Black & White Flower Silhouettes

Macro flower photography is one of my favorite disciplines to practice during the winter; cold temperatures, dreary weather, and naked trees make the landscapes less palatable for my normal ventures. With macro photography, I can often work indoors and with bright and vibrant flowers that make the frigid days feel a little brighter.

Longwood Gardens is one of the best places on the East Coast for enjoying flowers and plants, and their annual orchid festival is probably my favorite event of the year. It has been several years since I spent a day focused solely on macro flower photography, so I was excited to spend some time there recently.

Using my Nikon D850, a 200mm macro lens, external flash and diffuser, I created the following images. I purposefully used the flash to remove the background because I knew the final image would be printed in black and white. I wanted the prints to be borderline harsh, with strong contrast; I thought there would be some romance to having delicate and soft flowers reproduced with such strong effect.


Winter Inspiration: Tulip Collage

In a blast of unwelcome suddenness, it got very cold in England. While I will still go out and take many photos in the winter, the dreary and grey days can sometimes be tough on creative expression. No worries, this is the best season to work on some indoor studio work!

This photograph was one of many large format film images I took this weekend in my home 'studio.' I put quotes around the word studio because I used the furthest thing from a formal studio to get this image. I really like the resulting photograph and hope that seeing how I did this will inspire your own creative outlet and expression this winter.

Before I get into the how of the photograph, lets look at the finished image (negative was scanned on an Epson V700 scanner)...

There is one thing that really makes this image unique and different. Study it closely and see if you can figure it out. 

Need a hint? Look at the lighting.

That's it! Most people would light this subject from the top - meaning they would light the top of the flowers rather than the stems. Instead, I have the light coming from the bottom, so the stems and base of the flower have all the texture and detail.

Now how'd I do this? First step, I bought some tulips. They are a great flower for photographers because they are relatively inexpensive. I paid $7 for 20 at a market in Cambridge. 

Onto the 'studio' - in this case, my studio was actually an outdoor patio table that I setup in the sunlight coming through the big french doors in our house. The background is standard white tissue paper. I used my large format 4x5 film camera and set it up on a tall tripod. It was so tall I actually pulled out a step stool to be tall enough to get the focus correct. I metered for f/22 and selected an exposure of 15 seconds. At that length of time I don't mind being a little inaccurate, so I counted the exposure in my head.

The very unsophisticated setup I used to get this photograph. You can see the natural light coming from the door was all I needed with a long exposure.


Ran the negative through a standard development and scanned it here. 

I love shooting 4x5 for my 'studio' work because of the size of the negative. It's HUGE. Here - this is next to my iPhone 6 plus. Yeah, it's a big phone, but it's the negative that we're looking at here!

The large format negative vs the iPhone 6 plus

Hopefully that helps you find some inspiration to make some artwork this winter. You don't need to use a big film setup - you can use any camera - but don't let the lack of a professional studio stop your creative expression. The sun is a wonderful light!

Quick Shot: Yellow Orchid

I recently spent a day at Longwood Gardens to enjoy their annual orchid festival and this was one of the many orchids I photographed there. What I love about their orchid festival is that it's a fantastic opportunity to see and shoot flowers that are otherwise very rare in the United States. 

I was drawn to this orchid because of it's unique shape and color. Most orchids are more round and soft, but this one was longer and sharper in features than the other flowers on display.

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Quick Shot: Yellow Lily

I took this shot of a yellow water lily last weekend and liked how the sunlight and calm water rendered an almost perfect reflection. I rotated the image in post production to give it a fun twist.

This was shot with the Nikon D800, Nikon 80-400mm and SB-700 speedlight to ensure even lighting and minimal shadows. Edited with Adobe Photoshop. 

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Quick Shot: Tropical Lily

The beginning of July marks two big events for me - the 4th of July and water lily season! It also marks the muggiest and most humid part of the year, so my quest for a few great shots of these lilies tends to end with a sweaty shirt! 

Normally I spend the 4th of July weekend at the aquatic gardens around DC, but I decided to take a day trip to Longwood Gardens to see their lily display. I've never photographed the Longwood Gardens lilies and high hopes for some great color and well maintained flowers. 

They did not disappoint! There were hundreds of lilies and a zillion different colors. The variety was far better than what I'd get at any of the natural aquatic gardens around DC, but I did miss the wild and untamed flowers of DC. 

I shot with both the 105mm macro and Nikon 80-400mm lens but found the 80-400 gave great results at the distances I was working. Today's Quick Shot was taken at 400mm and used a Nikon SB-700 speedlight for even color. As usual, I shot with the D800 and did my editing in Adobe Photoshop. 

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Quick Shot: Pink

Summer is officially upon us, which means water lily time is also upon us! Every year, at the end of June/beginning of July, I head out to photograph water lilies at some of the local aquatic gardens. 

Photographing lilies requires several things. First, you need to set your alarm pretty early so you can be out shooting at day break. The bright sun and marsh humidity makes a summer day photographing these flowers unbearable at any other time of day. Second, you'll want a tripod and a decent telephoto lens. Third, you'll want some great light (either from the sun or a flash). 

My favorite destination is the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, which are located in downtown Washington, DC. This area is subject to tides flooding some of the walking paths, so it's generally best to time your visit for a cool part of the day at mid/low tide. The gardens feature acre after acre of aquatic plants and lilies. Some aquatic birds and thousands of dragonflies also call Kenilworth home.  

Last year I tried to take an abstract approach to the lily flower. I wanted bright colors, lots of pop, and a little flair. When I found this lily, I knew I'd found my flower. I used a flash to over expose the background and focused on the petal closes to the camera to get the great detail in each petal. Adjustments for color, sharpness, and contrast were done in Adobe Photoshop.

In the next week or two I'll be headed back out to Kenilworth to see what I can find this year! 

Shot with Nikon D800, Nikon 105mm macro/micro lens, and SB-700 flash.