Monday, January 22, 2018

Flower Photo-Paintings: My 2018 Calendar

Dinner Plate Dahlias

Henri Matisse apparently said "There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted." This is what confronts me every time I feel drawn to photograph one of the world's most drawn, painted and photographed subjects, not to mention the fact that it always feels a bit like cheating to photograph a flower, because really, how far wrong can you go?

Still, à propos Henri Matisse, the imperative is to come at it with, hopefully, a somewhat fresh perspective. I've posted before about my erstwhile desire to be a painter, not unheard of for a photographer. Combining painting with photography gives those of us who do it the chance to dabble in that other world, while creating truly painterly photographs.

For these images, I painted one small backdrop for each shot. When choosing the foliage and painting the backdrops it was all about the colour and shape of the flowers or plants and what colours and textures in a background would 1) overlap themselves to create a pleasing effect, and 2) complement the flowers, while overlapping and combining with them. There were some missteps.

To expand a little on the technique, the foliage was arranged either directly on the backdrop or on a piece of glass above the backdrop. Once the first exposure was made there were generally either one or two more exposures made after rotating the backdrop (90 degrees each time) and repositioning the foliage. The foliage had to be positioned so that the stems came consistently from one direction within the frame, to avoid a messy, and weird starfish kind of look. 

Double exposure resulting in a two armed "starfish"

The trickiest thing was to try to visualize how it would all actually combine, since I couldn't see the result until the final exposure was made and the frames combined, whether in camera (using the multiple exposure setting) or later in Photoshop. So there were quite a few do-overs and a lot of concentration required as I figured out what worked and what didn't through trial and error, a process which had to be somewhat limited given the delicacy of the subject matter. I was reminded again of the days of film photography when you never really knew for sure what you had until you got your film back from the lab, and there was always the possibility that you'd get a delightful surprise (or not).

The first shot I tried was the hydrangea, and once I realized the bit about the orientation of the stems I got my first and possibly favourite shot of the bunch surprisingly quickly:

Hydrangea Overlap, the first and one of my favourites of the series

Unfortunately, not all five subsequent shots were as easy, as I suggested above. Ultimately some of the double and triple exposures just did not work on their own, or at all, so I had to succumb to using a little, and in some cases a lot of digital editing. The Dinner Plate Dahlias (top of this post) were hopeless in camera. Most of the overlapping had to be done on the computer.

As always with my annual mini-calendar shoots, it was imperative that the images work as little, tiny pictures less than three inches across. And again, as always, this meant some lovely little image details became tough to appreciate once the images were sized, and published in the calendar. 

I like this image of these unidentified green plants, but...

...I love this detail

Here is another one with subtle textures and details that are easier to experience close up.

Detail from image above

And finally, the one we chose for the calendar cover: 

Mostly done in camera with a tiny bit of Photoshop. I didn't even mind the "starfishy" stems at the top.

I have included a few of these images on my website where you can see them more clearly. There are also fine art prints available for purchase. 

I owe a huge thanks once again to Martin Finesilver and Mark Smith of Finesilver Design, without whom these calendars wouldn't exist. I can't wait to get started on next year's!

In the meantime, if you'd like one please give me a call or drop me an e-mail. And if you have something you need photographed creatively, please reach out.

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