FLOWERS ARE A NEVER-ENDING SOURCE of photographic delight for me, as I know they are for many photographers. So for an evening this plant, which normally resides in a pot in my kitchen, became my subject in my studio.
When I decided to photograph it, I knew that I wanted to show its near-perfect symmetry, and I knew I wanted to highlight the delicate crepe-like texture of the petals with their intricate lines and folds and layers.
I managed to place behind the flower in front of a black background so that it was completely isolated — visually detached perhaps — from the rest of the plant. The black background allows the form of the flower to stand out. I chose to photograph it directly, front on, so that its symmetry would be overt, resulting in an image that is almost documentary in that it shows the flower in its entirety just as it is. I didn’t think the beauty of the flower required any compositional artifice to make it look good. The challenge for me was simply to reveal as much of its beauty as I could in one image.
Lighting this image was both challenging and simple. There is one large on-axis softbox lighting the flower from a position directly above the camera. The function of this light is to provide overall illumination, lifting the shadows to the level that I wanted. Then there is a small, hard light directly above the flower and slightly behind it which provides a gently rim light on the top of the two front petals. This rim light is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly it creates a bright outline that separates the flower from the dark background and emphasises the shape of the flower. Secondly, it reveals the two layers of petals, enabling the viewer to see through the semi-transparent front two petals to see the triangular shape of the petals behind them. Thirdly, it creates the shadow areas on the front petals and thereby reveals the lines and folds and texture of those two front petals, which was what I wanted to achieve. The challenge with this top light was to position it correctly — small adjustments made huge differences to the resulting image.
The final technique that I used was to layer or stack the focusing of the image. Normally, with a single image like this, it is impossible to achieve sharpness through the image from front to back. So to overcome this limitation six photographs, each one focused on a different part of the image, were blended together resulting in a final image that is sharp from the very front of its tendrils to the back of the petals. This technique is called ‘focus stacking’ and is commonly used in close-up or macro photography to achieve sharpness throughout the depth of the photograph.
The photographic technique is complex and advanced, but it allows the flower itself to reveal its own simplicity and beauty.