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The Art of Flower Photography

Lesson 8 of 16

Flower Photography Black Background

Kathleen Clemons

The Art of Flower Photography

Kathleen Clemons

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Lesson Info

8. Flower Photography Black Background
Backgrounds are as important as the subject, Kathleen says, and shouldn't be ignored. The background of macro pictures, she suggests, should contribute to the story. Learn to identify good backgrounds and how to integrate them into the image without distracting from the subject, as well as background elements to avoid.

Lesson Info

Flower Photography Black Background

Let's talk about backgrounds. Your background is as important as your subject. Every time. This background was really busy. But it was far enough away from the dahlia so I, I think it works. It's a very energetic background, which I don't use a whole lot of. This is from my first year shooting flowers. And its name, I name all my photos, this is Callorina. And, I shot this in my living room on my tripod 'cause I was in my living room which a black background. And, I think if you go to my website that's probably the only flower you're gonna see on black. And there are people who do beautiful work on black. If you've ever looked at the work of Joyce Tenneson, she has a flower series which is just magical on black. But, when I photograph a flower I either want to fill the frame with the flower or I want to use its surroundings to tell a story that I wanna tell. This only tells a story about a calla on black. And it's elegant. And it's beautiful. And it's, I have it hanging in my house. Bu...

t it's really not the way I shoot anymore. I think, black backgrounds can be limiting. Also because, my shot on a black background of the same flower is gonna look very similar to yours. Because we can't use the background elements to add to the story. And add interest. So, I started off this way. But, I just don't do it anymore. And I respect other people who do it well. I want the background to be part of the story. I want you to know that this was a field of irises. And if I didn't, I'd be filling the frame with the iris. Here too, the background is part of the story. That was just more tulips further away. And they were on fire. It was beautiful, beautiful light. I shot in a field of these little tiny flowers. And just sat down low, and did what I told you about. Just poking the lens through to find something and focus. And, there was plenty of light further on in the field. I was under a tree actually so I had some soft diffuse light. And the background for me adds to the story. Lupine. I love to have a second flower. I call it echoing, in the background. But it needs to be pretty out of focus. If it's somewhat in focus it doesn't work because then your eye is gonna bounce between them. You want it to be sort of a background singer. And you want your main star in the front of the frame. My favorite kind of background is other flowers of the same type that, and which is great for public gardens because they plant things en mass. And it's wonderful. I like to isolate just one blossom. And have the background filled with the rest. Out of focus. And here too, you'd have to be experimenting with your aperture because you don't want to bring those background flowers into focus. It would be really busy. You wanna keep the attention on your star. And the same with this poppy. It tells a story of a field of poppies. But it makes one the star. And that's what I love to do. And this rudbeckia. This is Lensbaby sweet 50. Pretty wide open. Probably two point five. And I loved the way that the background was filled with out of focus rudbeckia. This was a cone flower surrounded by a large group of flocks in the background. And that's right out of the camera. I've done nothing to that. I used the Lensbaby soft focus optic. And they have a little insert that has a lot of little holes and it creates a stippled effect from the background. But, and I love it when I don't have to do a lot of post processing. The background here was a large group of yellow flowers at a good distance away from this flower. So I used my 180 millimeter. And I loved the color contrast in the background. And here, is another time that I found the background first. Where I spotted the large group of yellow flowers and thought, wow, what can I put in front of that. Sometimes you want a similar colored background. You don't want a contrast. This pink dahlia does have I shot that in front of my scarf. It does have a pink background and I added a pink texture for even more of that. And the other one is just right out of the camera. Just soft and light. And was the look that I was going for. Poppy without any other poppies around it. So instead of filling the frame with more poppies, I was able to isolate that one. You have to be careful with your background that it doesn't become the subject. I'm not crazy about this at all. I tested it in my studio, living room. And for me, it's too strong. I don't think the impact of the lines of the calla are as strong with a bold background. So be careful of that. You know, you don't want a background that's gonna pull attention away from your subject. The one on the right, I used a much lighter, softer background that was a better match for my subject. And I think the lines are stronger of my image. Okay. This is Longwood Gardens. And this is what you see when you arrive. And for some people it can be overwhelming. And for those people, when I take them there, I have them sit down. And just put the camera away. Take a breath. And just look. Because, how do you capture that? So this was, I shot this on my first time at Longwood. And, you just can't