Flower Photography for a Rainy Day

Purple and white violet (viola).
A flower to photograph when it’s too wet and windy outdoors.

The weather has been quite wild here over the last week – very windy and wet too. (A huge change from the spring-like sunshine of late February.) So there has been no chance for anything staying still enough to take photographs outdoors.

Luckily, I have some plants in pots that have been sitting in the conservatory while they’re waiting for the ground to dry out enough for them to be planted in the garden. (There’s been a lovely scent of violets and primulas in there – I’ll miss it when the plants do go outside.)

I took the violet into my little studio space and set up my lights and a white background. It was only after I’d taken a few photos that I realised I had company…the unfortunate little violets had become home to some greenfly. It’s amazing how much more you can see in a close-up photograph compared to just looking straight at something. Now I have some nice sharp shots of greenfly, but somehow I don’t think they’ll be very useful to me! It didn’t take long to dust the wee devils off with a soft artists’ paintbrush. (Usually it’s cat hairs that I have to brush off – they can be practically invisible until you look at the photo magnified on the PC monitor.)

Centre of a violet.
The yellow and black centre of this violet makes me think of a bee.

You can see violets planted all over the place at this time of year in the UK. They’re cheap to buy and easily available everywhere, so they do get pretty much taken for granted. But I do love the colours, especially the way they blend into each other, giving a soft, almost watercolour effect.

Having the plant indoors made it easy to keep the flowers still while they were being photographed. When you’re working outdoors, movement in the slightest breeze is a big problem with macro photography.  The area of focus is so shallow that it takes very little to take your flower out of focus and, if you’re not watching carefully, it can be easy to miss the fact that the flower has moved.

Spending an afternoon indoors, taking photographs with plenty of light and being able to keep warm and dry felt like quite a luxury. However, there a flowers out in the garden that are still waiting for their chance to be photographed…so I’m hoping for some better weather next week!

High-key photograph of violets.
Playing with a high-key effect with these violets…

Winter Jewels

Frosted Agapanthus seed-head
Frost has made a miniature sculpture from an agapanthus seed-head.

There have been a few frosty mornings recently. This morning’s was one of the heaviest frosts so far, the other was on Christmas Day. Both were still and silent, as if the cold was somehow transfixing not just the frosted plants, but sound and movement too.

These are the mornings that feel special in the winter garden. Camera in hand, it’s time to explore this frozen world of new creations. Old seed-heads and dead foliage are transformed into glittering sculptures that will last only until the sun erases them. It’s an ephemeral world – cold and quiet and unfamiliar.

Frosted allium seed-heads
Frost has created tiny firework bursts from these alliums

I always hope that some of the more interesting seed-heads will last long enough to become frosted. This year the weather has been kinder than most winters and there has been little in the way of strong winds or heavy rain. So the seed heads of agapanthus and alliums have kept their frail structures intact and are even holding onto quite a few of their seeds still.

It’s exciting to find out what the frost has been up to in the garden. There are all sorts of little gems waiting to inspire a close-up photograph. The cold makes it hard to linger for long, but it’s worthwhile. For the work of the frost has made it possible to photograph something delicate and transient and, once winter has gone, it will be a long time before the opportunity returns.

Hydrangea petiolaris with frost.
Hydrangea petiolaris with a light touch of frost.

It doesn’t take a lot of frost to create something to photograph. The plants in the centre of the garden, where it is more open, get a lot of frost but those towards the edges are sheltered by fences and evergreen shrubs. The climbing hydrangea in the photo above has a fairly protected position. But its dead flower-head has had enough frost to line the edges and pick out the veins of the larger petals. The tiny flowers in the centre of the head have been turned to lace – an effect that will vanish as soon as the frost melts.

Wild carrot (Daucus carota) covered with frost
Wild carrot (Daucus) was sown late to catch the frost

Sometimes there are still a few flowers left in the garden for the frost to embellish. I had sown some wild carrot seeds much later than normal, in the hope that the plants might still be around when the frosts came. So the frost turned the flowers that were left on the plants into little ice-encrusted embroideries, just waiting to be photographed up close.

Other flowers aren’t really supposed to be around when the heavy frosts arrive. The Anemone coronaria below was too eager to flower. (Last year’s flowers were much later – probably sometime in February.) The mild weather in December persuaded them to put in an early appearance but the flowers couldn’t last long once things turned more wintry. Never mind! The flower may have ‘gone over’ quickly but for just a short time, the frost has turned it into something wonderful, and allowed it to add a little magic to the garden.

Anemone coronaria, covered in frost
This Anemone coronaria flowered very early and got thoroughly frosted.

Summer Memories

pink hollyhock
Sunlight shines through these petals as if they were stained glass.

I’ve been transferring my photo files over to a new PC, so it has given a chance to look through images that haven’t been seen for a while. Among them was this set of hollyhock pictures which were taken on a long-ago summer evening.

