Using a Flash in Your Garden Photos


How I Get My Photos, Part 2 – Taming the Light

When one thinks of using a flash, the first thought is not having enough light. This is a primary use, but it can also be used in bright direct sunlight too. Like I said in Part 1, using a flash does seem counter intuitive to add light when you already have too much.

I mentioned in Part 1 that photography eliminates, so how is adding light eliminating an element? Well, it softens harsh shadows, so I consider that eliminating.

I found when shooting small insects and even flowers, it helps to keep detail and retain color. It helps even out and reduce contrast when shooting in direct sun. But how do you avoid that blinding amateurish look? Also, let’s do a more difficult to expose subject and see how I do.

I chose a subject that is almost the same color as the busy background it is on, plus yellow is a harder bloom color to photograph in bright light.

Complicated subject, complicated background and complicated light. So now what? Nature is messy with lots of lines or patterns. Clean up with removal – eliminate. How?

By selectively limiting the background with depth of field – blur. More on that another time.


Maybe a bit too much flash in this image? Let’s keep trying…

I needed to keep the detail in both subject and background by getting all the light I could on the macro subject without blowing out definition in the yellow sunflower where I wanted it. Using a flash helps my macro images, but we have to modify the light coming from the flash when working so close.

Using flash is useful on larger subjects as well, so don’t think it is only for macro work and has to be modified every time. Also, you don’t need a fancy shoe-mount flash. The one on your consumer camera can work too. You just need to filter some of the strong light. They make pop up flash diffuser, but you can just make one yourself out of a translucent material to fit the camera you own.


A macro shot by its very nature is going to have a limited depth of field that we can control with our choice of f-stops. So to help my focusing, I had the camera on a tripod which I don’t use all that often. I used two different macro lenses, the 60mm above and the 105mm below. The difference is in how far away from the subject I had the lens. It was only a couple of inches for the 60mm (f5.6 ISO 200) and 18 inches for the 105mm (f8 ISO 200).

More of the flash illumination is directed to the bee the closer one gets, hence a brighter image. Many hot-shoe mount flashes can be dialed for power also. I needed to do that on mine, even with the soft-box diffuser tempering the spread and intensity of the light.


Not using a flash, see the dark shadows cast on the sunflower below? It would be difficult to see a pollen covered bee. So if in bright light, a flash can be used to neutralize the lighted surface.


The tiny 1/2 inch bee was very cooperative, each time I moved the camera, she shifted her position to face me. It was almost scary as she advanced towards me.


There is a joke that I get the insects to pose for the camera, but this one actually did in the image above, the two below and the third image of the post. An image this close would not be easily done without using additional light.


In fact in all thirty images this bee followed the camera.


I swear this tiny bee is smiling.

The other bee in this post kept running away from the camera. I guess the flash was too annoying to her. She even has a leg raised, like to say “Get that light out of my face.”


One other thing I might mention. So often you see these high dynamic images where there is very little high contrast from the bright sun. You might think the photographer a real whiz in dealing with light. Look at these two images, the first the original as shot, the second, a simple filter in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements called Shadows/Highlights. See the difference?

It is just another way to tame the light if too bright or your exposure is off.


Original image of the softbox on the flash.


Photoshop image using Shadows/Highlights.

So now I have given a few ways to tame the light. Do you know there is more and I use those methods on landscape shots. If shooting in bright light, just avoid those high contrast places.

Go to where it is all evenly bright, or slink into the shadows avoiding the bright sun altogether, but don’t try for both at one time. Two posts from Saxon Holt explain light so much better that I can, so take a look at his articles.

Saxon is a professional garden photographer and my two posts just touched on things he has yet to mention on taming the light. It is most probably because his main focus is shooting the overall gardens.

And for our contest winner… the random winner is… Beth from PlantPostings. No one correctly guessed the sunflower in the post How I Get Photos in Yucky Light, so I randomly picked a winner. Congrats, Beth. Please email me your address and I will send you the Eco travel Bag.

If you would please vote for Garden Walk Garden Talk for the Garden Bloggers Hall of Fame, I would be most appreciative. Click the badge to vote. Thank you.



About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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59 Responses to Using a Flash in Your Garden Photos

  1. Great advice [once again] Donna! My goodness, your photos are amazing!!!
    🙂 xx

  2. yourothermotherhere says:

    Ah, perfect timing! I was just going to look for your blog on my following list when up popped this post.