wait to shoot. There's so much to shoot. But where do you start? And I looked in the back of the garden, and there was one tulip, and it was way at the end of the garden that I could see that was standing above the rest. That's my subject. So, I went down to the corner. And I actually shot this same flower two days that I was there experimenting. So, it had yellow flowers on one side of it. It had purple flowers on another. And it had red. And then it had pine trees. So I really had my choice of backgrounds. And I shot it everyway. And here's the shot. I was able to simplify it and I thought the pink was the background that I chose. So look for that. Look for a flower that stands a little taller. Or stands out a little bit. Because then you know you're gonna get a well-blurred background without other flowers coming into focus. When you're looking at a background avoid splits. What I mean by that, the cone flower on the left, it's also in pretty sad condition, but look at the split in the background between the yellow and the green. Well, that divides up the frame. It's also splitting right at the top of the flower. And that's unacceptable. You, same with this. It's that same flower. From Longwood Gardens. You don't want a background with slices. You want an all over color background. Here too. I mean, there's me with my curves again. I shot this but, when I got home I went, oh. Because I had a split background. I had purple on one side and I had green on the other. And I shot this with Lensbaby. And in Lesnbaby sometimes a brown turns a bit purple. And I should have pulled a leaf into that area. I have my clothespins. I could have done it. And so I was like, oh. But, with the clone tool in Photoshop I could fix it. It wasn't a bit deal. But, if you see that through your viewfinder, you don't have to fix it later. Here's another one. And this one is a little more subtle. But the right is green and the back is gray. It was a foggy day. And, I love that curve and I love the shot. So, once again, I could even it up with Photoshop and cloning and some green from the other side. But I'm trying to save you time. If you see that ahead of time you won't have to deal with it. Sometimes I do like to choose the background first. The flowers on the left, I don't know what they are. They we're growing in Ireland. And the color of the foliage was so unusual. I had never seen it. And it was such a wonderful contrast to the color of the flowers so I was in that case I certainly wouldn't have wanted to go in close. Because I wanted the background to tell the story. And the poppy, on the other side, not only is it a really unusual looking poppy. It's, it has wings to me. It was had a lot of purple flowers behind it. But, and I was shooting at a formal garden so I couldn't go in there and use my clothespins or anything. We're gonna talk about garden etiquette tomorrow. But I was able by, you know, looking at the flower from all angles, to find a side that had the purple flowers totally filling the background. And there were a couple of small spaces that weren't and with the clone tool I could select a little purple and just paint over that. So, the background was perfect for that. The iris on the right, I was shooting at the botanical gardens and, our gardens are an hour away from my house. So sometimes I get there and it's raining. And it wasn't raining at my house. So I was sitting inside next to a bouquet of flowers that they had arranged, just sitting on the bench, looking out the window, and I looked over at this iris. And in the bouquet, there were all these yellow flowers surrounding it, and I thought, oh. So I got my gear out. And I shot inside. In one of the buildings in the gardens. And it was one of my favorite shots from last year. The other one is another one where I just walked all around the flower until I could find where it lined up perfectly with the purple background. And I didn't add any to that one. This is just in one of my gardens. And they were, the sun was hitting a lot of flowers in the background. And, once I started to look through my viewfinder I could see that wonderful, that wonderful, bo-ka. And the mix of colors. And then just had to choose a spot where I could line a flower up for that. So, look at your backgrounds. This is what you don't want to do. There are distractions all over the place here. There are things in focus that don't need to be focused. There's a spent flower that doesn't need to be included and a long line. So if I was going to shoot this flower I'd either have to use a long lens to get in close. Or I would move, you know, move in closer. And I'd be shooting that from just to right of the flower and just underneath. Just getting in close with it. You want to avoid things that are going to pull your eye, the eye away from the area in focus, especially if you're shooting very shallow depth of field the way I am. Because, that's a small area in focus. The last thing you want, is an area of contrast. Which is gonna draw the eye away from that contrast as far as, sharpness to blur. Or light to dark. You want to avoid that. I also shot this in my garden. And it's just the cutest little flower. But it's like this tall. So, the background was dirt. And more flowers and seaweed. That's what I put on my flowers to, as mulch. So I mean, the flower was great. The background was horrible. But it was blooming at the same time that my tulips had just finished. And so, tulip leaves are very wide. So I laid two tulip leaves below it. And added a texture to it. Which hid the seam very well. So I could save, you know, I could go from that, to that. 