I am not a fan of flowers or flower photography.
Sure, I can see that flowers are aesthetically pleasing to the human eye. They have shapely designs, come in a huge array of colours, are different sizes and most smell very nice.
I have seen many photographs of flowers. On Flickr there are some excellent flower shots with the background blown out, making some terrific bokeh. There are also stunning macro shots, that allow the viewer to to really see deep within the petals, or the stigma, revealing stunning texture, shape and colour. There are many photos where the texture of the flower fills the frame of the photograph. If you are looking for some beautiful coloured, framed additions to your bare walls, once printed, I believe flower photographs would look great.
The addition of dew, water droplets, on the flowers, I think, does allow for placing that flower in a wider context in the mind, where thoughts of Spring, morning dew or ‘rainy woods’ or ‘parks’, provides a story for the photograph, which I enjoy.
But for me, flowers are not particularly appealing. I’m not captivated by their beauty, like I am when I see a stunning Landscape photo, or a moody city scene.
So here I was, working on the second image in my flower project, and I wanted to take an ordinary macro shot, with my 50mm macro lens, where I would focus on the pink flower in the bouquet.
I placed a black foam board behind, switched on the strobe with the Honeycomb Grid Spot attached and focussed the lens on the pink flower. Using EOS Utility, I looked at the Live View picture on the screen…
It looked boring. I’ve seen this 1000 times before and I wanted to do something different.
So I started to experiment.
I moved the tripod back, re-adjusted the lighting, focussed on the whole bouquet that is surrounded by darkness and I took a shot. It was a low key photograph of some flowers on a black background. It looked okay. Some people would like it. But as much as I like dark, low key photography, it wasn’t wowing me. If I was selling flowers and wanted a stock photo for my online advertisements, I think I’d use it, but I’m not. I’m a photographer and I want to create pictures that inspire, entice and impress, and this is for my Portfolio.
I experimented some more. I did something completely improvised. I picked up a small white board and I placed it behind the flower bouquet on the right side, with the Grid Spot shining in from the left.
Something interesting cropped up...
I saw a shadow of the flowers on the white foamcore. I quickly grabbed another white board and place it behind on the left side, but with no light shining from the right, there were no shadows on this board. I didn’t think it was going to work.
However I did have some black foamcore framing smaller white board strangeness, going on.
I then got a larger piece of white foamcore and swapped the black background for a white background and I adjusted the lighting so that the shadows are illuminated across the board. I looked at the Live View and I really liked what I was seeing.
This was flower photography with a difference. There were lots of interesting distorted shadows of the flowers created by the bouquet and the frontal 18cm 20 degree Honeycomb Grid. I took a shot, and I then made some adjustments in Lightroom and Photoshop where I added Sharpness and boosted the contrast.
Experimenting and looking outside the box, adjusting the scene as I went along, really paid off for me with this shot. As much as they look beautiful, I wasn’t happy with the standard macro flower photography that I see regularly.
Reflecting on your set-ups as you work and thinking about different props and backgrounds that could be used (as well as what you originally intended), I believe, can add value too and further enhances the creative process.
This latest photograph, ‘Pure’, a flower photography Still Life, reminds me of the classic and brilliant film ‘The Night of the Hunter’. Directed in 1955 by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish, ‘The Night of the Hunter’ is about a Serial Killer, named Reverend Harry Powell, who marries a widow, Willa Hunter, who has two children. Without giving too much away, it is set in West Virginia; in prison Powell learns about $10,000 that has been stashed away by the children’s Father, (who is executed). He then marries the widow and he pursues and intimidates the children in order to find the hidden cash.
The cinematography by Stanley Cortez, is both beautiful and startling in its Black and White, film noir, distinctive style. Influenced by German Expressionism, there are many shots where there are sharp contrasts, where interiors look like theatrical sets with strong angles in the structures, surrounded by darkness. The rural exterior shots have a dreamy, fairytale like quality, yet this is juxtaposed by the dark foreboding and menacing appearance and personality of the Preacher.
The performances of the entire cast are excellent and Mitchum’s performance is second to none as the powerful and horrific Preacher.
The flower photograph, to me stands out as beautifully shaped and textured, yet the stigma (centre) is slightly darker than the rest, with a rough, (for want of a better description) nutty look to it. The edges of the flower are very dark, with shadows, as well as having dark specks on the petals. After many considered alterations, I chose to keep the stem a darker tone too. The dark gradient surrounding the flower is in direct contrast to the highlights on the flower.
Initially I wanted to work this Still Life as a colour image, but when I created the B&W conversion and adjusted the Split Toning to a near Sepia in Lightroom, I knew that this was the perfect fit.
The photo was taken with a full power Elinchrom D-Lite RX One, with a 12 degree, 18cm Grid spot to the left, another RX One with vertical Strip Box behind the flower on the right, at a quarter power and a white bounce card front right to bounce back excess shadows.
The most difficult part was centring the 12 degree Grid Spot on the translum background, behind, as the light had to be exactly centred behind the flower in it’s position. The first photo that I took, and spent ages manipulating, was with the centring slightly off, which was not rectifiable. (FYI Translum is a plastic material which is akin to frosted plastic and creates a soft, diffused glow when a flash is shone through it).
For extra effect, I added a few droplets to the flower, with a mixture of Glycerin and water, with a teat pipette. I did sharpening and increased the Clarity on the flower in Lightroom with the Adjustment Brush as I did not want to sharpen the gradient.
This image brings to mind ‘The Night of the Hunter’, because of its stark contrast and slightly unreal quality of the flower (the flower is fake) and the image as a whole. If you view the beauty of the flowers petals together with the highlights and the light spot behind it and compare that to the darker textures and and the darkness of the gradient, you may find that there is something rather surreal and skewed about this Still Life photograph. This is what Charles Laughton and Production designer Hilyard Brown created in the set design in the film.
Here is an excellent review of ‘The Night of the Hunter’ on Deep Focus Review. Beware there are some spoilers.