As one of the year’s last flowers to bloom, chrysanthemums offer a last chance to hone your floral photography skills before winter and the following spring. That is, of course, if you live anywhere in or near the Northeast.
Mums are fun flowers to photograph. They come in many different colors and styles, allowing for a variety of creative options. Some of the most common are garden chrysanthemums, which usually grow in neat, tight clusters of similar colors. A popular technique is to move in close and fill the frame with them. You’ll want edge-to-edge sharpness, so use a small aperture opening for maximum depth of field.
However, these types of shots can become boring very fast. To break the monotony, look for wayward blooms trying to “make a run for it.” A shallow depth of field works best here in order to isolate the main subject from the rest of the crowd, creating a much more interesting shot.
Overall, garden chrysanthemums are fairly uniform in appearance. An orderly composition is good, but it can also stifle creativity. Korean chrysanthemums, on the other hand, grow in a random manner amongst other multicolored blooms. This opens the door for an unlimited number of more creative and colorful compositions.
In the past, I never really thought I would have a need for a fast f/2.8 lens. I was more than happy using a smaller (and less expensive) split-aperture f/5.6-4 lens. Also, since 99 percent of my shots are done on a tripod, the slower speed of this lens was of absolutely no consequence. Yet, some shots scream for a big lens with a big aperture.
Korean chrysanthemums can benefit from the limited depth of field that an f/2.8 lens can deliver. Beautiful flowers enveloped in a sea of soft colors can make a stunning image. Sometimes, however, this lens can provide too much of a good thing. Unless you’re doing extreme close-ups, you might not want to shoot at the maximum aperture. The entire bloom won’t be in focus, and the effect will look more like a mistake than a deliberate attempt to soften the surroundings. The depth of field preview can be a tremendous aid in determining how much of your main subject is in focus.
As with most other flowers, overcast days provide the best light. The lack of harsh shadows and bright highlights really helps to saturate the colors. Also, a polarizing filter may not seem necessary in this type of lighting, but it actually does wonders to boost the colors even further. It’s especially useful if the flowers are covered with dew or if you choose to add your own by spraying them with water, as I often do. The filter will effectively remove the entire glare from the moisture, revealing the true color beneath.
The lack of order amongst Korean mums makes it easy to strategically place objects in the foreground and/or background of the main subject. These little compositional gems take time to visualize. From a distance, what initially may appear to be a haphazard cluster of flowers will gradually reveal a multitude of interesting angles after a few minutes of careful observation. You’d be amazed at how many images you might be able to coax out of a relatively small area.
F.M. Kearney is a fine-art nature photographer specializing in unique floral and landscape images. To see more of his work, visit www.starlitecollection.com.