'Cause I thought the flower was beautiful. The background was just horrible. So, how can you avoid background issues? If the background is just horrible, don't include it. Just move in close. Use the macro accessories if you have to. If you can't get close enough with your lens. Do a little crop if you have to. Not a major crop. But try filling the frame with your subject. What you have filled the frame with has to have plenty of interest. This is the outside of a peony. And for me, it was, that peony was all about line and texture. And the other is a sunflower. And it has tiny, tiny little water drops on it. And I didn't need the petals because my story was about the center of that flower. Before you take a picture, Sharron's smiling, you need to do border patrol. And what I mean by that is, you've got your composition, you need to be looking around all the edges of the frame for anything that doesn't go. And one of the Catholinism's that you will hear from me is if it doesn't add it needs to go. If it's not adding to the composition it needs to be gone. And if I had just moved in a little bit closer, I could have avoided that. Now I'm good with a clone tool. So I took it out. But I wouldn't have had to do that if I had followed my own advise and done border patrol ahead of time. Here. Sometimes leaves from other plants wanna sneak into your frame. And they have here. And, this was not a location where I could move them out. I couldn't get to them. They were far away. And it wasn't my garden. So, I cloned them out and it wasn't an issue. But you have to, what I'm trying to get you to do is to be aware of those kind of things. This dahlia got photo bombed. By another bud. And I looked and was like, oh. So, I moved it out of the way. And took it again. But you have to be aware of that. And I think part of that is learning to see. To slow down. To really see your subjects. Because, had I been following my own advise here, I would have seen that for sure. And that would be an easy removal in Photoshop too. But if you move it with your clothespin or at the time you don't have to do it later on. Environmental portraits. I love portraits where the background adds to the story. You know how these grow. The dianthus. They don't grow individually. You can see that they grow as a group on some beautifully colored foliage. I could have moved in closer and shot just the center. But I think the background makes the subject stronger here for me. It adds color, and shape. And I don't think a shot of just the center detail would be as interesting. Sometimes you have no choice but to include the background. This is wisteria. It's messy. And there's, there are usually messy backgrounds. You can try and shoot wide open as much as you can to blur that. But those are part of the story of how wisteria grows. Sometimes you get a small sprig with a good background behind it and you don't have to include it. And I shot this in Charleston. And I love Spanish moss. I think it's fabulous. And I thought that the Spanish moss added to the story that I wanted to tell. For me, I mean I have azaleas in Maine. But they don't have Spanish moss. So including the Spanish moss and the way it grows on the tree, for me, told the story that I wanted to tell about that flower. Moving the subject. This, is a tiny pot of flowers that I bought at Home Depot. And, it was too early for me to plant in Maine. But I hadn't shot flowers outside for months because it was spring. So, I took it around various parts of my yard and under good light, and just kept moving the pot around. And choosing a soft background. And that's a great tip. Because you can go to the nursery and buy plants. But you can shoot it before. It always looks in really nice condition when you buy it too. And, you know, because later on, once it's in your garden, you might not be able to get a clear view of it. You might have distracting, other colors behind. But it's a great way to shoot. Both of these flowers I shot when I was beta testing the edge 80 for Lensbaby, which is another one of their optics. And, it was November. And I'm a flower photographer. And I had to beta test. So I bought these daisies. And then I took my clothespin and I live on the water in Maine, and went down to the shore, and found some brown sea grass. And with my clothespin attached the flower to the sea grass. And it made both those shots. I was able to, you know, and because I was in charge of the lighting and the direction and exactly where I placed it. You can't do this at a public garden. But if these are your flowers. Think about that. You can take a cut flower. You can, you know, if it's really bright out, you can take it inside. You can take it to a shady part of your house. Or your deck. Or behind a building. And, you know, set up your own background. So it extended my shooting season, for me, by being able to do this. And, the shot on the right ended up on the box. So, it was a, it was a good thing. Now, background substitutions. You can use foam board. You saw in my living room I use white foam core. You can also buy textured papers and use your clothespins again. I'm gonna have you all going out and buying clothespins I know it. And attach it. Cloth. Go to a fabric store and find some, not overly busy patterns. And in some complimentary colors. A scarf. Textured papers. If the background's not good enough you either have to eliminate it or substitute it. Or choose an angle that doesn't include it. Here, I moved in close to eliminate the distractions that, the morning glory petal tips were not in good shape anymore. They'd started to dry and curve so I didn't include them in my composition. And the Gerber daisy on the other side had the same thing. You can just start to see some brown on the bottom. It was not in the best of shape. So not only did I shoot it wide open, but I didn't include the bad section of the flower.

