Tips for photographing roses 3: work with nature, not against it

Tips-for-photogrphing-rosesEver seen a field of yellow sunflowers in an open field in Tuscany, all obediently facing the same way? It’s a beautiful sight, though it always looks a little eerie to me – such clear proof of the irresistible pull of the sun.

If they were humans, we can be sure there’d be a few rebels amongst them. But plants tend to grow to face the sun to a greater or lesser extent. You may not immediately notice this on a shrubby plant – a rose, hydrangea or peony – but look more closely and you’ll see what I mean. The effect is often more pronounced if plants are positioned where their sunlight is partially blocked, perhaps by tree branches, other shrubs or a garden wall.

Think about this natural characteristic when deciding where to position your camera in relation to the plant. Do you want to capture a flowering shrub head on, so the blooms appear to cascade evenly all over the plant, or in a profile view, with them tumbling over to one side?

A greater awareness of this effect will give you many more options when you’re taking pictures of roses.

Because of their sun worship, English roses – and many other flowers – have a natural right way up, even though their blooms may look quite evenly shaped. It’s quite subtle, but the more you work with pictures of roses, the easier it becomes to instinctively spot the natural effect of gravity and sunlight on an upside down picture.

I’ve created this gallery so you can see for yourself:

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After a lifetime of looking closely at roses, David Austin could spot any picture of one presented to him the wrong way round in a trice. It alters the poise or balance of a flower.

Don’t think you can fight this characteristic when you’re photographing roses. English roses often have heavy flowers and if you work with them often, you’ll soon learn that they have a mind of their own.

If you’re trying to turn a fully open English rose bloom round to face the opposite direction, perhaps to get a better shot of a bouquet, or because you think the flower on a plant would just look better that way, good luck! You’re probably going to have to try to wedge it somehow, which is almost guaranteed to create an artificial look.

An awareness of this tendency to grow towards the sun also comes in handy when individual, containerised plants are massed together to create displays of flowers for events such as The RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

In Chelsea’s prestigious Grand Pavilion, many displays are free standing, so that visitors can walk all around them and, in some cases, explore inside. Before each plant is placed in an indoor show garden, any wise plantsperson will inspect it to discover which way the plant is naturally facing. The plants can then all be positioned outwards to face the visitors as they walk around the garden so their blooms are displayed to the best advantage.

An indoor show garden where the plants were all facing the ‘wrong’ way would look very strange indeed – as if the plants were sulking!

Of course, this careful positioning wouldn’t last long if the garden was outside – the bewitching attraction of the sun would soon lure the plants back to face the same direction.

This takes me back to some flowers I’ve often paused to admire when passing a neighbour’s garden. They had this off to a T – and always seemed more alive to me as a child because of it. Daisy-like blooms would only open each day when they sensed the morning sun. During the day they would imperceptibly move round on sturdy, flexible stems to follow it like tiny radar devices, then would close their petals at sunset. Fuel-efficient plants?

Sadly, they disappeared long ago (my home town, Darwen, in North West England, is perhaps not ideally suited to such sun-loving plants) or I’d have a picture to share with you!

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