We hadn’t been living here in Suffolk for long and still felt relatively new in the area. It was a warm evening with the sun still shining over the water meadows that run along one side of the town, so Hubby suggested that we should go for a walk. We decided to wander along the river and by some of the old cottages along its bank.

One of the cottages had a little bit of garden at the side that had been taken over by hollyhocks – they looked as if they had just seeded themselves wherever they fancied. The tall spires were spilling out of the garden and dotted along the side of the path. Luckily I had taken my camera…….

A pink hollyhock flower
Pale veins stand out against the bright pink of this hollyhock.

For some reason, there was never the chance to photograph hollyhocks while I lived in Scotland. Some gardeners must grow them there but I don’t remember seeing them in Scottish gardens. (Maybe because they seem too tall and vulnerable for the rougher weather there – the winds can get quite fierce.) Here, though, they are everywhere. They’re a real ‘English cottage garden’ plant and an essential part of summer.

We now have a few in our own garden and they seem to be replacing themselves with their own seedlings. This means I never know what colours may come up – usually pink but there have been other colours – yellow and a deep, dark purply-red.

cream hollyhock
The dark centre is a strong contrast to the translucent petals.

The hollyhocks were a treat to photograph. Their petals were so thin and delicate that it was easy to capture the evening sun passing through them. The light made them vibrant. It showed up the marking of the veins on their petals and the jewel-like colours, especially those with the dark ‘halo’ in the centre.

Looking at the photographs now, they bring back happy memories of summertime and an evening spent exploring our new home town. They’re a reminder, too, that it won’t be so long before next summer is on the way!

A reddish-pink hollyhock flower
Brings back memories of a warm summer evening….

Seed-heads – Textural Interest in the Garden

Pasque flower (Pulsatilla) seed-head
Pasque Flower seed-heads have a silky softness.

After flowers fade in the garden, there’s a certain feeling of loss, of knowing that they have disappeared for another year. But some plants have something more to give the garden – attractive seed-heads that add their own texture and interest to the planting.

For a photographer, seed-heads make a great subject. They can have very ‘architectural’, interesting shapes and their textures range from soft and fluffy to extremely prickly. There’s plenty of variety to inspire pictures with different moods. Could be something soft and gentle, or something bold and eye-catching, or perhaps an image with a more nostalgic feel.

Seed-heads have that inbuilt message that something is ending but also remind us that there will be something new – new life – in the future. And for a gardener, seed-heads can be a reason for hope, if there is a chance of new plants springing up – or dread if they’re weeds!

I love to see the Pasque flower seed-heads every year. (Top photo.) They are so soft that you want to stroke them but they can also really catch the light. The fine hairs reflect the sun and make them gleam on a sunny day. (They’re irresistible to my cats too, who find that the heads swaying on their long stems make a great toy to bat a paw at, especially those that can just about be reached through the slats of a nearby seat. Fun for all!)

prickly seed-head
I wouldn’t like to touch this seed-head!

Other seed-heads are not at all welcoming to the touch. But they do at least look interesting in a photograph. I’m happy to say that the plant above was in someone else’s garden. I don’t know what it is, but I really wouldn’t fancy brushing against it in a border. Ow!

I don’t know what the seed-head in the bottom photo is either. It might be a protea. The photograph was taken in a garden that had big glasshouses, so there were a fair number of  non-hardy plants. The combination of textures and shapes and the soft browns, yellows and creams of this seed-head appealed to me. It’s very different to the seed-heads that I would find in my own garden and, like the Pasque flower, makes me feel that I want to reach out and touch it.

At this time of year, when there are few flowers left and so many garden plants are dying back for winter, seed-heads can linger. I like to leave as many as possible in my garden, so that when the frosts arrive, there will be something to photograph. A coating of frost can make a dried-out seed-head turn into something wonderful – a delicate structure with grace and sparkle. So if you like to photograph plants, it’s a good idea not to be too tidy in your garden. Leave those seed-heads standing and wait to see what magic a touch of frost or snow can bring!

I love to read your comments! Do you have any plants that you like for their seed-heads?

Seed-head
Mystery seed-head – could it be a protea?

 

 

Colourful Orchids

Red Vanda Orchid
A red Vanda orchid glows as the light passes through its petals.

It’s getting chillier every day here and we’ve had some very grey skies during the week, so I thought I’d post a bit of bright colour on the blog today.

Wherever I go, I’m always keen to take the chance to photograph flowers. Sometimes there’s something new, or a plant that would be difficult to grow at home. You never know what plants and flowers you may come across when you’re out and about with a camera. It’s pretty much a matter of luck. (And lots of garden visiting!)

It’s also a matter of luck if you find flowers that are in good condition at the time and that you can photograph without other things being in the way. There’s not a lot you can do about distracting backgrounds but experimenting with different angles and getting as close as you can will help a lot.

