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.

Salvage Operation: Is There Any Hope for an ISO 6400 Image?

Insects, Lightroom, Tips

Before (1/100, f/22, ISO 6400)

The extreme ISO 6400 maxed out my camera, as I wasn’t using flash, and wanted a high aperture to make sure everything was in focus, front to back, top to bottom. However, after downloading the picture and seeing the poor image quality, it looked as if there was little chance of redemption. I usually avoid ISO higher than 200 if at all possible, because I hate the low quality pictures it can produce, but I wanted to see if Lightroom can, when pushed to the limit, correct the problem, at least to an extent where it makes the image acceptable if not ready for sale.

(1/100, f/22, ISO 6400)

Size

Original: 3456 x 5184
Cropped: 2500 x 2500

Detail

Sharpening

120
1.0
25
0

The sharpness was cranked up high, but not to the limit.

Noise Reduction

100
50
0
0

Noise Reduction at its limit.

Effects

Post-Crop Vignetting
+100
+22
+100
+97

Dazzling Dahlias: Lightroom and Photoshop: Tips for Centering Crops, Image Isolation, and Color Consistency

Flowers, Lightroom, Software, Tips

 

Dahlia (1/800, f/5.6, ISO 100)

Introduction

1. The Best Crop Guide for Centering

2. Subject Isolation Surprise in Photoshop

3. Removing Red to Make a Clean Pink in Lightroom

Introduction

In 2013, for the first time I wanted to try growing dahlias, possibly at the advice of my gardener (I forget). On October 23, 2013 I ordered several different kinds of dahlias from Veseys. I got the Red Jill Pompon Dahlia; Mom’s Special; Wizard of Oz; Santa Claus Dinner Plate; Babylon Bronze Dinner Plate; and Brigitta Alida.

On Sept. 1, 2014, I photographed the ones that grew well and looked good. In 2017, I wanted to edit two or three dahlia pictures to put up for sale on FineArtAmerica.com. In my image library, I saw a pink dahlia, but its ISO was higher than I wanted, so I looked around and found an ISO 100.

(1/800, f/5.6, ISO 320)

(1/800, f/5.6, ISO 100)

The photoshoot wasn’t too serious; the dahlia had been placed in a glass. However, the background was mostly light, in high contrast with the flower’s edges, so not a likely problem to isolate. Even so, this edit had some surprises, and a few things to learn.

I used to try and do entire isolation edits in Lightroom (LR). Now I use Photoshop (PS) for the speed and flexibility it allows for tonal editing in Lightroom.

1. The Best Crop Guide for Centering

In Lightroom I used to eyeball an image when cropping to get it centered. But this time I happened to have the guide set to the busiest grid, instead of thirds, and as I cropped, I noticed it evenly spaces the outermost lines, enabling the centering process to be more accurate and faster. (Keep pressing the ‘O’ key to cycle through different grids to get this one; it’s the last one, “Grid Pattern.”)

2. Subject Isolation Surprise in Photoshop

The Wand tool selected what appeared at first to be almost everything in the background, but using the Quick Mask Mode (toggle “Q”) showed it missed a few parts on the edges. That wasn’t a surprise.

The surprise was two chunks by the lower left part of the flower background had not been selected and they weren’t visible. The Brush tool cleaned this up quickly. It seems the Quick Mask Mode check is essential to guarantee reliable quality to the final edition.

3. Removing Red to Make One Color Consistent in Lightroom

For some reason during editing, the central part of the flower looked slightly red while the rest was dark pink. The color difference didn’t help the image; some buyers might have noticed whereas others might not. In any case, the fix was simple: isolate and block the red. Color > Red > Hue -100.

Editing Flowers in Lightroom: Before and After: Cleaning the Border and Fixing Petals

Flowers, Lightroom, Software, Tips

After: Macro of yellow flowers in naturally elegant floral arrangement (1/200 F/7.1 ISO 100)

Before

Unedited, this macro has a decent crop, but still isn’t great. Further cropping would be too tight, so the choices are to make the crop less tight, or edit the edges. I didn’t want the subject to be further away, so I opted for editing, especially when there wasn’t much to edit. The bottom in the middle has a blurred yellow section which got removed by a stroke of the brush using the Healing tool (K). Same again on the left side near the bottom.

The spider’s web disappears quickly with three strokes, using a small brush size, and sourcing from image just beside the web. The bright spot on the lowest petal of the entire picture is gone by one edit to match surrounding color. The toughest editing challenge is the petal that has parts cut out. You could probably edit this in Photoshop, copying, pasting, and rotating a similar petal from elsewhere in the shot, but I didn’t plan to try and sell this. I wanted to see if the photo would look acceptable by blending the edges.

Lightroom edit points

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.