Saturday 1 August 2020

The multiple personalities of plants

When you first start observing plants in all their intricate glory regularly and close up, a whole new world begins to emerge.  From their fragile beginnings with tiny seedlings reaching for the light, to buds hiding the beauty within, the bursts of colours and patterns displayed by flowers, fruit, berries and leaves ending in colour changes and peculiar but often attractive seed heads. The life cycles of flora can be fascinating, opening up a whole new world for photographers which can last all year round. Whether producing images on location, in nature or gardens or  capturing blooms from a florist, or getting creative with dried pressed flowers and seed heads on a light box, putting together a still life setting or maybe using sections of a plant as a prop, the possibilities are endless.

Conditions for shooting and useful bits of kit

It can be worth looking ahead at weather conditions if you are planning to photograph your botanicals on location. I tend to choose a day with very little wind where possible, preferably a nice light day with cloud cover, as sunshine can cause some harsh, unwanted highlights and shadows. Taking a collapsible reflector that strips down to a white diffuser could help when the sunlight is  harsh, this can be held in place with a tripod or stand and clamp/plamp, or by a friend. The reflector can come in handy for bouncing light into shadows too, but if you do not own one a piece of foil folded in your bag can be an alternative solution.

Useful items to take with you if you choose to shoot outside could include a roll up or folding mat of some description so that you can kneel or lie on the ground and stay clean as well as dry, even a bin bag can suffice if space and weight are issues. Another item I often take along is a tiny fine misting spray bottle, sometimes a gentle misting of water can give extra interest, adding a new dimension.

There are times when a very low tripod can come in handy, especially if light is low and conditions suitable for a longer exposure. Or maybe on a windy day it can be interesting to capture movement in the plats/grasses etc with your long exposure. A remote shutter control is handy too.

Buds and shoots

Whilst its nice to capture plants in situ it can be inconvenient, particularly when you need to get down low and its muddy or its windy and blowing your subject all over, don't feel you have to photograph your subjects as they are in the garden, with a little fore thought and planning you can get using them for the most creative props. I had the idea of using the spiral shoots from a Passion flower climber as a prop for an insect years ago, so planted one in my next garden and waited for the spirals  to grow. The orchid mantis is a whole other story but also required planning.

You don't need an insect to show off your chosen section of vegetation, try an abstract approach  or adding water.

If you don't mind cutting a section of your plant off then you can position it somewhere more pleasing using a vase, plamp, etc. Here I placed an out of focus photograph ( many available via my website) behind this Freesia in bud plus poppy bud and let a Ladybird explore prior to evicting it from our house.

 Its a good idea to get to know which plants grow where in your local area/garden and which month they are due to produce buds, flowers, berries, fruit. unfurl leaves, and seed heads. You could scour  floral photography groups on social media or browse the winning galleries displayed on International garden photographer of the year or RHS POTY etc for some inspiration and take it from there.


 Often when photographing flowers I seek a fully intact specimen with no brown spots, holes, half eaten petals and leaves. I do use a very small fine brush (000) in my kit bag to sweep away any offending pieces of dirt or to gently move along any undesirable insects etc without harming them. I'm not going to cover shooting flowers here as they deserve a whole separate blog, I mostly wanted to draw attention to the often over looked parts of plants in this blog.

Fruit, Berries and vegetables

We have such a wonderful array of fruit, berries and vegetables so don't forget about the fruit bearing offerings of our botanical subjects. Not only do they look appealing in situ but they make wonderful still life subjects.

The berries below were captured using a Helios lens giving a fabulous circular bokeh, quite similar to the berries themselves.

Use your fruit/veg in still life or food photography ( see separate blog on both)

Seed heads

I find seed heads and seeds intriguing, with plants having so many unique looking and often quite magical dispersion methods. This last couple of months I have delighted in capturing Dandelion seed heads in one of my last blogs and then found my Pasque flowers ( Pulsatilla vulgaris)  developing fluffy seed heads lending them selves to almost whimsical arty depictions. below are just a few different seed heads to whet your appetite - I would love to see a few that you enjoy capturing. ( not sure if you can them in the comments)

 Sometimes old leaves, old seedheads etc can have hidden details such as the Physallis below - if you have fresh ones you can try boiling them for 30 minutes with bicarbonate of soda added, then gently removing the leaf pulp to show the leaf skeletons.

Leaves and grasses

The leaves on plants and trees can be quite fascinating subjects too, often lending themselves to more abstract compositions. Even the silhouettes can produce food for the imagination. I frequently make use of leaves as props with insects, reptiles or amphibians too - the leaf skeletons are another interesting component to make use of - these are reasonably easy to make yourself ( I managed to obtain the leaf skeletons out of the Chinese lantern plants in the above image by boiling them), or they can be purchased online.
I have started preserving a few leaves and flowers by pressing in books for future use in lightbox images such as the one below using ferns, where Ive added pressed daisies, dandelion seeds and salsify seeds.

I find each season brings new delights with foliage. Spring gives unfurling leaves, shoots and flowers with the promise of life and colour, summer gives us a wider variety of flourishing vibrant, lush foliage everywhere we look, whilst autumn draws me with its beautiful array of colours and dying leaves, then winter offers new opportunities in shapes and frost covered old leaves, stems, seed heads etc. Its not always about capturing the subject but sometimes I just want to capture a feeling - such as below I wanted to capture the essence of a summers evening and used the grasses plus sunshine.


Don't overlook weeds, they can make worthy subjects too - I find such beauty in weeds and when out you often find interesting insects inhabiting them such as caterpillars. Many butterflies and moths use weeds to lay their eggs so they can be useful to let grow if you don't mind them in a patch of your garden - this might help attract more wildlife in time. Below are just a few weeds from recent months. I hope I have helped you look at plants a little more and hope look forward to seeing your botanical creations whatever the time of year.

Blessed Ostara and submerged flowers

 I am still tinkering away creating submerged floral images and thoroughly enjoying myself. Lots of people have been in touch asking questio...