Depth-of-Field Editing Post Capture: Isolating and Blurring a Flower’s Background in Photoshop

Flowers, Irises, Photoshop, Software, Tips

1/320 f/5.6 ISO 100

The background of this image isn’t terrible, but it’s not great, either. After a recent post-capture edit of a background to isolate the subject and make a pure, one-color or block color background, I decided to try the other most popular look, i.e., blurring. This is typically done to make it appear as if the photographer used a high depth of field (DOF).

It’s a common problem in garden photography to have a ‘junk yard’ behind flowers. Sometimes you can take the picture with the right settings so it’s not an issue, but this will often require blurring on part of the image. Your choice then it to either blur when you shoot or afterwards.

When the subject has edges with high contrast beside the background, that is a decent invitation to blur the background, because you can be confident it will be quick and easy to select the entire area in Photoshop.

Wand > 50 selected most of the area instantly. Quick Mask Mode showed a few spots it missed. Lasso finished the job. Note: QMM missed a few small areas. It was necessary to inspect the entire photo at 100% size to see what was omitted.

Gaussian Blur 100

Without feathering, using just what the wand and lasso had selected, a high-level Gaussian blur cleaned up the background, making the flower stand out more, and enhanced it with a soft glow around the edges.

Gaussian Blur x 12

Taking this a step further as an experiment, the background that had just been blurred once with Gaussian Blur 100, got the filter effect 12 times. (Each additional time increased the glow a little.) This extra step takes the image from a photo to fine art. It no longer looks like a realistic context.

(There were a few minor tweaks such as growing the selection +1, +2, and then +2 with a feather of +1 to deal with the fringe around part of the iris).

A dozen more shots of the same filter on a copied layer applying GB in the last dozen applications, after continuation of the same approach, and most all the fringe along the edge of the top white part of the iris has been removed. Furthermore, more of the green stems have been replaced with purple from the flower, accentuating the subject.

Audrey Bloedow: The Iris Lady

Flowers, Irises

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”–John Keats

Purple iris in Audrey Bloedow’s Iris Garden

In memory of my late mother, Audrey Bloedow, also known as “The Iris Lady,” it is only fitting to focus on the most beautiful part of her legacy, an iris garden. She was an avid gardener, planting and looking after many plants and flowers for most of her adult life, but her favourites were irises.

Yellow butterfly on purple iris in her garden

She was attracted to the flower like a bee to honey or, well, a butterfly to an iris. She won competitions for them, and in her garden when she left this world she had over 1,000 irises.

Field of irises

The Pakenham Horticultural Society wrote the following in its historical document:

It was with much sadness we lost both Denise Drew and Audrey Bloedow, dear friends and dedicated members. Audrey’s iris garden inspired us all and many of her treasures live on in our gardens and at our flower shows. The new plant beds built at the arena have been filled with shrubs and perennials from Audrey’s lovely garden and her contributions to our annual plant sale and door prizes at our meetings live on throughout the village. In her honour, the Audrey Bloedow Award was established to be given to the exhibitor with the most points in the iris classes at our spring and summer shows.

Audrey Bloedow’s Garden

From the PHS she won the following awards:

PAKENHAM HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY SERVICE AWARD

“Presented to members of the Pakenham Horticultural Society who have been active for a minimum of ten years and made an outstanding contribution to the field of horticulture.”

Macro of bumble bee tapping iris’ reserves

BARR MEMORIAL TROPHY

“Presented annually to the exhibitor winning the most points for specimen flowers, in all flower shows during one season, who has never before won a society trophy.”

1991 Audrey Bloedow

Peach iris with orange beard

COLONEL LISLE MEMORIAL TROPHY

“Presented annually to the member winning the most points in all shows during one season.”

1998 Audrey Bloedow

DORIS IRONSIDE AWARD

“Presented to the member exhibiting the best Iris at the June Show.”

1997 Audrey Bloedow
1998 Audrey Bloedow
2000 Audrey Bloedow
2001 Audrey Bloedow
2003 Audrey Bloedow
2004 Audrey Bloedow

BEST IN SHOW

“Presented to the judges’ choice for best overall exhibit in any category.”