    There is this person who is looking for the name of a flower in her garden and when I read it, I immediately thought of you. Here is the site if you’d like to help out.

    Their blog where the first picture is located.

    Which asks you to go here, where there are more pictures of the flower.

    Thank you.

  3. As always great advice and stunning images, I love the fact the bee was following you; Ive always said some insects do have an affiliation with people. Gorgeous face shots too!
    I’ve been using a Gary Fong lightsphere to diffuse the light on my canon 580 flash for macro. I know its meant to be for portraits but found it brilliant for macro too. Although I think I need more concentration of light sometimes.
    BTW your settings advice on capturing butterflies inflight has been invaluable and I’ve finally managed to get some shots…although not sure they are good enough to show yet 😉 huge thanks! xxx

    • Thank you. I am always experimenting to find better and better settings. It is such a trick with moving insects and birds though. To balance out the fact that they move fast and usually need more light on them, I up the ISO to get my fast shutter speeds. I am finding a better balance as I go along too. What happens in making the adjustments, the f-stops get too little depth of field sometimes making the insect not all in focus. That is fine for images like today of the bee since that was what I wanted, but it not fine when trying for flying creatures where I want the whole body shot focused. Always a balancing act. I have to use Aperture Priority more I think and rely less on full manual settings. The camera needs to work for me more. I know it makes better decisions than I do generally.

  4. Lovely male Melissodes agilis (long-horned bee)! Your photos are perfect for an ID. (Sorry, am I annoying you?)

  5. You really have the touch when getting insects to cooperate, the advancing bee is headed to stardom.

  6. Really amazing bee photos. Just stunning! I love the one of the “smiling” bee.

  7. Pat says:

    Amazing shots of the bee!

  8. lemanshots says:

    Sehr interessante Aufnahme. Gelungen! .-)

  9. busyellebee says:

    Yikes, sorry about the comment box, I forgot to tick the option, doh!

    Just wanted to say a big huge thank you to and yourothermotherhere for your trouble and care. I love this flower, which I now know, thanks to you both as Evening Primose or Sundrop. Thanks for the info as well which you send to me.

    Kind regards,
    Elle from

  10. lucindalines says:

    Did you tell us that you are a professor of photography and I missed it? You really should be. I have learned so much from your posts. Thanks for sharing your technical knowledge, and beautiful bee shots. Love how they pose for you.

    • Ha ha. All I did was take a year of photography in college. They never asked me to be a teaching assistant for it, but I did help in the Photo lab. My calling was architecture and I was asked to make a lesson plan to start a career in teaching architecture. I was a teaching assistant that actually got to teach, so they noticed I did have a flare for getting information across to students while keeping them interested to coming to class. I was already practicing architecture at the time too, so teaching would have changed the game plan.

      • lucindalines says:

        Well that year of photography either taught you a whole lot, or you are a self teacher in what you don’t get from a class. Thanks for all your sharing, I for one think it is great.

  11. anniedm778 says:

    Lots of great tips, thanks! And that one bee looks angry! Yikes!

  12. anniedm778 says:

    Here’s a link to my blog, I’ll enjoy reading more advice on photography! 🙂

  13. Amazing pictures. Another post I have to forward to Judy.

  14. Phil Lanoue says:

    Fantastic series! Look great!

  15. Jennifer says:

    Congratulations on being a finalist for Best Blog! I cast a vote for you and hope you win. I learned a few things and also checked out the links to Saxon Holt’s advice.
    I don’t own a Macro lens and midway through the post took a side trip just to explore some of the options. You mention a 60 mm and a 105 mm lens- but I see that there are other options as well- a dizzying range of options as a matter of fact. Obviously I am not going to rush out and get one when I don’t have a clue where to start. Perhaps a post on choosing a good, versatile Macro lens might be a good subject a future post (maybe I missed the one you did already?).
    Have a great long weekend Donna. Good luck with the award!

