Flowers

It's technically spring and even though most of us are stuck indoors, I can't help but think about being outside. One good thing about being stuck inside is that it has given me time to pour over my backlog of photos. When I think about spring one of the first things that comes to mind is flowers. They represent to me everything that is wonderful about the transition out of the dark gloomy days of winter and into the bright sunny days of spring. Thus I have somehow inspired myself to take you all on a journey through my many and various attempts to capture the elusive beast known as flower. Think of today as a journey through time as I have honed my skill and let's see if I have gotten any better.


Now I would never go around telling anyone that I'm a flower photographer because I'm not. Typically, my subjects are a bit larger in scale and if there are flowers in the frame you probably have to strain your eyes to find them. But that doesn't mean that I haven't tried my hand. The challenge of shooting something so small and so delicate, capturing something of their ephemeral nature, is always flaunting itself, tempting me to give it a shot (pun only sorta kinda intended).


We will start our little sojourn with one of my earliest attempts. I was on spring break road tripping along the California coast when we stopped on the side of the road for some reason or another in a little town called Monterey (little did I know that 10 years later I would end up living there!). I hopped out of the car and spotted this gigantic flower and was immediately drawn to it.



I was young in my craft and I was still in the phase where I was so enamoured by the subject of the photo that I didn't necessarily consider the other aspects that make a photograph great. I'm not sure that I was thinking about lighting, composition, or color. I saw something that was beautiful so I took a photograph of it. This doesn't mean that I don't like the shot, in fact it literally hangs in my bedroom as one of the first photographs I ever printed for myself. I guess this shot symbolizes a couple of things for me; first is that you don't always have to overthink a shot to get a great photograph, sometimes they just happen naturally, second is that when you do put some thought into your shots you may surprise even yourself.


These next three images are all from my early "wow that is a pretty flower" phase. I find them all to be striking subjects with things that I might change if I had a second chance. In the first the lighting is very harsh and the center of the flower is in the center of the frame (is that bad?). But the background is simple and the flower can speak for itself. In the second, the background is maybe a little distracting and what is going on with that leaf obscuring the top flower, why didn't I just take a step to my left? The third photo has a striking subject by maybe I could have done something with the light and composed this shot a little more effectively. These are all learning experiences!





The best thing about learning experiences is that they teach you things if you pay attention. And one of the amazing things about photography is that sometimes you can learn on the fly. This next series of shots were all taken on the same day as two of the photos above. The thing that jumps out to me when I compare them is that in all of these the subject is still striking, but there was obviously some thought that went into the lighting and composition. The depth of field is set correctly so that the background gives context but doesn't distract. The light is even across the images, no harsh highlights and no dark shadows (except for dramatic effect). I did all of this while also trying to be a little creative.







As I continued to grow as a photographer I would always come back to flowers and try something new. I tried new ways to look at light and composition.


I swear these are the real colors!


I tried my hand at some macro photography.





Eventually I got to a place in my photography where I stepped back from the flowers (both literally and figuratively). As I grew as a photographer, I thought more about capturing the essence of the flower in its habitat. How did I feel in that place? How did I want to remember feeling in that place? Could I capture that? Could I express that to someone who was never there? That doesn't necessarily mean that the flowers took a smaller role in the photo but more that the rest of the image was meant to highlight and hold the flower instead of just being a background. The subject is always important but I started learning how the be more thoughtful, how to think of shooting flowers like I thought of shooting landscapes.







And then sometimes I used flowers to enhance my landscapes, is that so terrible?


And now here I am, living in California literally minutes away from where 21 year old Ian took that first shot of a calla lily. Now with 10+ years of shooting flowers under my belt I feel like I'm getting better. I'm not great but hey sue me. Now I get to take advantage of the things California has to offer on a regular basis. That calla lily that I was so enamoured with back in the day, it turns out that there are quite a few of the around here and there are a couple spots where the images sort of just make themselves.



Finally, there are some images that are so classic you don't even realize it. After my son was born my wife and I were just itching to get back out on the road. We packed our little two month old into his car seat and headed towards Yosemite, one of the most iconic places on the planet. My main focus for that trip was obviously the grand landscapes (more on that coming soon!) but when I was researching places to go and vantage points to get, one of the things that struck me was images of the dogwoods in bloom. Inspired is the word I would use to describe myself. I made it a mission to make my own dogwood image. After the years of practice and all of the lessons learned, I found my opportunity and made maybe my favorite flower image to date (I like it so much that I can't tell whether I like it better in color or in black and white but that's nothing new for me).




I think the moral of this post is that the journey of a photographer is never over. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I would never describe myself as a flower photographer. But, over the years of shooting large and small and inside and outside I've learned. I've grown as a photographer and as an artist. I've learned to see a subject that was always just out of my grasp and I think I might be starting to turn the corner. And now I'm inspired to keep on trying!


Until the next time,

Ian


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