2002 Audrey Bloedow

Her legacy

Peach iris with speckled edges

Dark purple iris

Closeup of white-and-dark-blue Iris with yellow beard (1/1000, f/8, ISO 400)

 

 

 

How to Photograph Iris Flowers – Tips and Tricks for Maximum Quality

Flowers, Irises, Tips

Red iris with water drops (1/800 F/2.8 ISO 100) ^ 1200 x 1200

Introduction

I didn’t see any websites with tips on “How to Photograph Iris Flowers,” but it was a Google suggestion, i.e., something people want to know, so I started making this page.

I have taken many photographs of irises, because my late mother had a large iris garden; and then my Dad gave me some of her irises for my own garden. I learned slowly the mistakes I was making, and now I will share with you what I do differently since my first iris photoshoot in the summer of 2006.

I’m going to cover issues for beginner, intermediate, and advanced photographers as well as those who are new to photographing irises up to those who have snapped many already. This is for readers ranging from anyone wanting to send an image to family to those hoping to create pictures for Hallmark greeting cards.

Camera Angle

Isolated and centred yellow iris

After reviewing and editing many iris photos, I have concluded there are only a few flattering camera angles. The safest angle is putting the camera perpendicular to the iris as above to clearly show the side view.

Siberian iris from above

I will occasionally see or picture an iris from a top view and find it attractive, but it’s generally a tougher sell, and I usually don’t even bother to photograph an iris like that. In a recent photobook of irises, I had about 5 shots from above out of 30. It can help add a little variety.

Pink-and-white iris from the top (1/500 F/5.6 ISO 160)

Sometimes the silhouette or shape in the top view can closely resemble the side view.

Elegant pale blue iris

Depth of Field (DOF)

My biggest regret from my first photoshoot was a depth of field setting that showed too much of the field. I used the Flower mode (f/5.6) for every photo, which of course captured the flowers just fine or in focus–but also all the grunge in the background!

Irises can look much better when the background gives them full attention by being blurred, neutral, or contrasting. There is no value in seeing dried, brown leaves, earth, etc., in a closeup. Lowering the f setting can “take out the trash” and still let you see the most important parts of the iris in focus.

When I photograph outside, I now mostly set the camera to f/2.8. Inside I find f/22 most effective.

Perfect timing

Iris starting to open

Keep your eye on irises to photograph them as soon as they flower. Defects of various kinds are increasingly likely the longer they are open. Insects, wind, etc., can decrease their quality very quickly.

In the above example, a purple iris is just beginning the flowering process. This was probably about an hour after it began. I once happened to notice an iris just after it started to open up, and then photographed it at regular time intervals. One petal descended slowly but surprisingly quickly; then the other two petals were lowered together more slowly.

It is typical to see an iris begin to open in the evening; the next day you see it fully opened as soon as you get up.

Irises I’ve seen in my garden were neither rugged nor long-flowering. If you say to yourself, “I’ll photograph them in a few days,” you may be unpleasantly surprised. They are tissue-thin and don’t rebound from stress.

Spiderwebs

Yellow spider (1/1000 F/4 ISO 100)

It’s easy to miss spiderwebs when you are staring into a camera window or even during playback. Then you download them onto your computer and catch them. Avoid this simply by putting spiderwebs on your pre-photoshoot mental checklist.

Macro of spider on edge of flower (1/800 F/3.5 ISO 100)

They are pretty easy to see when you inspect the subject and almost as easy to remove. Be careful, though, because irises are very delicate. I accidentally tore a petal once when trying to remove a web. Sometimes strands are easy to remove in Lightroom if you have that software; sometimes they aren’t. In any case, if you are worried about damaging the petals when removing the threads, take pictures before and after adjusting the petals.

Spider

In the first picture above, the iris isn’t even open fully but already it has spiderwebs on it.

Stalk wrappings

Wrapping

Iris “wraps” that hold the iris flowers get dried out and don’t usually help the picture. But they are actually fairly easy to remove without damaging the stalk or petals. You must be careful, however, and peel them slowly, holding onto the stalk as you do. Try it out on an iris that has already flowered and closed and there are no flowers ready to bloom, i.e., no risk of damage.

Wrapping removed

Closed flowers

Iris after flowering (1/800 F/ 2.8 ISO 4000)

When irises are done flowering, they “close up shop.” They don’t remain in the same shape as when they flowered; it’s like the reverse of when they open up to flower. These tightly closed flowers can get in the way when photographing other flowers on the same stem which are right behind them, blooming a day or more afterwards.

Snapped-off closed iris (1/2)

Snapped-off closed iris (2/2)

Fortunately, the ‘folded’ sections can be snapped off quickly and easily without damaging the rest of the iris. The break is fairly clean.

