How to create a dynamic flower photo composition

Photographer Dina Belenko shows us how to add dynamism to a static flower photo using some simple but highly effective techniques.

There are two sorts of objects which always look good in photos: sweets and flowers. They are the easiest objects to shoot, but that means you need to be a bit more creative to avoid your photos becoming characterless and uninteresting. In this article, I’m going to show you a very simple way to add some oomph to your flower photos.

A timelapse video showing the creation of the long exposure flower image.

How it works

We are going to shoot two scenes: one with a well-lit static flower and another with colourful trails of the flower in motion, and later we’ll combine them during post-processing.

Sure, there are ways to accomplish all that in one shot, but I have two arguments for doing it this way:

  1. You don’t need an impulse light source. In fact, you can use any light you have, even daylight from a window will do.
  2. It gives you perfect control over the position of the colourful flares.

Usually I’m all for doing everything in-camera, leaving only tiny details to post-processing but I also like to choose my battles. And if something is easier and quicker in post, let’s do it in post.

Gathering props

The list of props is extremely short and simple:

  • Your choice of flower (choose something not too fragile)
  • A black flag (a piece of black cardboard)
  • A stationery clamp or a piece of floral foam to fix the flower steady
  • A source of continuous light (I’m using a torch with warm light)
  • Any camera with shutter speed control (yes, you can even do it with your phone too!).

That’s all! Let’s go to our first scene.

Dina’s props for the shoot

The static flower

First of all, we need to get a beautiful shot of a flower on a dark background. You can use any lighting scheme you want, but I’d like to recommend something very simple that I’ve learned from glass photography.

Fix your flower steady with a stationery clamp or a piece of floral foam—anything that can keep the flower vertical will do the job. After that, set your light source as a backlight. It can be a softbox or even a window with some diffusing cloth in front of it. Then, add a black flag (a sheet of black cardboard) between the flower and your light source. The sheet should be wide enough to cover the area right behind the flower, so it can serve as a dark background, but also narrow enough to keep the edges of your light source visible. In my case, the black flag holds steady on an L-shaped console, but you could just attach a piece of black paper to your diffuser with an adhesive tape.

This creates a glowing outline which looks really beautiful! I love this light scheme, it gives the flower contrast and quite a vibrant look.

Static flower lighting set up

As a light source here I’m using a small stripbox with a speedlight, just because it’s my go-to setup and there’s no difference in using continuous or impulse light in this scene. I’m planning to use a warmer light source for the scene with motion, so I decided to add a warm highlight on one side of my flower. But if you are going to use the same light source for both scenes, you can skip that step.

Left: Static flower with strip box lighting, right: Static flower with additional warm lighting from a torch

Shooting the flower in motion

For this scene, we really need to use a continuous light source. It can be anything that can allow you to use long shutter speed. In my case, it’s LED torch with a rather warm light temperature but practically anything can work, even an IKEA lamp. You just need to set it in a way that lights up the flower and not the background.

Now, we can create some motion! Set a rather long shutter speed—the specific digit depends on your light source and your aesthetic preference—but I’d recommend to start from 1/10 s and adjust from there. For example, the shot with purple flower had these settings: 1/6 s, f/8, ISO 80.

Set a very low ISO so not overexpose the image. Focus on the flower and start to move it, taking a series of shots. Try to move the flower inside the focus area, otherwise, the lines may get too blurred and instead of beautifully tracked motion, you may get just a shapeless colourful spot. Try not to move the flower outside of the frame, keep all the motion within the background.

Nice fluid motion shot inside the focus area
Shots taken outside the focus area which appear blurry and without fluid movement

You can hold the flower right by the stem, or if the stem is short, use tweezers, so your hand won’t get caught in the frame.

Try to make waves or curves. Bonus points for making your flower swirl, creating a colourful tornado! Make as many iterations, as you want, experiment with motion and have fun!

Combining the two shots

Finally, choose one or a couple of the most beautiful colourful trails and combine them with an image of the static flower.

To do that, open Affinity Photo and place the shots you want to combine as separate layers, one above another, like a digital sandwich.

Combining the shots in Affinity Photo

Choose the Lighten blend mode for the layer with colourful trails and place the trails in a way that their direction would convey the motion of the flower. Create a Layer Mask and use a soft Paint Brush to conceal everything you don’t want to be seen (usually everything you paint black on a Layer Mask becomes invisible), like the traces of tweezers or any stray elements. Repeat that for another layer if you want to combine several iterations together.

Combining two shots of colourful flares to the static flower image

In my case, it’s a combination of a static flower with two shots: two colourful flares going from petals to the top of the frame. I also adjusted the colours and removed a couple of spots from the petals.

The final image

That’s all there is to it! Try this technqiue with one flower and then experiment with more colours, additional objects and combining several flowers in one frame to create your very own dancing garden!

Try adding more flares and motion
Try to create a swirling motion with your flowers

About the creator

Dina Belenko is a still life photographer and 500px Brand Ambassador. She tells magical stories behind everyday inanimate objects. When she isn’t busy shooting conceptual still life and food on commission, she writes photography and photo editing tutorials.

You can see more of Dina’s work at 500px, Instagram, Twitter and her website.