A Quick Guide to Flower Photography

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Spring is in the air, and the first flowers of late winter have already bloomed. So maybe it is time for a quick tour about flower photography. Apart from the artistic appeal flowers have on a human mind, it is one of the first subjects we are drawn to when we begin in photography. Flowers are relatively patient customers that seldom move and that can provide beautiful photographs if you take time to think a little bit about how to do it.

A Quick Guide to Flower Photography Rose Saint Leger

 

What is a Flower?

A strange question isn’t it? But wait for the answer that may surprise you.
First of all, flowers have different parts and you will have to know which part you want to focus on. Is your flower photograph about petals? About the core? About the way it achieves balance on its stem? The leaves and the thorns that may be there too sometimes? There will be a different perspective, a different subject and a different story depending on the choice you make at this stage. With just one flower you can experiment with a lot of different photographs.
Yellow Bloom Rose Saint Leger

Petals are about shapes and texture and colours. You can focus on texture, or on colour depending on the way you manage contrast and clarity. You can notice the different textures between a full bloomed flower and a fading flower. Colours do change too in the process of decaying.
Cores are about centres and the way texture must adapt to a round surface. Is your flower at the end of its life? Are the mature seeds visible?
Stems are about posing, balance, and straight lines.
Leaves and thorns add interest to the picture with more shapes and more colours.
Does the flower stand alone? It is a bunch? A floor in the wild? Is there an interesting background?
Notice the relation from flower to flower, the way they interact.

What do you want to show?

 

Techniques

There is no right technique. It all depends on what you want to convey.

Most of the time a flower picture is in macro. But macro just mean that the scale of the picture is larger than the real life subject and you don’t always need a macro lens to achieve that. A simple close up with a shallow depth of field may do the trick.

Jasmine buds in early Spring

You’ll have to turn around your subject, see the best angle to render the best of what you want to show and what you chose to focus on. At the same time pay attention to light. Which atmosphere do you wish to have on your photograph? The joy of a sunny day or the melancholy of a fading flower?

On shooting and on post-production, you’ll have to keep in mind the issue of blur and sharpness. Which parts need blur? Which parts need to be sharp? The same goes for contrast and clarity and softness. Always have a purpose.


Storytelling

Do you take a flower picture to tell a story or just for art’s sake?
Stories depend on elements that you put there on purpose but also on things that are already there even if you don’t notice.
The context in which you put your flower will tell a different story whether it is in the wild or in a still life photography. Is it a nature picture? Is it about the way human coded life chose to do with it?
The season is a part of the context, and adds atmosphere to the picture. Is it a blooming from late Winter? from rainy Spring? from full sun in Summer? Each season has its own underlying unconscious story to tell and this add twists into the storytelling.

Mimosa Rose Saint LegerAt which stage of maturity do you choose to take a picture? When it’s in a bud? In full bloom? Fading? This also adds a sense of storyline to your photo.

The flower species may tell something different too. We all know about flower language. We all know the meaning of offering red roses. There is a tradition but you can understand different emotions from flower specie to flower specie because of its colours and shapes and the way it grows. Wild flowers convey a different emotion that flower shop flowers for example.

The pose of a flower and the context often lead to an unconscious comparison. Flowers are women in disguise, you can feel their beauty, their fragility sometimes, the smiling joy of their bright colours, or the modesty of their pastel soft tones. The pose of a stem may show a movement, a longing towards something, or a retreating, a stillness or the urge to bloom even more and take a new leap to a new life.

So what are flowers?
Flowers are the most extravagant part of a plant or a tree or a herb. Flowers are immodest beings displaying their secret intimacy to be seen, smelt and touched. They are our opposite. We hide our intimacy, we keep it secret, we share it in private. Flowers are the reproductive organs of a plant. And we gather these beautiful genitals in bunches, we love them, we are moved by the cheeky way nature displays them in beautiful sceneries, we love their perfume, and … we offer them to those we love.

 

My pinterest board about Spring

My pinterest board about Summer

The flower collection cards and prints :

Picture Me Dead

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I’ve tried to have a deeper look and I admit I gave it more thoughts than exploration, because this Victorian box is a hard one to open. One picture, two pictures… and it seems it is more than enough. Or is it? We all have a dark side, haven’t we? One more picture. And another. Then the finger stops scrolling.

