Red iris with water drops (1/800 F/2.8 ISO 100) ^ 1200 x 1200
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the first picture above, the iris isn’t even open fully but already it has spiderwebs on it.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.