Working with florals throws up many challenges but perhaps one of the most surprising is the reluctance to cut stems! Florists have long known the importance of conditioning flowers to keep them looking their best. However, as a floral photographer, my job is slightly different. My principal aim is to maximise the creative opportunities available to me through the use of the flowers I have at hand.
As a floral photographer, who styles my own work, I've cut thousands of stems over the years. Beginners often ask for styling tips, and to be honest the best advice I can give is to understand the importance of cutting down stems. This isn’t simply to condition your flowers, nor is it to sustain their beauty, it’s to provide a series of styling opportunities.
Regardless of whether you're buying your own flowers, or using those that have been gifted to you, they'll most likely come on long stems. These long stems help keep the flower head alive, acting as straws full of vital water on their journey to you.
There's little value in the stems...
If you're serious about learning how to style and photograph florals you need to make friends with the secateurs. Cutting stems can feel wasteful as a mound of green foliage, stripped leaves and excessive stems are stripped away. However, the sooner you embrace the 'snip' of the garden secateurs the more diverse and interesting your work will become.
The hardest realisation is that in the pursuit of photographing flowers you're going to have to play with them, handle them and cut those precious stems! The sad truth is that ultimately you're going to destroy them! It's heartbreaking I know, but it's a process of elimination until you're finally left with the flower head itself. So, if you’re seeking to build a diverse body of work, whereby you photograph flowers in different arrangements and set-ups, you'll have to start thinking about your florals differently.
When I work, I often think of flowers as ingredients. Ingredients that I mix and combine in order to create something better, something more beautiful, something to enjoy and share with others as I transform them into a lasting digital image.
So where to begin…
Professionally grown flowers are expensive, so it’s important to maximise their creative potential to the end. I suggest taking a look at my three stage approach.
The Three Stage Approach allows you to maximise the creative opportunities one collection of florals provides.
The Three Stage Approach...
1) Firstly, start out creating a standard flatlay, a hand-tied or a high-stemmed display. This will allow you to familiarise yourself with the flowers you have before cutting is required. This may sound obvious, but you can't stick the stems back together once they're cut, so afford yourself a little time to style them at this stage. You'll soon realise there is more to be gained from cutting them shorter.
2) Next, move on to cutting the stems down to about 20cms, you'll now need to think more creatively and start 'building' your arrangement. Use a ball of loose chicken-wire, or a florist's Frog, to help lodge and hold the shorter stems in place. Both can be hidden in the base of a vase or vessel.
TIP: I start by building my arrangements from the back to the front, and from the bottom to the top, it's a personal preference to layering up, but I find it helps me 'place' my hero flowers in the right position for photographing.
Remember, as a photographer, you’re not in the business of creating lasting displays, your job is to maximise every styling opportunity that creates diversity and choice within your portfolio.
3) Finally, my third stage is to cut stems very short, or remove them altogether! This leaves me with just the flower heads, from this stage there is no turning back! Flower heads are brilliant for creating flower carpets and detailed close-ups.
After I’ve finished working, sadly some of the flowers may end up bruised and damaged. I still find it hard to discard them so I’ll either dry them or float them in a shallow bowl of water. At least this way I can enjoy their beauty for a few more days before the water discolours the petals.
A Finally Thought
Although I'm frequently asked about styling, it has to be said there is no shortcut that beats a practical hands-on approach. You can learn from books, videos and blog posts but nothing will get you there quicker than experimenting for yourself.
Before you start I recommend a little planning. Think through what you're trying to accomplish and the aesthetic your wish to create. Set aside some time to allow yourself to source the right props, backdrops and accessories. Another tip is to switch these out as you shoot so that not every set-up looks too same.
Support in numbers
Now, is the perfect time to join my Facebook group where I'll be running monthly Creative Prompts and Challenges. Join and share in a community that’s just as passionate about florals as you are. Share work, gain ideas and support each other, as well as being able to ask your own questions directly to the group.
Bloom - Let’s Grow Together - new admissions every month rolling forward. Join today - it’s 100% free.