There is something fascinating and repulsive in these old vintage feelings. Photographing dead relatives was a habit from days gone by and it may never return. It may sound reassuring but the discomfort lingers. That’s why I chose not to display post mortem photography on this post but provide links at the end of it because I understand it may be an unpleasant view for the sensitive or the unprepared. In our day and age, this activity would seem creepy, morbid, weird.

So, the number one question is: why? Why did they do it? Were they so different from us?

The Early Days Of Photography

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The first photograph of Queen Victoria with one of her daughters

Queen Victoria accessed to the throne in 1837 while the photographic process was being worked on and improved, until 1839 when portraits were taken for the first time. The Victorian era is also the era of the early days of photography. Queen Victoria was photographed several times, alone or with her family, which makes her the first monarch to be documented with such accuracy and likeness.

And that’s what photography was for at the beginning, a process that would render a perfect likeness to what was represented.

A new middle class emerged during the 19th century due to the Industrial Revolution and photography became more and more popular. But it was expensive and families didn’t have a camera at home. Photographers were technicians and chemists and you had to hire one of them when you wanted to be photographed. Needless to say, most people couldn’t afford it. So, if you had never been photographed during your lifetime, the day you died was the day, or never.

It took several seconds to take a photograph in those times, and you were required to stay still. Maybe that’s why they seldom smiled. What’s striking is that the dead person seems more alive than his/her relatives in some pictures, because of the long exposure time, the living blurred and the dead sharper and more present. So maybe they thought that being dead was the best time to be photographed and recorded in a family book, though it may seem such a strange idea for us.

Death And The Victorians

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Women mourning

Recorded… yes that’s the idea. The Victorian era is also the era of the dawn of many scientific fields, when interests were raised to the status of science: history as objective as possible with new archaeological findings, the new craze for the Egyptian mummies, the deciphering of the Rosetta stone, anthropology and natural science with the publication of The Origin of Species by Darwin in 1859 for example, and other subjects in which you had to record, label and classify.

Post mortem photography became more and more widespread in a society at the crossroads between puritan culture and the new sciences. An interesting mixture between two ingredients that were thought to be incompatible. Maybe they pictured their dead relatives in the state of mind of this period, as a memory, a keepsake, a homage, the way we display remnants of life gone away in cabinets of curiosity, and they made special portfolios for it, the Book of the Dead of the family.

That’s true that the death rate was still high in those days. Death was everywhere to be feared. There was a higher death rate, especially among children and infants, and it was a common thing to die in your prime. The death of a child is one of the biggest fear for parents, but in those days, most families experienced it at least once. And those of you who have already made genealogical research know it better than anybody else. They also kept their dead at home until the funeral. There was a great imagery around mourning, with many symbols and customs. And one of the most famous mourners was Queen Victoria herself.

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Victorian mourning jewellery made with human hairlocks

Her husband, Albert, died in 1861, and for the following 40 years until her own death, Victoria was the black queen, the queen in mourning. So, I don’t think any more they had such a strange habit photographing their dead relatives, because people lived with death, it was a tragedy to be expected, it was a part of their life.

This is also the century when new kinds of literature emerged or prospered, the gothic novel who began between 1760s and 1820s, the romantic revival until 1830s, Edgar Allan Poe around 1850, the first English detective story The Moonstone in 1868 etc. This is a period marked by Dracula and Jack the Ripper. Maybe there is a cause and effect reason for it, maybe they tried to master death by writing and reading about it in a new way, in a way where a real cause could be identified, a murderer, a predator, something or someone you could lay the blame on. Photography was also used for the first time by the police and in forensics, post mortem photographs started to be used as a tool to solve mysteries, and the Jack the Ripper case is a famous example.

What About Us?

We no longer feel death lurking as they did before. People still experience tragedy in their life of course, but the permanency of death has ended for people living in our kind of cultures. We have specialists that take care of dead bodies, we seldom keep the dead at home, and most of the time we think of death as an extraordinary event that shouldn’t be. Nevertheless, we are still fascinated by it, we still watch horror movies, thrillers, detective series and we kill people on video games. But they are anonymous dead, people invented or people far and away like those we hear about in the news. That’s why post mortem photography looks so weird for us because they were about people you did know while they were alive.

