Take Flower Photos that Pop

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In the words of Bruce Springsteen, and later, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band:  “Mama always told me not to look in the eyes of the sun.  But Mama, that’s where the fun is…”

This is the second installment on how shooting into the sun can bring some dramatic results to your garden photography.  The previous post covered foliage effects; this one is all about the flowers.

I shoot with a basic Nikon D50 with an 18-55mm kit lens.  I’m embarrassed to say I always set it to “Program,” which is one step above “Auto.”  Someday I’ll read my manual and learn how to get the most out of my camera.  But I’m pretty happy with my results so far.

For example:

lamprocapnos spectabilis goldheart

This golden-leaved bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’) is striking enough with the evening sun at my back,

lamprocapnos spectabilis goldheart backlit

but when I went around to the other side, the pink flowers glowed like they were plugged in to an outlet.


geranium phaeum mourning widow

Mourning widow geranium (Geranium phaeum) looks as somber as its common name with the sun behind me,

geranium phaeum mourning widow backlit

but when the sun is allowed to pass through its petals, its purple-black flowers become more of a rosy purple and its attitude got much more chipper.  Note, too, all the soft hairs along the stems that are brought into relief.


prunus cerasifera plum

Purpleleaf plums (Prunus cerasifera cvs.) bring a freshness to the early spring landscape with their soft pink blossoms,

prunus cerasifera plum backlit

but when the sun illuminates the branches from above, the flowers positively sparkle.  The newly emerging red leaves take on a glow that adds another layer of interest.


azalea lavender

Azalea and rhododendron flowers can look washed out when viewed in strong, direct light.

azalea lavender backlit

In this light, one flower makes shadow puppets on another.


epimedium yellow barrenwort

Who doesn’t love barrenworts, like this Epimedium ×perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’ for that dry shady place?  When the sun reaches the plants through the bare branches of the tree above, a pretty picture is revealed.

epimedium yellow barrenwort backlit

Get down low and check out the sunny yellow petals and the reddish leaves with some backlighting, and the colors seem richer and the details more intricate.

tulips red yellow

Tulips are quite photogenic,

tulips red yellow backlit

but like people, they have a “good side” and a “bad side,” too!


paeonia suffruticosa tree peony purple glare

You’ll do a lot of squinting when shooting with the sun in your eyes.  You’ll have to hold up your hand to block the most direct rays–both to protect your eyes and for the quality of the picture.  If you don’t do this, the photo will likely have a haze over part or all of it.

paeonia suffruticosa tree peony purple no glare

Here I held up my hand to block the glare, and this tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) can now be admired without that distracting white film.


narcissus daffodil

Daffodils are always willing subjects for photographers.  You might shoot them head-on for a lovely, simple picture,

narcissus daffodil backlit

or backlit, to showcase the translucency of the petals.


loropetaum chinense pink

I must say, I fail see the appeal of Loropetalum chinense, with its rather ragged-looking flowers.

loropetalum chinense pink backlit

Though when illuminated by the sun, I have second thoughts.


muscari armeniacum grape hyacinth

Get ready for the colchicum foliage in the top right corner to help out these grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum)

muscari armeniacum grape hyacinth backlit

in becoming an even prettier picture.  Again with the shadow puppets!


ribes sanguineum

Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) has sweet little pink flowers

ribes sanguineum backlit

that benefit from thoughtful backlighting.  Keep this in mind when siting plants around your house.  Take advantage of the natural spotlight the sun provides during different times of the day.


prunus laurocerasus cherrylaurel

Cherrylaurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’) even flowering heavily is still a ho-hum sort of plant,

prunus laurocerasus cherrylaurel backlit

until the late afternoon sun turns it into thousands of glow sticks.

What plants do you like to see in the spotlight of the sun?






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3 Responses

  1. ricki
    ricki at | | Reply

    If you ever get around to reading that manual you’re going to be downright dangerous.

  2. Renata
    Renata at | | Reply

    Thank you for sharing so many beautiful photographs of your flower. I think your camera is probably underexposing the pictures when you photograph with the sun behind you, not sure why. You might like using + exposure compensation function of your camera to correct it. Try +1/2 or plus 1 and see if the colours look better then.

    Indeed your pictures shot against the sun look usually so much better. Definitely you lighting and shooting angle is adding to the beauty of the flowers you photograph.

    You might like to use white reflector to fill in some shadows if the pictures look sometimes too contrasty.

    I have to try to take more pictures against the sun as you do. This kind of light can certainly add some nice pop can colour, as is so well presented in your article. Thank you very much for your advice.

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

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