5 Tips for Blooming Good Photos of Pups & Humans in Flowers
I'm a huge fan of Spring and Autumn and all the opportunities those seasons bring to get colourful pictures of pups and humans, loads of fantastic smells and experiences and memories for all... every year I look forward to bluebells in the woods for example, or pink cherry blossom... but at the same time anxious at the prospect of seeing people and pups trample bluebells to get their "insta perfect" photos, unknowing of the long term consequences this has; or shaking trees to get a rain of petals in their shot... Not only does this reduce the enjoyment of others, it damages nature (and causes health risks to dogs in some cases - bluebells for example are toxic if ingested).
Here are some easy tips using my experience as a professional photographer (and dog owner) to help you get great photos too, using your telephone or camera.
Tip 1. Respect Nature & Private Properties
They say "take only photos and leave only footprints"... but in the case of flowers and nature, those footprints can have devastating, lasting effects, when there are easy ways to get fantastic pictures without damaging anything!
Take bluebells for example: it's actually against the law in the UK (where almost half of the world's bluebells are found) to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy bluebells. The colonies take a long time to establish (5-7 years from seed to flower) and can take years to recover after footfall damage (National Trust: 6 Things You Might Not Know About Bluebells).
Always check that the flowers / field are free for public use. If they are not on public land, regardless of how pretty and easy to access they may look and how that photo would be quick to take, please keep in mind that you are trespassing and could be damaging someone else's livelihood.
PS: Because someone else trampled nature before you arrived does not mean it's an excuse to step on it too because "the damage is already done".
Tip 2. Plan Ahead: Do Your Research & Train / Direct Your Subject
Planning and research are key especially when travelling to capture a specific type of flower.
A dog (or human!) doesn't come "Insta ready" so it's important to prepare them for the camera. Coordinate colours, give directions as to where to look, make the humans relax and smile, give regular training for dogs (and don't forget to reward and praise). Put humans and dogs' enjoyment and welfare first... and accept, actually, embrace the fact that things might not go to plan. See my tips on how to prepare a dog for the camera, HERE.
Marcel, for example, has been in training (or shall I say has been training me) since a puppy. Training is a great way to keep him engaged and reinforce our bond as it's always fun, with positive reinforcement, praise and treats.
Flowers and when or where they are in full bloom is not always predictable. Where and when they pop up can change from one year to another. To avoid disappointment when I want to capture a specific display or place at a specific time of year, I use social media and geo tags especially to know when to go. Ask locals or photographers for the location of their photos (most people are happy to help, I am too) and make sure it was captured that year. Beware of photos posted ahead of a specific season but taken on previous years (I use geo tags on Instagram to make sure the specific area is really at peak)!
A good example is the pink cherry blossom display near Ranger's House in Greenwich Park, which usually ends cherry blossom season in London (around mid April). Every single year, several major Instagram accounts post about in March, using pictures from previous years, misleading people into flocking there thinking it's time to go when the buds are barely apparent.
Something also worth considering is the time of day for your visit, if you want to have more chances for the photo to not be crowded with other people trying to get the same photo as you, especially for popular places like pretty houses with wisteria, Cherry blossom avenues or bluebell woods. Go early or late, the light will also be much better and softer then without harsh light or shadows!
Finally, some places like parks have opening hours worth checking. Private places such as these Lavender fields may also require an entry fee so it's important to research them beforehand to make sure dogs are welcome with their well behaved humans, and that photography is allowed and if so what are the conditions (most places will allow photography for personal use but require an additional fee may be required for professional photography, which I pay when capturing clients or content for a paid partnership ).
Tip 3. It's All About The Angle & Placement (of Subject & Photographer)
You can get fabulous photos of humans or hounds surrounded by flowers without stepping foot or paws on them. Take advantage of paths running through woodlands or fields and make sure the subject stays on those paths (ie your dog has a reliable "stay" or someone is nearby keeping them on lead with the lead either concealed or used as a prop for the picture).
Want to have a shot that creates the impression that your subject is surrounded by flowers without damaging them? Place the subject on a clear path, position yourself on another path, get down low and take the photo across the flowers!
Tip 4: Get Down Low
Getting down low is a very important tip for photographing dogs all year round, as it helps create a better connection by being at their level, as if you saw things through their eyes. It also gives you a different perspective than looking down on them. This applies to both subject and flowers / nature, bluebells and poppies for example will look much better when captured at level, appearing less sparse and like a sea of blue or red whereas, captured from above, they will look more like coloured dots.
This is why you'll often see me sitting, kneeling or lying on the floor when capturing pups!
Tip 5: Shoot Through Texture & Frame Your Subject
Another tip that works all year around and not just for flowers! Getting down low and capturing your subject through texture (be it leaves, flowers, texture) helps add depth to the image.
Make sure the subject is in focus by pointing at it (although this is more easily achieved using a DSLR or mirrorless camera it is also absolutely doable on most recent smartphones). For cameras or smartphone where the aperture (A mode) can be controlled, aim for an aperture of around 2.8. For other smartphones, the portrait mode can help create this effect. This will mean the subject is in focus and the foreground and background appear soft and more out of focus.
Use natural gaps in the foreground or flower fields to frame the subject and attract the eye to it will also make photos of people or pups more engaging.