The weather can be a matter of luck too. If you’re photographing plants outside or in a glasshouse, you’re better to choose a day that is slightly overcast. This will soften the light and make it more diffused, allowing you to capture the colours and textures of the flowers more easily. (Whereas bright sunlight, especially at the middle of the day will easily burn out highlights and create heavy shadows that obscure details.) Low-angled sunlight near the beginning or end of the day is much gentler and the slanting light picks out details beautifully, so it’s good choice if you can time your visit for it.

Blue Vanda Orchid
This Vanda orchid is an amazing blue.

The orchids here are ‘Vanda’ orchids. I’ve never tried to grow these (just the similar-looking Phalanopsis or ‘moth’ orchids), so it’s a joy to find some that I can photograph. Their rich colours and the characteristic dotted effect on the petals add to the visual interest of the photos. And wandering around them, camera at the ready, lifts the spirits – of this photographer at any rate!

The wonderful variety of flower shapes makes the orchid family an inspiring subject for flower photographers. I find them hard to resist and will always be on the lookout for these exotic, intriguing blooms. At home I occasionally grow Phalanopsis orchids.  They are pretty easy because they seem to thrive on neglect and nowadays they can be bought cheaply at most supermarkets. At the moment I have a couple of  orchids just waiting to be photographed. They have a similar white/purple/burgundy colouring but one is a Phalanopsis and I think the other may be an Oncidium, so the flower-shape is very different. (Photographs for a future blog post….)

I hope that these orchids have brightened your day. Do you have different orchids where you live? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Magenta Vanda Orchid
Magenta Vanda Orchid

Passion-Flowers are Perfect for Photography

Passionflower 'Amethyst'
Passion-flower ‘Amethyst’ has strikingly beautiful flowers.

The first time I saw a passion-flower was many years ago, on a holiday in England. It was the usual Passiflora ‘caerulea’, the blue passion flower. It seemed impossibly exotic for a flower growing in the UK at that time. And for someone still living in Scotland, with the colder winters there, the idea of growing one seemed to be pure fantasy.

A few years later I found some plants of ‘caerulea’ for sale in an Edinburgh shop and just couldn’t resist buying one – and, of course, taking lots of photographs of the extraordinary flowers. Later on, I managed to buy a plant of Passiflora ‘Amethyst’ (top photo) and became thoroughly hooked on these beautiful climbers.

For photography they’re a wonderful subject. From further away, the flower is graceful. Every part of it is elegant. There’s the shape of the petals and the way the strands of the corona are held in a ring. And then there’s the sculptural quality of the reproductive parts of the flower.

If you come closer in, there are plenty of details to photograph. You have the way the strands of the corona change from dark purple at the centre, to white, to blue at the outside. You’ll also see the dark purple mottling of spots that covers the three ‘styles’, with more, less pronounced purple spots on the five green ‘filaments’ that hold the anthers.

The plants in  these pictures were in pots sitting on a tiled conservatory floor, so  I used a large sheet of white paper to give a plain background. Because the plants can be an untidy mass of leaves and stems, each flower was gently disentangled from the rest of the plant and the stem holding it was stretched across the white background. This isolated the flowers, got rid of background distractions, and allowed a bolder image to be made.

For the photograph at the bottom, I decided to simplify things further and removed a few of the leaves on that stem. (Cruelty to plants!) Then I placed the flower, with its leaf and the little tendril, in a way that would create a composition with the shadows that they cast.

Before taking close-up photographs like this, it’s a really good idea to check that there’s no dust or bits on your backdrop and that there aren’t any wee beasties in the plant (unless you want them there). It’s frustrating to open an image in Photoshop just to find some tiny critter practically waving and shouting, ‘Yeah, I’m here!’ And if you have pets, don’t forget to check for hairs. I have two cats, one long-haired, and it’s just amazing to see where those fine hairs can get to. (Thank goodness for Photoshop’s heal and clone tools!)

I’m always on the lookout for plants that will make good photographs. Many of the plants in the garden here are chosen this way. So you can imagine my delight when we moved into this house and I discovered that the neighbours had a blue passion-flower that was sneaking under the fence into our garden. There was great excitement when the first flowers opened. Sadly, the plant disappeared. I don’t know if it was due to a very cold winter or if the neighbours decided to get rid of it.

As you would expect, I soon got some plants of my own and the two you see in the photos here are currently living in our conservatory. (I’m trying to learn not to over-water them. They like better drainage than I had thought and I’ve nearly lost them a couple of times!)

In the garden, I’m trying ‘Constance Elliot’, which has pure white flowers and is said to be scented. It’s growing over an arbour and seems to be doing well but I don’t know if it’s hardy enough to come through a cold winter. (Mulching it should help.) It hasn’t flowered yet – that’s something to look forward to next year.

If you’re reading this from somewhere warmer than the UK, passion-flowers may be a common sight for you. You may have some of the more tender varieties that, here in England, I can only dream of. I wonder if there are plants that won’t grow where you are, that you really wish you could have? Do let me know in the comments!

The blue passionflower - Passiflora 'caerulea'
The blue passion-flower – Passiflora ‘caerulea’