I love this time of year. The days are getting longer, the temperature is on the rise, and all around me, flowers are starting to bloom. This is a great opportunity to grab a camera and capture some of the natural beauty around us, whether it's in your backyard, at the local park, or along a hiking trail just out of town. Recently, I've explained some general-purpose photo tricks like "A Fast Trick to Salvage an Underexposed Photo" and "Four Easy Tricks for Better Photos." This week, let's focus on tips for capturing some great flower photos--they are a great addition to the advice I gave last year on photographing spring flowers.

Know When to Get in Close

More often than not, flowers look their best when you get in close, which often calls for using a macro lens or dialing in the macro setting on your camera. Macro mode lets you get very close to your subject, filling the frame with small details. If you have a point-and-shoot camera, the macro setting is generally marked with a tulip. Digital SLR owners have the option of adding a macro lens to their camera.

As I discussed in my spring flowers article last year, shooting in macro mode can be challenging because the depth of field is so narrow--and the closer you get to the subject, the smaller your region of sharp focus will be. That can sometimes be an advantage because it blurs the background so you can emphasize your subject, the flower. But this narrow depth of field also means you need to think carefully about your composition.

If you have a lot of depth in the shot, the stuff closest or farthest from the lens will be blurry, depending upon where you focus.

However, you might also consider not working in macro mode at all. Many cameras allow you to get reasonably close to your subject (within a foot or so) even in normal focusing mode, and you'll have a lot more depth of field if you keep some distance. That makes it easier to ensure everything that's important to you stays in focus.

Choose Your Background

If you're really close to the flower, your background will often blur away into oblivion thanks to the narrow depth of field. But there's more you can do to set the mood for your photo. You might try shooting against a background that complements your subject's key color. Many photographers carry a piece of poster board or foam board with them when they shoot flowers. You can prop up the board some distance behind the flower, or ask an assistant to hold it for you (I recommend having one or more kids for just this reason). Just be sure that the board is far enough away that it is completely out of focus. If your camera has a depth of field preview button, as do most digital SLRs (at the base of the lens), press it to assess if the board is far enough away. If you can't preview depth of field ahead of time, take a test shot and preview the photo in the LCD.

What color should you use? That's up to you. Many photographers like to pose flowers against white backgrounds, but you can also have a lot of success shooting against black, blue, or the same shade as the flower itself, like a red background for roses.

Another cool trick: You don't need to bring a poster board with you. The foliage around your flower can make a lush green backdrop. And if you shoot from under the flower, up towards the sky, you can get a gorgeous blue or overexpose the sky so it's white, like a giant piece of foam board.

Block the Wind

There's another great reason to bring a board with you: To keep the wind from blowing your flowers around. If it's gusty, you'll encounter one of the biggest challenges of floral photography, which is how to freeze the action. A large square of poster board can be positioned in front of the headwind, though, which will keep your subject still enough to capture.

I know some photographers who use small clips to hold flower stems in place, but I don't like that approach--it's too easy to injure the flowers.

Underexpose a Bit

Finally, I should point out that it's easy to confuse your camera's exposure meter when shooting stuff out in nature. This sort of thing happens all the time; snow, for example, is notorious for baffling camera meters. The fluffy stuff tends to come out grey instead of white.

Flowers cause their own troubles. The rich red that you see in roses, for example, can oversaturate your camera meter and lead to photos that are overexposed with weak colors. I've found that underexposing red flowers by about a stop can restore the deep reds that you see with your own eyes.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Great news! For a limited time (from March 1 till August 31, 2012), Hot Pic of the Week winners will receive one free downloadable copy of Corel PaintShop Pro X4.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 800 by 600 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "In Dew Time" by Greg Gustafson, Cocoa, Florida

Greg writes: "I saw this just as I was about to leave for work. I noticed the sun coming through this spider's web, covered in dew, and just had to go back and get my camera to get a shot of it."

Greg used a Sony SLT-A55 with a 210mm zoom lens. He relied on a large aperture to blur the background.

This week's runner-up: "Reflections" by Eric Hoar, Springvale, Maine

Eric writes: "There has been precious little snow here in southern Maine this winter, so the challenge has been to take interesting winter pictures without the white stuff. This image is a late-afternoon reflection of birch trees and scrub oaks on the Mousam River in Sanford, Maine."

Eric used a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8.

To see winners for April, visit last month's Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.