A Sweet Gift

Recently my neighbour brought me some beautiful hellebore heads from her garden. She’d been cutting some to display in a bowl and said she felt like sharing the bounty. As you can imagine, I was delighted.

You won’t be at all surprised to know that I photographed them. To start with I tried photographing them in the bowl I floated the heads in. However, I soon realised that the markings on the petals of the individual flowers would show much better if I photographed them on their own.

Pink-speckled white hellebore flowers

To photograph the flower heads, I used my studio lighting and my ‘light-table’. This table is simply a piece of curved white plastic on a frame. It’s translucent, so that I can shine light through it. And that means the light can pass through the flowers too.

This is probably my favourite way to photograph flowers. It shows up every detail of markings and colour changes in the flowers, making it a great way to show the pretty freckles and streaks on these hellebores.

A pink hellebore flower

Using the light table also shows the veining in the leaves well. I was surprised to see how much pink there is in the leaf-veins in the photo above. The light coming through the leaves has really brought out the colour. (And it makes the colour of the flower gleam too.)

Just to see the difference, I decided to photograph the next hellebore in a tiny coloured bowl. Although I like the way the dark purple of the bowl goes with the deep purply-pink markings on the flower’s petals, I prefer the other images. This has made me think that I will probably use the light-table more often to create images that show the translucence of the flowers. (Especially when someone brings me such a lovely gift!)

Cream-coloured hellebore flower

Simple but Colourful

Often it’s the form of a flower, especially the details of the structure within it, that attracts me to it. Usually it’s a combination of shape and colour that makes for an interesting photograph, and some of my subjects (e.g. passionflowers ) can be quite complex in their appearance.

But some flowers are delightful in their simplicity, like these ranunculus, aka ‘Persian buttercups’. Their vibrant colours were enough to make me buy the plants to photograph them. (The red flower makes me think of the red crepe paper we used for making Christmas decorations as kids at primary school.)

These images are from last spring. Several others were posted on the blog at the time, but these have lurked on my PC as unprocessed RAW files since then. Wintertime is a good time to catch up with processing photographs that have been taken a while ago. It has given me something to keep me busy while it’s too cold to work in the garden.

Whenever there are flowers around, I take photographs of as many as I can. That means I have something to show on this blog every week. But during the warmer times of year, when I’m kept busy in the garden, time can be short. And then the photos mount up, waiting for me to get them ready to post here. It’s like having a little stash of colourful memories from sunnier days to keep me occupied while the garden has its winter break.

Soon I’ll be too busy outside to be able to spend a lot of time at the PC. Already the sunshine has come back and the temperatures are just a bit warmer. Everything in the garden is beginning to grow again and the crocuses are welcoming the first of the bees. No doubt, I’ll also be taking lots more photographs, so there will be plenty to process during next winter too.

An In-Between Time

Spring is getting closer but it certainly isn’t here yet. Sometimes February can feel mild and spring-like, but this year it has felt colder and snowy. I haven’t been in the garden much in the last week or two.

Apart from the hellebores which are starting to emerge, there has been a lack of flowers outside. Happily, the cyclamen plants have been busy flowering indoors to cheer us up. This year they seem to have lasted longer than usual – I think that’s because they’re in a cool conservatory.

Ruffled pink cyclamen flower

It feels like it’s not quite either winter or spring as I wait for the garden to come alive again with fresh growth. Meanwhile, I wanted something interesting to do. A plant I could photograph indoors so that I wouldn’t have to face the cold. These little flowers are ideal for that.

The rich colours and swirling shapes of the cyclamen flowers make them an obvious photographic subject. All those crinkles, curls and serrated edges give the petals a sense of drama and energy. Altogether, these features make the flowers look as if they’re in motion. The slight sheen of the petal surfaces suggests silk, making the flowers look like small pieces of fabric, fluttering in a breeze.

Cyclamen flowers

Alternatively, you could imagine that the flowers are tiny dancers, skirts swirling as they perform some graceful and athletic pirouette. Come in closer to the flower and that feeling of energy is magnified by all the curves and twists of the petals. Your eyes follow the lines made by the delicate veins, increasing the feeling of movement and strengthening the illusion.

Fun to photograph and glorious colour to combat the winter greys – I wouldn’t want to be without cyclamen at this time of year. Soon the spring flowers will be flaunting their brilliance and freshness, but for the last few weeks, it’s the cyclamen that have gladdened my heart.

Cyclamen flower

Rainy Day in the Studio

It’s very wet and windy here and has been for a few days. So no chance of close-up photography in the garden. (Although, if I feel up to getting rather wet, I may go out in search of drip-covered spider’s webs later.)

