Tips for photographing roses 4: choose your subject wisely

Tips for photographing roses 4: choose your subject wisely

Rose blooms are variable. When taking pictures, take the time to search out the flower you like most, or try photographing several. If you would have expected all the roses on a single plant to be exactly the same, you’re in for a surprise. 

Use your chosen bloom as the hero of the shot (either the subject of the picture, or in the foreground of a group shot).

Any close up photograph will magnify little imperfections: you’ll quickly spot a missing or mangled petal even though in real life, the eye misses it – or the imagination somehow compensates for it.

The human eye is attracted to patterns. If you have lots of plant material, and the individual flowers vary a lot, have a little fun looking for roses where interesting shapes are formed by the petals.

The camera tends to highlight patterns the human eye doesn’t see – for better or for worse. Extremely close up (macro) pictures of the stamens of a flower can reveal unexpected patterns.

If you look at roses more closely, you’ll start to spot new patterns. Rosette shaped roses sometimes have inner petals that are arranged to form five point star shapes. I find these quite irresistible. Take a look at this rose and you’ll see the effect I mean.

Rose with petals forming a five point star

Rose with inner petals forming a five point star

Another classic petal formation, much loved by rosarians is the ‘button eye’, often found on old roses, when a ring of small petals are tucked under at the centre, creating a tiny, neat, button effect.

I’ve never had a weakness for the roses that have a small green bud pointing outwards from their centres, but you’ll almost certainly find some in a garden of old shrub roses.

And I’ve often been teased about this by my friend Ron, but I tend to see patterns or shapes in flowers or designs that others might say don’t exist. For example, I can’t avoid seeing a cross or glum little face in this rose, now I’ve spotted it.

Rose with a cross little face

Rose with a cross little face

Whether you vote with Ron, or with me on this is entirely up to you! It’s probably best if you can’t see it!

Of course, straggly and even dead or decaying flowers can still be the subjects of beautiful, expressive shots. I tend to avoid square or triangular flowers if they ‘should’ be round, but that’s just me being finicky: some of the most popular rose pictures on Pinterest have square flowers.

When choosing your hero flowers, I find it helpful to think about the ages of roses in human terms.

Hybrid tea roses are usually photographed as long, elegant buds – just babies, really. This always seems a shame when the subject is an English rose – so much of the flower’s promise is hidden in the bud.

If you look at a shrub rose in full bloom, you’ll see it’s covered with flowers in all stages of development, from buds to spent flowers. Look at the open flowers: you’ll easily be able to pick out the young maidens from the mature ladies.

It’s purely a matter of style whether you photograph the roses as young beauties in their early twenties or after they’ve lived a little, in their late eighties. An English rose (just like a human being) has its own special kind of beauty at all ages.

Choose fairly young but fully open flowers if you’re looking to capture fresh colours and precise rosette forms. A very much older English rose will tend to be paler and more voluptuous, with a glorious, antique style. If you can capture all the ages of flowers in a small cluster, from bud to full bloom, that often makes a lovely shot too!

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