Though this is an unwelcomed relic from our ancestors, a creepy testimony for the generations ahead, no other period in history has shown such an interest about death and mourning than the Victorian era, and it still inspires some subsets of the gothic culture, tv dramas, and movies.
Look at these pictures, look at these dead people pretending to be alive and let them whisper to your ear ‘remember that you will die… too’.

So many questions arise that, first and foremost, it may tell us more about ourselves and our own response than about them. Is everything worth shooting? Should we draw a limit and decide what NOT to show? Would you hire a funeral photographer if there was such a thing?

My Pinterest board about Victorian post mortem photography

Other boards about post mortem photography

The Colours of Twilight

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Though this picture, Down the Lake, represents a lake at twilight, it looks more or less abstract to me. Abstract photography or painting is based on colour palette and/or composition and the viewer has more freedom as far as the interpretation is concerned.

Twilight is the moment between sunset and night. It is divided into different phases according to science data, but for the photographer, the most striking  characteristics of this time of the day are its unusual colours.

At sunset, the sky becomes darker and darker as the sun is going down little by little on the horizon. The sky is orange and red, the typical hues of sunset pictures.

Rambling at Dusk

Then orange colour still lingers on the horizon line for a time, but the sky is no longer red. Twilight colours are now displayed. The sky may be an intense blue and the sun illuminates the sky from below the horizon. The sky may have several bands of colours : purple, blue, remains of orange, and pink. This strange pink colour is always on the east, that’s to say, opposite the setting sun (on the west). This phenomenon appears only when the weather is fine.

Twilight is a magical hour, a fleeting moment to capture right away. Hesitate, run to fetch your camera and it may be too late.

Down the Lake

20 Autumn Quotes to Inspire your Photography

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20 Autumn Quotes to Inspire your Photography

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.”  Stanley Horowitz

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.Albert Camus

A tangerine and russet cascade of kaleidoscopic leaves, creates a tapestry of autumn magic upon the emerald carpet of fading summer.Judith A. Lindberg

Soon we will plunge ourselves into cold shadows, and all of summer’s stunning afternoons will be gone. I already hear the dead thuds of logs below falling on the cobblestones and the lawn.” Charles Baudelaire

A September to remember. An October full of splendor. A November to treasure.” La Prevenchere

Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.William Cullen

Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.Emily Bronte

Autumn Leaves

It looked like the world was covered in a cobbler crust of brown sugar and cinnamon.Sarah Addison Allen

Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves, We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!Humbert Wolfe

Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.Jim Bishop

Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard.Walt Whitman

Fall colors are funny. They’re so bright and intense and beautiful. It’s like nature is trying to fill you up with color, to saturate you so you can stockpile it before winter turns everything muted and dreary.Siobhan Vivian

Autumn that year painted the countryside in vivid shades of scarlet, saffron and russet, and the days were clear and crisp under harvest skies.Sharon Kay Penman

The smell of burning firewood and the molding of organic, earthy substances reminded her of jumping wildly into the enormous leaf piles of autumns past and she suddenly wished that it was appropriate for someone her age to do such a thing.Abby Slovin

November Storm

The fallen leaves in the forest seemed to make even the ground glow and burn with lightMalcolm Lowry

Nothing dies as beautifully as autumn.Ashlee Willis

Anyone who thinks fallen leaves are dead has never watched them dancing on a windy day.Shira Tamir

I am made for autumn. Summer and I have a fickle relationship, but everything about autumn is perfect to me. Wooly jumpers, Wellington boot, scarves, thin first, then thick, socks. The low slanting light, the crisp mornings, the chill in my fingers, those last warm sunny days before the rain and the wind. Her moody hues and subdued palate punctuated every now and again by a brilliant orange, scarlet or copper goodbye. She is my true love.Alys Fowler

The heat of autumn is different from the heat of summer. One ripens apples, the other turns them to cider.Jane Hirshfield

The multicolored leaves were softly glowing against the black sky, creating an untimely nocturnal rainbow which scattered its spectral tints everywhere and dyed the night with a harvest of hues: peach gold and pumpkin orange, honey yellow and winy amber, apple red and plum violet. Luminous within their leafy shapes, the colors cast themselves across the darkness and were splattered upon our streets and our fields and our faces. Everything was resplendent with the pyrotechnics of a new autumn.Thomas Ligotti

Harmony in Three Colours

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Some colours may be harmonious when they are displayed together and some may not. The human eye can perceive harmony or disharmony right away as it is a natural instinctive response. We don’t have to think about it to judge it. I haven’t researched on the origin of this response but, even if it is cultural, it has been so conditioned that it has become natural.
It seems that harmony is related to the notion of order and disharmony to disorder. So colours that are harmonious must belong to a scheme. And if they are too different from a scheme, they would be seen as disharmonious.

