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The Art of Flower Photography

Lesson 9 of 16

Learning To See Your Subject

Kathleen Clemons

The Art of Flower Photography

Kathleen Clemons

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Lesson Info

9. Learning To See Your Subject
Why does a particular flower capture your eye over another? Learning to recognize what grabs your eye is essential to finding the best flower subjects. In this lesson, Kathleen discusses several elements to look for when choosing a subject for flower photography. Master the ability to spot a unique image.

Lesson Info

Learning To See Your Subject

Choosing a subject and learning to see. As I have been telling you, probably since the beginning today, you need to slow down and you need to really see your subjects. You need to decide what it is that has caught your interest. What's the essence of that subject, and how I am going to capture that with the tools that I have? Here it was the petal pattern that caught my eye, and I just thought it was beautiful. And there was some soft light coming in. It was pretty early in the morning. And you also want to be looking at the condition of your flowers. A pristine flower is a good thing. My husband tells me that he has a hard time buying me flowers now because I'm really fussy about my flowers, I want them in really good condition. But I have learned to enjoy them as a gift and I may not photograph them. The pristine condition is a wonderful thing. In this one, I feel like the image on the left is a very tender shot for me. I see a hand up against a face, in that little tiny curl, but it...

had just opened and the petals were in wonderful condition. And the same with the columbine, in great shape. This grew in my garden last year, a double dahlia. So here, something different. I'm gonna wanna capture it. I had never had that, that double daisy. I never had that happen before. And then I had to choose the best point of view that would show that it was actually two. I mean, if I shot from the side, it would look like there was another flower up against the background. You needed to be able to see the single stem. So I'm looking for personality. I'm looking for something different. I shot this dahlia because it looked like it had wings for me, sort of angel wings. It's something different and this point of view made those wings the main subject of the image. I had this horrible morning glory weed in my gardens and I was fighting it and pulling it out, but I've gotten some really cool pictures of the way it will twist around my subjects. And that's the case in this one. And it made it different. It's not just another coneflower. There's a bit of a story here and a little conflict and it made it more interesting. Here I am with my petals that are askew. It's something that I'm always looking for. I can look at eight different dahlias. Which one is different? That's the story that I wanna tell. That's the one that I wanna capture. And curls. Tulips are a fabulous subject as they are opening because they have just amazing, amazing curls. And I like to make that the focus of my image. The other one is that awful morning glory plant I was just talking about. But it had a beautiful leaf curled around it, so I kept it and shot it. More tulip curls. They just fascinate me. And you can see that I used very shallow depth of field with the tulip curl on the right. The tulips were further back, so I could stop down a little more for a little more detail in the tulip on the left. But both of those looked very different from the flowers that were around them. So put your camera down, take a walk, take a look. See what catches your eye. I love a curvy stem. And all the other poppies were straight. And so that's the poppy that I wanted. And another curvy center petal. And I know you know what I saw here. (laughs) Crazy petals. And it was dancing. I wanna talk about why I consider my flower images flower portraits. And yes, this is my granddaughter, my oldest granddaughter. Well, let's talk about what makes a strong portrait. You need flattering light. You need good focus. You want to emphasize the best features of your subject. And you'd want to minimize any features that weren't, although she's perfect but, you want to compose well. You want a background that's going to add to the image, no distractions. And you want a connection, and for the flower there's not gonna be eye contact or a connection, but you can capture the personality of the flower. So for me, as you can see, that I am usually shooting single flowers because they are portraits to me. I'm making a portrait of that flower. I wanna show you the best of it. I wanna show you what I saw and what I found interesting. And I don't want you to see anything I didn't like. So they are portraits for me. This is a calla portrait and a tulip portrait. I loved the simplicity of the calla, it was by itself. And the curves were interesting. There was sort of a double curve, instead of just that wraparound single curve that you usually see in a calla. And of course, curves is a running theme in anything I do and that's what attracted me to the tulip. Again, this was really interesting. It's another calla lily, but it has a very different shape than the calla lilies I usually shoot. So it caught my eye. And I certainly didn't want anything else in the frame to catch your eye. And it was at Longwood Gardens and the callas are a good distance away, so you can only shoot with a long lens, and that darkened the background quite a bit. I think I shot this at F8. And here I wanted just the opposite. I wanted just a tiny bit in focus, because for me the personality of this flower was all about those tiny little shaped petals. And that's really all I wanted for its portrait. This is another calla from Ireland. I was amazed at the size of the callas in Ireland. And in this one, not only did I see curves in the flower, but there were curves in the leaves, so I decided to include them. And it's a portrait. Here too, there was one curved petal that caught my eye. It's with the lens maybe velvet. I didn't want a whole lot in focus. I really wanted a soft, dreamy look for this portrait. Some of my classic portraits I like to do in black and white and some in color. That's still the most beautiful calla I have ever seen. Generally, if we're gonna talk about black and white for a second, when I go to black and white it's usually because the color isn't a strong factor. That the image is more about line or shape than color. And I think this is nice both ways, but I think that a calla lily can also be just beautiful in black and white because it puts an even stronger emphasis on the curves. Let's talk a little bit about conceptual images with flowers. Because I see flowers as portraits, I also see some personification at times and concepts. The coneflower and the daisies, for me, is about standing out in your field. It's about independence. It's about a rebellious spirit because it's surrounded by a totally different kind of flower and it's standing tall, so I see that in it. In the middle image, I see nurture. That the main flower is curved a little toward the younger buds and I see that. And the last one I named Lean On Me because too me it look like there's a very strong powerful flower at the top, and the one at the bottom needs a little help. So if you're really, really looking at your subjects, you'll start to see their story in this way. The tulip on the left, well both of these really, I see both of these as shy. The tulip on the right is sort of hiding behind that petal and its head is bowed down. And the other one seems to be just peeking out of, between the petals. So think about that when you're looking at flowers. Here's another independent one. That's the go-getter in the office. That's the one who's gonna get everything done, the over-achiever is gonna stand taller and stronger. And you can do that with flower subjects. Questions about this part, for me? Somebody, anybody? Sharon. I just wanna know how you get so much incredible sharpness, even with the shallower depths of field? I know it's focus, but are you using anything afterwards in software, so that's just in camera? Yeah, I rarely even add sharpening. Okay. If I do, it would be selectively. I certainly don't do global sharpening, but generally I'm not adding any sharpening at all. That's just a steady hand, and well, it's the placement too, I think, is what you're seeing, it's where I place that focus point.

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

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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