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  • Writer's pictureAlyce Bender

An Hour With A Flower

white flowers on purple background, a bender photography

A fellow photographer had a very interesting way of looking at the current situation and travel restrictions. She decided to look at it as an artist-in-residency (AIR) period.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of artist-in-residency programs, they are programs hosted by both private and public entities (national and state parks, private land holders, and other groups) who invite artists onto their respective lands in order to create art based on the artist's experiences while there. Many of our national parks do this in order to add a diverse collection of art based on the park to their collection as well as diversifying the programs offered at the park, as the AIR is often asked to present a workshop, talk, walk or performance to park visitors.

As an artist, it often opens these lands up for in depth exploration and allows one to really get a sense of the environment and local Nature, as well as presenting the artist to the public backed by whatever the hosting agency is for the particular area. Needless to say, for many locations, an AIR spot is highly coveted by artists from all over the world.

Getting back to the idea of this current situation being an artist-in-residency in our own homes verses the official label of shelter-in-place, the difference is how we perceive our role, and our creativity in the situation. As artists, we know it can be detrimental to try and force creativity when we are not up to it. Rarely does it work out well, at least in my experience. So we have to change how we view this, from that of a forced hold on travel, to something more palatable such as an opportunity to showcase our current location.

Many photographers have turned to one of two things, either lifestyle/street photography to document what current life is like during these times, or they have turned to macro and close up work, documenting the small details that surround us. I have fallen into the latter category. For me it has not been such a departure from my usual shooting repertoire, just more challenging as my current location is predicated on my husband's career rather than mine.

However, with spring here on the central Californian coast, small wildflowers and gardenscapes have been popping up in the neighborhood, as well as in the grocery stores. Thus, I have turned my home AIR into a study of flowers at a macro level.

An Hour With A Flower

This has long been a method I have used when I have time to burn in the field. It's a way to slow down your shooting and really take in all the possibilities you have with a subject. I think we often feel like we need to nail a shot within the first frame or two and then move on otherwise we might miss something. This method gives you the self-approval to spend as much time as you need to fully explore said flower and really takes that weight of "I have somewhere else to be" off your mind. For me, this helps free up the creativity as well and I give myself more leeway on trying new things without the pressure of creating something portfolio worthy. It's just time spent playing with a camera, light, and a flower. Anything goes.

For example, back in February when I was in Japan, I had a few hours to chill before I could check into my hotel one day. So, I stored my luggage, found a park that wasn't too far way, and walked down to see what I could see. As this was in Tokyo, spring had arrived, and flowers were starting to pop up. I found a small cluster of miniature daffodils on a small path in the middle of the park and decided these would be my subject. Pulling out my camera (Nikon D500) and my macro lens (Tamron 90mm), I started playing. Below is a small collection of images I liked enough to share. However, many others where rejected and I'm ok with that. Even if I had none to share, I spent time practicing my craft and had a wonderful few hours on a nice afternoon in downtown Tokyo connecting with Nature.

daffodil close up shot, a bender photography

daffodil details triptych, a bender photography

macro of daffodil stamens, a bender photography

horizontal triptych of daffodil details, a bender photography

daffodil cup petal detail, a bender photography

Back home, in my neighborhood, I have taken the same approach and gone out for my daily walks at various times of the day to see what I can see.

There is a small patch of tiny wildflowers along one of the footpaths behind my house. Taking my camera, I have sat there on the trail for, what is now collectively several hours, just working with different angles to get the most pleasing (to me) composition, highlighting these little beauties. Laying on the ground and shooting through foreground foliage while using a shallow depth of field, I create these very soft environments with the flower in focus. It takes patience to find a subject that is placed in an area that these elements align but that is why giving yourself ample time is so important.

soft macro of purple California wildflower, a bender photography

macro image of white Californian wildflower, a bender photography

macro image of purple Californian wildflowers, a bender photography

abstract macro of a small daisy, a bender photography

Probably the best situation for spending an hour with a flower is when weather keeps me inside, unable to even do my neighborhood explorations. It is here that I have gotten a few indoor flowers (a vase of tulips and an orchid). They sit in my guest bedroom next to the window that gets bright sunlight in the morning (on nice days) and open shade light the rest of the day. Its a quiet place I can go and just sit for an hour or more and concentrate on my craft.

Exploring the difference in lighting between the various times of day, the use of a reflector, or the addition of a light is one exercise while depth of field is another. Remember the stems and leaves!

Photo tip: When using additional lighting, beyond natural light, I highly suggest using continuous light off camera. You don't need fancy photography or studio lighting. I have been using a GoalZero Torch 250. It is perfect as it has two power settings, long-lasting battery, and is bar shaped so I can stand it on end or lay it horizontally as the shot requires.

macro of the insides of a tulip flower, a bender photography

black and white still life of a tulip, a bender photography

macro detail shots of indoor flowers, a bender photography

high key close up image of tulips, a bender photography

soft yellow image of the back of an orchid, a bender photography

Moving into more artsy techniques, playing with intentional camera movement or the addition of a fan to gently blow on the flowers creates another set of images. Using manual focusing to defocus can lead to interesting results as well.

abstract image of a tulip, a bender photography

abstract image of tulips, a bender photography

pastel abstract of a tulip, a bender photography

abstract image of tulip with stems and leaves, a bender photography

abstract image of stems and leaves, a bender photography

Coming back to the same flowers each day (or even a few times a week) makes one really have to think and work to find unique shots. There is great learning here! As you learn to look at "old" scenes with new eyes, you can take that skill when traveling to iconic locations in order to create unique visions of traditional views. Flowers also grow and change in small ways each day so this type of detailed study can help hone your skills for observation.

Once you have exhausted yourself with the flowers as they are, try adding elements such as water drops.

macro image of water bead in a tulip, a bender photography

macro image of a water drop in a tulip, a bender photography

water drop on a tulip petal reflecting a tulip, a bender photography

I really enjoyed creating a reflection "studio." By taking a pane of glass from a spare 16"x20" picture frame, I cleaned it well of any dust or fingerprints, before setting it on top of a piece of black cardboard. Draping a piece of black cloth over the back of the chair that would be my background and adding a side light, I was able to create a set up that would entertain me for days to come.

macro reflection studio, a bender photography

This reflection studio than allows me to work with flowers in even more ways. Black and white images help bring out the symmetry and line patterns created by the petals.

black and white image of a flower reflected in glass, a bender photography

Changing the color of the cardboard beneath the glass from black to white, I was able to create this high key reflection image.

high key image of a pink flower reflected in glass, a bender photography

There are just so many ways to creatively work with a single subject, such as a flower. If you are home, unable to work or are looking for a break away from your computer screen and phone, I highly recommend spending an hour with a flower. Get creative, try new things, and don't worry about the time. Rarely do we have the luxury of being able to do that, so take advantage of it while you can. You may find you really enjoy this sort of shooting or you may use this as a gateway to other new and exciting methods of photography that can be done around the house.

If you found this helpful or you try out some of these methods, share your images and feel free to tag me in them on Instagram or Facebook. I would love to see what you create! And make sure you are subscribed to my monthly newsletter so you can have monthly articles, like this one, delivered directly to your inbox. You can sign up here.

Until next time, stay safe and keep creating. Cheers!

macro image of small yellow wildflowers, a bender photography

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