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The Stone

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“Many facets, like a diamond. A diamond that nobody can see as a whole. Some will see one facet, others a second facet but will be blind to the first one that his neighbour can see. I meet you and one of my sides is shining more. Some see only the defects, others see only the purity of the stone. I’m each and every side, I’m the purity and the defect, I’m an outside brilliance and a hidden mystery… Some facets are like mirrors and you think you know me while you only see you own reflection…
I’d like to meet somebody who knows the secret of unity, whose eyes can see beyond what they grasp at first sight. Somebody who will know and understand I can be one thing and another at the same time, one thing and its opposite on the same moment… somebody who won’t be scared away by the dark defect he guesses through a thinner part of me, who won’t be blinded by the most sparkling ideas he guesses beneath the surface. Somebody who will be wise enough to let me show what I want to hide, who will be able to witness the alchemy working on me, from darkness to the purest clarity. Wise enough to let oblivion settles on outdated memories of who I used to be.
A dream of a constant rebirthing day after day, an unseen mutation into an unknown state of mind… no change is death… one track mind is vicious circle… I feel the infinity of life through my soul and through my body, and I cannot but let it display all the varieties of its crystallized energy.”

Secrets in the Darkroom

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20 best photo manipulations before Photoshop
If you think that Photoshop has changed everything, maybe you need to be  introduced to the masters of the darkroom. Before the digital era, skilled photographers did dodge and burn like we do it now digitally, they did combine several negative plates in order to make a new photograph, they did airbrush, literally, to paint or ink over retouched areas, they did mask, they did erase unwanted objects or shapes, they scratched, they painted and drew over the photographs to add details to overexposed areas for example. Photo manipulation has existed nearly since the invention of photography, earlier examples being from the Victorian era. Spirit photography, fantastic creepy photography, people with their heads off,  were all the rage back then. Then surrealists and the dada movement used photomanipulation a lot. Propaganda used it a lot too and some dictators erased people they didn’t like from the pictures for example. Then advertising and fashion photography needed this art from the early stage.

So, take a tour.. here are 20 photos, altered or manipulated before the digital era and the widespread use of Photoshop.

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Cornucopia

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‘Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness’.. that’s the way the poem goes.. Season of Thanksgiving and harvest festivals.. Season of the Olde Horn of Plenty and the myths of the bountiful Mother Earth.. Times have changed and we no longer need to store food and prepare ourselves for the long and dark winter days.. But let’s imagine it for a day, back when there were no such things as supermarkets, year-round-greenhouses and global market.. Can you smell the jam being made in a copper pan? Can you smell the spices of the chutneys being poured into jars? Can you feel the first cool breeze on your cheeks while you’re piling chunks of wood in the shed? Can you see the dark settling earlier and earlier day after day behind the windows? Can you taste the first autumn dishes of the year, and can you feel the burning of the hot steaming drinks in your hands? Can you fear death spreading over the land while trees shed their leaves and the soil becomes barren? Can you fear for your own health? Can you feel the comfort of a full cellar and kitchen? Can you pray for the light to come back?

These days, autumn holidays still celebrate this moment of transition between light and dark, warm and cold, fertility and death. And we gather together at beautifully laid tables, and we carve pumpkins in remembrance of days gone by.

http://www.redbubble.com/people/rosesaintleger/shop

Cornucopia

 

The Art of Cropping

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Aspect ratio, or format, in photography is the proportions of the frame, the relationship between the width and the height of the picture. It depends on the sensor of the camera, but in our digital age, it can be changed in the settings in some types of DSLRs. And it is not without consequences. A picture may be better in a different format and one of the editing techniques is to change the aspect ratio if it’s needed by cropping the picture.

This post will deal with the main formats – there are a lot of others – and with their effects in the storytelling.

