Assignment: Flowers

When I was a young photo student at Sacramento City College, one of my favorite things was the lab work. OK, processing film was more or less a solitary task and boring, but I loved making prints in the communal darkroom with the other students. Not only did you see your own photo slowly appear in the developing tray, but you could also see the pictures of the others, as well. It was a great part of the learning process. You could see the creativity from other people’s viewpoints and ask technical questions on how they made their particular photos. It’s something I miss from the old days.

Reader Gary Fiorio a former photo teacher from Manteca recently emailed and gave me an idea for a modern-day equivalent of the old school darkroom days. He suggested giving the readers an “assignment” to shoot and then publish the best ones. I figured giving you all a deadline of about 2-½ weeks should give enough time to shoot and then around another 1-½ weeks for me to choose my top picks.

For our inaugural month, we’ll start out with something relatively easy: Flowers. Spring is in full swing, and while some blossoms have already faded, there are others, from roses to wildflowers, that are yet on the way.

Flowers are usually in the realm of close-up or macro photography. Try getting as close as your lens will allow. You don’t even have to get the whole flower in the picture. Sometimes just a single petal can be enough for a compelling photo. If you have a macro lens or a set of close-up filters, that’s great. If not, then try a simple technique of “reversing” your lens. There are adapters that you can buy that will allow you to mount your lens backwards on your camera. Although you won’t be able to control the aperture (exposure is controlled by the shutter speed and ISO only) or focus (focusing is done by moving the camera in and out) you can get very close to your subject. You can also just hold the reversed lens with your hands: Just make sure it’s held there tightly so no stray light leaks in.

Lighting is very important when photographing flowers. Front lighting tends to wash out the contrast and colors and is usually a bit boring. Sidelight is preferable. It gives depth and detail to a flower. Backlighting can be very dramatic. The petals on most flowers are very thin, and the light can shine through them, giving the flower a beautiful glow.

Water drops can add a nice accent to a flower as well. Droplets from rain, dew or even a recent watering can cling to the plant’s petals, making them look fresh and vibrant.

On the opposite end of the close-up is the overall photo. A large colorful field or hillside covered with flowers can be beautiful. Or the flowers themselves don’t even have to be the main subject of the photo. They can be used as a colorful and elegant background or foreground for your photos.

So the deadline for entries is April 20 (eligible photos are only ones shot within this time frame). You can email them to me at (try to write a little about where and how you shot it). Remember this isn’t a contest, so no awards will be given out, but it will give you an opportunity — and hopefully motivation — to go out and shoot. I’ll announce my choices in the paper (the LENS section) and here ( on April 29. Good shooting and have fun!

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