recently photographing a large collection of floribunda roses in The New York Botanical Garden. After shooting a series of the usual angles and compositions, I sought out something a little different. Located on the side of the bush, and closer to the ground than the rest of the pack, was a tight cluster of colorful blooms. From the front, they really didn’t appear that much different than all the others, but that all changed when I viewed them from behind. They almost looked like completely different types of flowers. The curled green sepals contrasted nicely with the bright yellow petals. Later, in post, I emphasized the petals even more by dodging them in selective places – a simple way to mimic creative lighting. I had to lower my tripod almost to the ground in order to shoot beneath them, but that angle enabled me to include several of the colorful flowers above – creating a soft, pastel background. The opening photo is the result of this endeavor. As it turned out, it was my favorite image from the shoot.

Rear of daffodils shot from above.
Rear of daffodils shot from above.

Shooting the rear of flowers doesn’t always require contorting yourself into uncomfortable positions. Because of the manner in which they grow, photographing the backsides of daffodils might be even easier than their fronts. I shot the two daffodils above from an almost standing position. Although the ground was dark, I darkened it considerably more in post to create a dramatic, black background.

I shot the image below from a perspective that was level with the daffodil. The translucent quality of its petals created a nice backlighting effect.

Backlit daffodil shot from the rear.
Backlit daffodil shot from the rear.

There may be occasions when a rear view might be the only view you can obtain. The hybrid magnolia bloom below was growing fairly high up on a tree. In fact, most of the blooms were either at or above eye-level. It was either rear shots or no shots at all. This upward view was aided by the fact that it was a clear day – nicely contrasting the magenta magnolia against a beautiful blue sky.

Underside of a hybrid magnolia.
Underside of a hybrid magnolia.

Sometimes, a simple change in perspective is all it takes to create an intriguing photo. It’s something that doesn’t require any expensive equipment or a mastery of complex digital techniques. If possible, try shooting a close-up using the stem as a “lead-in” element. A shallow depth of field will guide the eye nicely to the main subject. Also, since the underside of a flower will probably be the darkest part, the use of a flash or a reflector might be necessary.

Shooting the backsides of flowers is not unlike periodically turning around to check out a trail through which you’re traversing – you may be pleasantly surprised by a scene which would have otherwise gone completely unnoticed. It’s an unusual angle that’s often ignored. Some onlookers might wonder if you’re shooting in the “wrong” direction, but you will relish in the knowledge that your photos will stand out from the hordes of “cookie-cutter” images produced by the masses.

F. M. Kearney began his photography career as a photojournalist for New York City newspapers. His focus soon shifted to capturing the beauty of the natural world. As an award-winning nature photographer, Kearney’s images have been widely published. A slight departure from photography, his recently published horror novel, “They Only Come Out at Night,” about supernatural happenings in the New York City subway (partially inspired by his travels as a photojournalist), is available on Amazon. To see more of Kearney’s work, visit http://www.starlitecollection.com.