    • Hi Jen. I too was unsure of what macro lens to buy. I was talked into the 60mm at the camera store and did not like it for a long time. Eventually, I got used to it. I took a course on macro photography at Kelby Training, Bill Fortney was the teacher. He also was a Nikon Rep until his recent retirement. He went through the three Nikon micro (what Nikon calls macro) lenses, the 60mm, 105mm and the 200mm. The 200mm is probably the best choice for working in the garden because you don’t have to be on top of the insects, but he also said the 105mm is a good all round choice, so that is what I purchased (great for flowers). The 200mm was too much money for my budget. I really like the 105mm and it focuses up to 1 foot away for 1:1. That was fine for me. I did find that they all do the same thing, just at different distances. The 60mm is best for things that are flat though. You can see how little depth of field I get with it. It and the 105mm make some really artsy images when at 1:1. Bill also used zoom lens in his class, both showing and explaining the differences of use. I myself use a zoom for close up images, but the look of using a macro lens makes the photos a little more interesting I think. You can talk to Karin from Southern Meadows. She bought the 105mm long after I did. I think she is still getting used to using it. It does take practice because they are much harder to use when not using a tripod. I rarely use the tripod with them anymore, but boy did it take a while to be able to do that. I can now use it on flying bees, but it is a low percentage of success compared to a zoom.

  16. I( must try it before my birds devour all my sunflower seed heads 🙂

    I use flash to stop action like for Hummingbirds sometimes.

    • If you get a chance, please vote for GWGT by clicking the badge at the end of the post. I was shocked to be nominated for this award. It is not like all those awards all over the net. I don’t win anything, but it is the national recognition that GWGT will get.

      I don’t use a flash on hummingbirds because of the iridescence in the feathers. Many do for the stop action, but one is limited in shutter speed to 1/250th sec. generally by the flash. I find that far to slow for the hummers.

      • I will go look for the place to add my vote.

        Me being self taught and never reading anything on the subject of photography fumble my way through and sometimes GET LUCKY lol


        I have lousy digital cameras not really up for the task of getting perfect photos but I do what I can to push their limits and I do not have photo shop or a fast new computer so mostly I try my best to capture something I love the look of and hope it comes out nice enough for others to see it’s beauty 🙂

        • You do a fine job. I too experiment quite a bit. My camera is not a pro camera. I would like one someday since the lenses are all professional grade. The best quality would come from useing both together I think. One advantage of the DX camera like we both have, is that it has a 1.5 x increase in distance using a zoom lens. When I use the 400mm it is almost like having a 600mm attached. The quality is terrible at full zoom, but the distance is there.

          • I here you 🙂

            I will invest in some used glass for her Nikon and see what I can do and my point and shoot Olympus always looks horrible when I put it on computer to view I will have to hook it to TV and see if it looks good HUGE lol
            Love my Kodak but can no longer get to my software I downloaded into it so it sits sadly in the bag these days as I try to see what I can and can’t do with so little knowledge on these two 🙂 trial and error though maybe I can talk myself into using the tripod and see if that makes the difference 🙂 Thanks so much for you support and I did vote for your blog 🙂

            • Thank you for giving GWGT the vote. I don’t know the blogs that are listed because I think they are mostly professional writers and such. I am not part of Garden writer’s Assoc. so I really am in left field in that group. It would be quite a miracle if I took that category, but I am hopeful anyway.

              • Well you know I love yours as do many others thanks for pointing it out I am all about the POST and never the Sideline stuff I am bad.

                No just busy and want to touch base with all my favorites I try to read 40 to 100 but fall behind with all I do on the side. Our garden club plant sale is coming up on the 8th we just order over 60 mums and have tons of perennials It will be Grandparents Day hope we sell out 🙂

                Best of luck on contest I never heard of the others either


  17. Reblogged this on Living and Lovin and commented:
    For Photographers a quick lesson!

  18. Denise says:

    Beautiful! I never saw a closeup of a sunflower before. So many little flowers. Insect paradise.

  19. lumar1298 says:

    Amazing pictures….

  20. Oh my goodness! I’m so excited, Donna. Thanks–I’ll email my address. Thanks for all the great tips about using flash. I’ll admit I need some help with that. I try to use natural light as much as possible, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. I’ll try some of these ideas!

  21. Eulalia says:

    What can I say? Wonderful as always… 🙂

    have you ever watched “More than honey”?

  22. Bom says:

    Clicked and voted. Good luck!

  23. Fascinating Donna. I never would have guessed to use flash in bright light. i will have to give it a try.

    • Where is really helps is with people. When they have their back to the sun, you get nice rim light on their hair and the muted flash lights their face without that cat in the headlights look. I love what it does to flowers too by evening out the bright hot spots and brightening shadows. Your P510’s flash can be muted too. You just need to filter some of the light.

  24. connie661 says:

    I didn’t know about Shadows/Highlights under Image in Photoshop. That’s an amazing tool! Thank you so much for telling us about it.

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