Indoor studio

My first indoor iris photoshoot wasn’t planned. My dining room became my photo studio. The blinds were backdrop. A gorgeous iris in my garden was knocked over by 50 km/h winds. It was too beautiful to leave outside on the ground, so I cut it, took it inside, and placed it in a vase. Away from wind, photographing inside opens the door to all kinds of long-exposure shots and interesting lighting, starting with a basic white background.

Cute flower on white background

Macro photography

Macro view of red iris with yellow centre

Super closeup pictures of irises can be visually appealing as if abstract art. Fine details are also intriguing. Capturing the centre as above is difficult. Irises don’t often open up completely. This was a rare occasion when it happened, the only time for me in the 2017 season. If you have a good lens for macro, it’s easy, but it can be very difficult to avoid any shaking or blurring in an outdoor setting. I took this shot indoors using a tripod and a special macro lens.

I’ve tried and failed many times to snap quality pictures of parts of irises, as macro or closeup. The beard or tongue is an interesting details, but not that exciting.

Groups

Group of small Siberian irises (1/80 F/14 ISO 100)

I prefer closeup photos of individual irises, but occasionally see a decent group shot. There are more things that can go wrong with multiple irises; it’s a challenge for ‘the stars to align.’ The more flowers, the tougher it is. You want the group to:

  • fill your frame;
  • not have too many or too large gaps;
  • have a strong centre (or at least not a weak one);
  • have a reasonable overall shape;
  • have a decent background

Group of purple irises (1/80 F/14 ISO 100)

An advantage of photographing from further away, however, is small imperfections aren’t noticeable.  A potential disadvantage, though, is the f setting likely has to be increased to get more flowers in focus, so the background imperfections become more obvious.

Background

In my opinion, there are two kinds of photographers: those who think about the background and those who don’t. Everyone considers the subject, but not so many pay attention to everything else. You see this on Instagram a lot. There’s a huge step up in quality when the background is taken seriously. It’s really the difference between amateur and professional.

Red iris (1/200 F/5.6 ISO 100)

What makes a good background for irises? Color and pattern. This iris was captured like this because the yellow flowers behind it provided a complementing color and pattern.

Garden design: plan before you plant

Iris garden above swimming pool fountain (1/125 F 5.6 ISO 200)

You are largely at the mercy of the location where your irises are planted. So if you plan to take great pictures, think about what the background options will be as you consider “staging” for photography. This will enable you to enjoy your garden and its photos more.

Isolated yellow iris with black background

By planting irises above my fountain, it simply allowed a black backdrop for some clean and dramatic low-key iris pictures. There was no extra work or equipment; it was just the camera position. You get the best of both worlds: the quality clean look of a studio shot and the natural lighting of the sun.

Cream of the crop

The right crop can make or break a photo. Most iris closeups are best square.

Drama Queen – low-key fuchsia iris on black background (1/800 F/2.8 ISO 1250)

But occasionally 4×6 or 8×10 is ideal. The main issue of course is equal distance from the edges to the subject.

 

Dark Purple Iris Isolated: Simple Technique for Quick Photo Editing After Outdoor Capture

Flowers, Irises, Software

Top view of purple iris with white background (1/320 F/5.6 ISO 100) ^ 1200 x 1200

The first main photoshoot of the day was virtually a total washout. I could hardly find an image I liked. There was just much background “noise” (elements that compete and distract). It prompted more aggressive editing of background space.

This small purple iris was still in good condition, so I wanted to get a good picture; I removed weeds around it and other stuff beside it. But it still didn’t look very good, so I sliced part of the stem. Even then, it wasn’t enough, because I wanted a higher f than 2.8, which meant more competition with anything and everything on the ground. Solution?

I simply took a clean sheet of 8.5×11″ paper, cut it in the middle past half way. It surrounded the iris.

It didn’t create a perfectly white background instantly, but it made editing in Lightroom much quicker. After global editing mostly by Whites moved to +48, local editing was only required in two or three spots.

The Beauty of the Trinity: Three Purple Irises in One

Flowers, Irises

Triple Iris Flowering (10.0 f/22 ISO 100) ^ 1200×1200

This iris caught my eye early in the morning. It reminded me of a black-and-white orchid poster set of two with multiple orchids flowering that I had bought and put on my office wall before I sold it. The three here seemed balanced and altogether filled the camera frame.