4:3
Kitten in the GrassHistory : It’s the former traditional TV format and a traditional format in photography.

Effect : Horizontal and vertical lines are balanced, though not equal. The effect is more or less neutral. In the landscape orientation, the horizontal plane is emphasized but the vertical plane keeps a significance too. In the portrait orientation, verticality is emphasized but the subject has enough space on both sides.

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When Bad is Good

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We all had to cope with badly focused pictures, an unwanted shaking, or a bad setting. And what we thought would be a great photo is just a big failure. But sometimes during the culling process, there are some of them that we just can’t get rid of. We like them. With their defects. We like the poetry showing through the blur, the mysterious emotion we feel nevertheless..

Night at Sea

bokeh flower

moving selfie

The Colours of Light

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At the beginning, there was light. And black and white photography has emphasized the lines born out of light, the shapes emerging from darkness. Or is it darkness which carves the world out of light? We no longer know. They are the basic complementary building blocks of our perception, so intertwined that we cannot think about one without the other. The shadows and the highlights, the blacks and the whites, and all the palette of grays.
In black and white photography we grope our way in a world of forms, textures, matters. The world is well grounded, things are in order.

light-experimentThen, by a twist of the elements a new energy pours into these forms, and a new dimension arises : colours. They lay there, in the tiny display of the visible light for the human eye in the whole known electromagnetic spectrum – that’s to say, the fragmentation of light into wave lengths. We see these visible wave lengths as colours, and this small band is represented by the rainbow. But there are more than meet the eye. Invisible wave lengths flood the world of their invisible lights, and colours maybe. But the human eye seems not to perceive them and our brain is unable to decipher their presence. What we see is not the whole picture. There are also the infrareds, the micro waves, the radio waves, the ultraviolets, the X rays and the gamma rays, as far as we know.

RainbowAll the coloured beams light all the things around us. But for us, each object has a distinctive colour. If an object is red, for example, it is because red light is rejected, so to speak, from the surface of this object and the other colours are absorbed by it. We can only see refracted colours. How are the real surface of things? What are their intrinsic colour, if any? We can’t know, because we can’t see in the dark. And your camera can’t either. As a matter of fact, cameras don’t record colours. They record light and shadows. Colour photography needs devices to interpret shades of gray and match these shades with the corresponding colours. But it is a translation, an interpretation. That’s why colour hues, in photography, are so characteristic of an era, because techniques and inventions had to include this particular process of interpreting colours, and this interpretation has evolved over time.

Light and colours are not separate entities. They are one and the same. The way we see the world around us is the result of a network of interactions involving sunlight, matters and the way their surface deals with light, and more significantly, our eyes and our brain.

Super Moon 2014

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This super moon 2014 was photographed all around the world and you can find many links dealing with it and showcasing the best pictures.

I had a try at photographing it too. It is actually not so difficult once you know why most of candid pictures of the moon are so blurry and displaying just a white big dot on the sky. If you want to experiment shooting the moon, you must first cope with the light. It is night but, though moonlight is indirect, it is very bright and you end up with highlights only. You must use a filter on your lense, the  same kind of filter as if you were shooting in full sun. Longest zoom range.. Now you’re ready. Last point to be aware of is that the moon is not still. It moves at fast speed even if you don’t see it with your naked eye and you will be unable to have a steady shot if you don’t use a very quick shutter speed. Now you’re done. A bit of contrast and exposition adjustment on the computer and here it is. Happy with the result as it was my first successful picture of the moon.

Super Moon

Lady Autumn

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At this time of the year leaves are undergoing a metamorphosis and green slowly turns into warm colours. But what you may not know is that Nature is like a lady taking off her clothes for the evening show. Colours don’t change.

leaves log

The pigment responsible for the green colour fades away as the amount of light decreases. This process reveals the underlying colours, yellow and orange shades, which have always been there.
Then when only half of the green pigments still lingers, the leaves add red and purple shades to their beauty. This is the last dance before dying and the decay process.

Leaves basket

At this stage brown shades are more prevalent, because they are the colours of the walls in the leaves, and slowly show through when pigments wash away.
As cold settles in the country and as days shorten, cold colours of summer change into warm colours to bring that cosy feeling we like so much. A last touch of warmth before the next season.

Late Autumn