When it comes to flowers what is best to use in still life or macro photography — fresh, dried or artificial? I think there is room for all three, and there are some pros and cons for each. Let’s take a closer look.
Nothing beats fresh flowers — the look, the smell, the feel. But sadly, they often do not last long. Especially if you are using studio lighting, which can often shorten their life span considerably, some species more than others. If you are shooting natural flowers in their natural habitat, that is truly rewarding, especially with some fresh morning dew, just magic. But that is not always possible, depending on the look you are after or your shooting environment.
Flowers are more often than not, seasonal. With today’s access to almost any item quickly (if not cheaply) you can often order flowers that are out of season where you live from somewhere else, but this is not always practical or cost effective either. Sometimes you just cannot get the type of flower you are after. It can be frustrating, but if you manage to find a good florist or flower market, they can usually find what you are looking for with a bit of notice. But if you are just after a particular color, or any floral will do, then I pretty much always go for fresh. As they say, fresh is best.
Many people are quite stunned that I often use artificial flowers, but they have come a long way in the last few years. There are some stunning silk flowers and handmade vintage styled flowers out there — some look and feel so real, it’s hard to tell the difference. There are also cheap and nasty ones as well.
With speciality artificial flower shops online, as well as brick and mortar shops seemingly popping up all over the place, request a sample or visit them in person to see the quality of their wares before making large purchases. I have even bought paper flowers made from old book pages — sure they look like paper, but suited the shot perfectly. The beauty of artificial plants and flowers is they last forever with a small amount of care and attention.
You can have pretty much any type and color of flower delivered quickly and cheaply and then it is yours forever. I have used these on numerous occasions, and I have a huge collection. If used in backgrounds, like a wisteria curtain, it is difficult to discern whether they are real or not. There is also a call for good quality stock photos for artificial plants too. There has been a bit of a resurrection in paper flowers of late, something of a lost art form, like the ones you perhaps made at school as a kid. They are bigger, better and far fancier than I ever created. There are loads of tutorials online on how to make them.
Depending on the light and styling you can make a statement of the fact they are artificial or hide it. These flowers can stand hours and days of shooting and you can still spray many of them with water droplets (but not all — test out a small patch first).
Sadly, when it comes to macro I find they do often let me down, as you can see the imperfections, the texture of the fabric and wire or plastic stems, they just don’t ‘look’ real.
I find this the best of both worlds. I adore a vintage styled shoot and often some dried flowers really suit this style of image. I particularly like dried hydrangea and roses and I think they are the easiest to dry.
Once I have finished shooting my fresh flowers I tie them in a bunch with string and hang them upside down in the studio. It takes a few weeks to totally dry out — the hydrangeas fade in color to lovely soft pastels, with the roses I find the color often intensifies. You can use these when you can’t get fresh flowers and fake just won’t do. They are still beautiful to look at and touch, with different textures happening as they dry. You can even create potpourri with them; I have used rose petals from dried flowers in images as well. They are also beautiful in macro.
Did you know? Not all fresh flowers will float on water — some will sink, as do many artificial flowers. If you are doing a water shoot, a milk bath or suspending flowers on water, perhaps try dried flowers and leaves, as they float beautifully.
So next time you are photographing flowers, have a think about alternatives. Sure, fresh is best, but not always available. Artificial and dried flowers can also make tremendous still life images. It all comes down to having an open mind and what you are shooting.