For now, I have opted to stay warm and dry indoors. But what to photograph? Luckily, I don’t even need to go outside to pick some flowers. That’s because I tend to gather up odd bits of dried plant material and other natural bits and pieces that catch my interest, like these dried bougainvillea bracts.

I am fascinated by the structure of plants. There is such a variety of shapes and of ways that the parts of the plant are constructed. Looking at them from close-up allows you to see all the little details – sometimes much more than you would have expected from a passing glance.

Photographing these bougainvillea heads under studio lights gives the lace-like veins of the bracts a clarity and crispness. The strong light enhances the translucent bracts and also helps them to stand out against their plain white background.

These are very simple photographs to take but the results please me. It shows how worthwhile it is to gather up things like these – nature’s tiny creations – and to take a close look at them. Next, I really ought to go and photograph the flowers that are still on the bougainvillea plant. Luckily, that’s in the nice dry conservatory!

Dried bracts of bouganvillea flower

Purple Passion(flower)

These passionflower photographs are the result of an afternoon spent playing with a stem of the plant in my studio.

I photographed the flower and leaves to show their translucence. This makes the tiny veins in the petals and leaves stand out and gives a very crisp, sharp look to the photograph.

The colour changes a bit too. When seen under normal lighting (i.e. lit from the front or above), this passionflower is a soft pinky-purple. Here, though, the light from behind has bleached out the petal colours considerably and you can see more pink and red tones rather than the normal purple.

My setup for photographing flowers against a white background is fairly straightforward. I use a mini ‘shooting table’. Basically this is a sheet of translucent perspex on a metal frame. It’s bent into an ‘L’ shape (seen side-on). That gives both a background and a base for the photograph.

Because the shooting-table is translucent, you can shine studio lights through it. This gives a bright white background.

If you set the light levels so that there is a lot of light coming from behind the flower (in comparison to the light coming from the front), then you’ll get the maximum amount of detail in the veins of the petals.

To light the flowers from the front, I usually use two large studio flashes (strobes). One of these is fitted with a large, square softbox, which gives a very soft and even light. But the size of the softbox is more than a little awkward in my very small studio space!

The other light is fitted with a white (translucent) shoot-through brolly. The light from this is not as soft as that from the softbox, so it introduces a bit more shadow. This gives a bit more depth and modelling to the photograph.

If I want to have stronger shadows and a more dramatic feel to the image, I’ll use just the light with the brolly and leave out the light with the softbox. A reflector opposite the light is enough to put just a little light into the shadows.

By the way, if anyone knows the name of this particular passionflower, then please tell me! I’ve been wondering about it because it was labelled ‘Amethyst’, but Amethyst usually has a ring of purple filaments, instead of the white that this flower has. I’m intrigued and would love to know the correct name!

Passionflower ‘Amethyst’ or something else?

Late Winter Colour: Primulas

By the time you’re reading this, the garden here will probably be under attack from gale force winds and heavy rain as storm Ciara passes through.

During this sort of gardener-unfriendly weather, I’m very happy to be able to stay inside, working in the comfort of my tiny studio space. So I am always on the lookout for flowers that lend themselves to indoor photography. For this, primulas are very obliging.

Primulas are easily available at this time of year in a great variety of colours and markings. They don’t cost much to buy and the flowers, once picked for the studio, last well in water.

Primulas-4564

To be able to photograph such short-stemmed flowers, I have a collection of very small containers that act as mini vases. The top photo has a square recycled-glass bottle that is only 2 inches high – just the right size for very small flowers. The container in the other photos is probably an old eye-wash glass and it’s wide enough for several flowers.

Other useful ‘vases’ for short-stemmed flowers include vintage ink bottles, candle and tealight holders and shot glasses. It’s been fun shopping for these in junk shops and vintage stalls – you never know what you’ll find that will help to make a good photograph.

Now that the primulas have been photographed, I must decide where to plant them. They somehow look a bit formal and perhaps too showy for most areas of the back garden (which is now developing a more ‘natural’ look), so they’ll probably be planted in the front garden. Sadly, it seems that these highly-bred primulas are not useful to bees so I won’t be buying many of them. (Instead I could buy the yellow-flowered Primula vulgaris, which is native to the UK and is a good plant for bees, butterflies and moths.)

I hope you enjoy this little bit of cheery colour!

Primulas-4557

Flower Photography for a Rainy Day

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 from the primulas and, I think, the tiny pansies in there – I’ll miss it when the plants do go outside.)

I took this pansy 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 plant 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 small pansy makes me think of a bee.

You can see pansies 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 little pansies…