The histogram also had the coveted curve with sufficient high, mid, and low levels of light.

Editing in Lightroom was quick and easy. The trick here was to turn up Whites (+40) and turn down Lights (-45). I just turned up the Whites to +53 to blow out the background and make it 100% white. Using the “J” shortcut, I incrementally changed the whites until the background was entirely red. That didn’t alter any of the flower, including the edges. Only one small section needed local editing with a mask to bring back lost detail at one edge by lowering Exposure. Before and after comparison showed almost no compromise.

I tried f/32, even though I find f/22 is usually good enough, but f/22 had better sharpness of the focus for the entire pic.

I hope to use this image for a Greeting Card. I am currently waiting for the printer of my first set of Greeting Cards to complete the order. If the quality is high enough, this will probably be in my second print run.

It is 3456 x 5184, large enough for a poster.

At the Heart of an Iris with the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

Flowers, Irises, Macro

Iris flower super macro (1/800 f/2.8 ISO 800)

6:15 am. Softness and simplicity are the two overarching features at the core of this delicate iris flower. (Click for full size.) The well-regarded if not legendary Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens allows a very deep, soft fade at its most extreme DOF setting. I don’t do a lot of macro photography, and it seems difficult to see and therefore shoot a miniature scene pleasing to the eye or a stimulant to the imagination.

The fade dominates this particular shot, with the subject taking only about a third of the view. However, the mood is can create doesn’t happen (for me) until you see it at 1200×1800 pixels.

A regular iris shot is full of fine detail and soft texture. This closeup view takes the edge of those characteristics and possibly completely removes the sense of context to the point where it looks so abstract you can’t immediately recognize it as an iris.

The above yellow iris was an outdoor shot; indoors a few macros below were also caught. First I tried to find a general sense of shape to frame the picture; I went  with the circular shape (chopped at the top and bottom). Then I tried to find an element to be the focal point; I picked the part that is about center and to the right. Next I experimented with different DOF settings. For each shot I wanted the ISO to be maximum (100), and about maximum brightness without blowing out the highlights.

Bearded Iris Macro (30 sec f/32 ISO 100)

1.0 f/4.5 ISO 100

30 sec f/22 ISO 100

The last image was my preferred shot because the focal point is more central. I do a lot of closeup (non-macro) photography at f/22, and it worked for the macro here, too. But the limit shot at f/32 was also attractive. The f/4.5 blew out more detail but it makes a softer image more appealing to some viewers.

Blue-and-white iris core macro (1/800 f/2.8 ISO 100 0.31m)

The first day this iris opened, it opened up further than average, providing the opportunity to get a nice core shot before any insects could get to it. However, it still needed about ten minor edits in Lightroom to clean it up slightly to become virtually blemish-free. That’s always the risk of the macro: finding damage in the details.

White Iris with Drops of Water in the Morning After the Rain

Flowers, Irises, Macro, Nature

Beautiful white iris (1/160 f/8.0 ISO 400)

This beauty was found at 7:20 am this morning. I would have preferred to wait until the sun brightened it up to ISO 100, but the softer, shadow-free look isn’t so bad, and this is the first white iris of the summer to bloom in my garden, so there was no hesitation.

Macro

Water drops closeup

1/1600 f/3.2 ISO 100

The shutter speed was changed to twice as fast as usual for this shot. The wind speed had picked up (20 km/h with gusts to 40 km/h).

1/800 f/3.2 ISO 100

This iris got knocked over by the persistent high winds, so I cut it and put it in a vase for indoor test “studio” shots. These were all captured on a tripod.

1/6 f/13 ISO 100

The backlighting on this creates a different feel. Different DOF settings below:

1/10 f/13 ISO 100

1/40 f/6.3 ISO 100

1/800 f/2.8 ISO 500

Handheld shot to see how two look instead of just one.

Macro Photos of Bearded Irises

Flowers, Irises, Macro

Super Macro of Bearded Iris (1/800 f/2.8 ISO 250)

Macro images of bearded irises are typically easy to identify, so I wanted to make it a little more interesting by getting a little closer than usual and make it so you probably wouldn’t guess what this shot was the macro for, unless you’d previously captured the same flower in the same way. Below are two more photos of the same iris.

Closeup of Brown Bearded Iris (Yellow & Purple)

Brown Iris Blooming (1/80 f/10 ISO 100)