Class Description


  • Choose the right macro lenses
  • Build the ideal photography gear kit
  • Find (or create) the best light for macro shots
  • Know where to place small objects in the frame
  • Set the correct aperture and exposure
  • Master close focusing with depth of field
  • Confidently capture macro work of any type of flower


Flowers are the perfect subjects for both beginning and professional photographers alike. Not only can they be found almost anywhere, but they offer a wide range of colors, textures, and shapes to explore and experiment with. But as perfect as flowers are for photography, the dominance of similar pictures makes it hard to capture a unique image.

This course takes you on an in-depth journey into the glories of flower photography, with expert photographer Kathleen Clemons as your guide. You’ll learn everything you need to know to take captivating shots that will wow your audience and celebrate the beauty of nature. Learn how to take flower photographs that stand out.

In this class, you'll learn how to spot the best flower to photograph with your naked eye, whether you want to capture artistic or documentary images. The flower will become the star of the shot as you learn to eliminate distractions in the background. At the end of the class, work confidently with fields of flowers and single flowers, at each stage in their life cycle.

Whether you have a Nikon, Canon, Sony, or mirrorless camera body, Kathleen will show you all the essential tools of flower photography, from macro lenses to plant clamps to extension tubes. She’ll cover technical details such as aperture settings and your depth of field, as well as stylistic issues such as composition, backgrounds, and close-up or macro shots. The course ends with a demonstration of a real shoot in a garden so you can see Kathleen in action as she takes different angles and close-up images of different flowers and flower petals.


  • All levels of photographers interested in macro photography.
  • Photographers who want to learn how to shoot close-up images of small subjects.
  • Photographers who want to better understand special equipment for shooting macro and how to deal with difficult lighting situations.


Kathleen Clemons is a nature photographer known for her painting-like images of flowers. The Maine-based photographer works with Corbis and Getty images. While she's known for her photography, Kathleen also has a degree in education, which she mixes with her passion for flower to teach other macro photographers.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Gear List

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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What a fantastic class! Kathleen Clemons' presentation was well-organized and offered exceptional how-to advice along with actual gear and beautiful slides which demonstrated her points. I felt as though she were talking to me personally and truly wanting me to be successful. Her explanations of technique, accompanied with video of her in the gardens using the camera was very helpful. In addition, I found her critiques most enlightening, and I learned a great deal about how to improve my own images from them. In short--this was an exceptional class, and Kathleen Clemons is an amazing teacher. I have watched the class twice and plan to purchase it for continued review and reflection. Anyone who wants to photograph flowers artistically needs this class. Thank you, CreativeLive, for this wonderful presentation by Kathleen Clemons.

Julianne Carlson

Thank you Kathleen for taking the time to share your wonderful knowledge and technique's with us through this 5 star course. Your breathtaking ethereal images are a true inspiration and I can't wait to get out there and practice with my new Lensbaby velvet. Not only was this course a wonderful tutorial for photographing flower subject but much of your instruction can be used when photographing all of nature. This is the best Creative Live class I have taken yet!

a Creativelive Student

Kathleen Clemons is a wonderful teacher who communicates a powerful passion for flower photography. I learned so much from her about how to see and capture the beauty of a flower using macro lenses. As I launched into this new area of photography, I felt equipped and free to experiment and learn and grow. As I looked through the viewfinder of my camera, it's almost as though Kathleen was right there with me - I saw how to focus in on one area of the flower, then another, and change aperture settings to impact the depth of field, and experiencing the intricate beauty of God's creation. The ultimate moments for me were the images captured as a result of everything I learned. I highly recommend Kathleen Clemons as a teacher and this amazing class, The Art Of Flower Photography. Review by Catherine Martin