Photos in the Garden with Caroline Jensen

3. Translating Portrait Techniques into Flowers

August 26, 2022 Caroline Jensen Season 1 Episode 3
Photos in the Garden with Caroline Jensen
3. Translating Portrait Techniques into Flowers
Show Notes Transcript

Portrait photographers often need a break from the same old thing and flowers are a great way to practice portrait skills in a new way.  

Hey, everybody. Welcome to photos in the garden. My name is Caroline Jensen, professional photographer and Sony artisan. Welcome to the program today, we're  going to be talking about how to approach flower photography, as you would portraiture for people. A lot of people are portrait artists, and then they want to veer off into something that is fun.

Something that doesn't react  to, you know, that they don't have to order around that they don't have to tell what to do. And flower photography is a natural extension of portrait. Now you may not have initially thought of it that way, but, and I didn't either until I started to shoot more and more flowers and I realized they are very much, I don't know, they have a lot of personality.

Let's put it that way. They have a lot of personality and anthropomorphizing, inanimate objects or objects that are living like flowers, but aren't. Sentient in the sense of people.  It may seem a little strange at first, but it really helps you connect with the subject. When I started shooting flowers, I realized very quickly that I put flowers into different categories and the most popular flowers in the world are really the ones that mirror portraiture very closely.

For instance, you might want to photograph a rose. Why do people like roses? Well, they have a face and often their leaves look like little arms coming out, but the, the face tells the tail, the, the pedal structure, the way that the petals are falling, the color, all of those things draw people in. And I believe it has something to do with the fact that it's almost like a face staring back at you.

How many times have you heard people say, oh, the sunflowers or sunny faces are looking at. And, and they really do seem like sunny faces with a ring of pedals, you know, like as hair almost it's, it's really fascinating to me.  flowers that have that more human type form are really interesting to photograph now.

Not all flowers are like that. And they kind of take a backseat. You know, you have the tall and spiky flowers like delphiniums or salvias or Russian Sage or, or things like that that have a taller narrower presence in the garden. And those are often used as fillers.  they frame, they add structure, they add fill

, but you know, it not very often, are they the star flower? And I think it's because they're lacking that kind of human element that we see in flowers, like daisies and sunflowers and roses, and even things like day lilies. It's really fascinating to me how people can approach flowers and not really be aware of how.

connected, you can become to them. So today I want to jump in and give you a few tips that are borrowed from the portraiture world, as far as shooting goes, and hopefully you can apply some of those to shooting flowers in your own backyard or park. Number one, we want to think about the light. What light do we want to use on our flowers?

And if you are a natural light photographer, you're, you're using whatever happens to be there. And so shooting on a day that has optimal light is best for you. And so let's talk about that kind of light working with natural light and flowers that are.  a bit human in their nature. I like to use soft overcast lighting during natural light sessions.

The reason I like that is because it's soft and you don't get the harsh shadows between the pedals when you're shooting flowers, especially something like a rose that has a distinct face, , the, the paddle structure and the way that it captures the light is really important. And if you have a super harsh light, hitting the rose.

It's gonna be very unpleasant, just like it would be very unpleasant on a person. You think of raccoon eyes. When you have high noon, light, that's coming down someone's face and their orbital bone above their eyes, causing them to look like a raccoon. It's just this dark shadow. That's harsh and it's really unattractive roses and flowers that have faces like that are very much the same.

If they have super strong light, you're gonna get these harsh, very distinct lines of shadows from the pedals casting onto lower pedals. And it's gonna be very unattractive now that can be emotional in its own. Right? If you're trying to use symbolism in your work and you're trying to show.  something that's harsh or, you know, you're using the flower as a symbol of something else that may be a valid reason to use that kind of light.

But generally speaking, if you're setting out to make a beautiful image, bright sunshine is usually a problem. However, it depends on how focal the flower really is. For instance, if you have a bank of flowers that are a along a pretty lane or, you know, on trees or something like that, they. They might be in a big cluster.

And so the mass of them is what is really beautiful, but even so being struck by really harsh, unfiltered light is usually not the best light for them as with people. But if you can find some kind of way to. Knock that back either a cloud passing overhead or earlier in the day, you know, before the sun is high in the sky or later in the day when the sun is lower in the sky, the, the longer shadows, the longer.

Light where the, the sun is closer to the horizon is gonna be a lot more beautiful, especially if you shoot back lit. And that is one of my key tools for shooting flowers in rather harsh light, just like it would be for people. So if you're, if you're doing a portrait session or you're, you're, you're doing a, a portrait for somebody and the light isn't ideal.

I, I always try to put the light behind the person why? Well that's because their face will be in shadow. I am going to be receiving the brunt of the light as the shooter, and they will have their back to the main light source. And so it will give you that nice hair halo. If the person has, you know, hair that sticks out of their, you know, farther on their head, like curly hair or wispy hair or something like that is gonna catch the light and that can be desirable or not desirable depending on the look that you're going for.

It, it can have this really romantic look and the same thing goes with flowers. So if I'm shooting a subject that has the ability for me to circumnavigate it, where I can walk all the way around, I'm going to look carefully at the, the light and see how is the light hitting this subject, which direction should I stand?

So that the light isn't puling the front of the flower and causing really harsh and dark shadows.  with portraiture. We're we're often looking for personality, right? We're looking for the personality of the person and the same thing goes for flowers. It, it, it's, it's really hard sometimes to sit with something and just be with it.

And the same thing goes with, with portraiture. You know, you think of doing many sessions or things where you're doing many portraits in rapid succession. There isn't a lot of time to connect.  especially if you don't know the people, if you know the person or the people or the family, then doing a 20 minute mini session at a park, isn't as terrible because you're reconnecting with somebody that you already know.

But if it's somebody new, it can be kind of awkward and feel disjointed. If you just don't know who these people are. And you're supposed to create these genuine, happy moments between family, when you don't even really know.  the same thing applies with flowers. The benefit though is that, uh, flowers tend to have a lot of overlapping qualities.

And so, for instance, if you love roses, we'll just stick with roses. Then when you see the light is perfect, you're gonna be able to connect immediately with that rose and that beautiful light and share its personality with the world in a really fast and efficient way. But it's, let's say you're at a botanical gardens and you are shooting a flower you've never seen before.

It's some tropical flower that was brought in from Ecuador. And, you know, it's, it's something completely different than what you've ever seen. Some native flower to a country or not from then you might have to sit with it a while. Flowers tend to have personality. They have interesting dimensions. They have pedals that poke out or backwards.

They have curves and undulations. That might be really interesting. They have fuzzy things and pokey things and, and thorns and all the, all the things happen with flowers. And so sitting with something long enough to get its personality deep in your mind is a very beneficial thing. When I'm shooting, especially at say a botanical gardens or zoo or somewhere where I'm, I'm at a place where I know the landscaping is really beautiful and I'm there on purpose to photograph flowers am looking for the beautiful light and then BM looking for things that I don't know about already to add some diversity to my shooting, to give me some practice, doing something that's a little bit different.

It's interesting to, to note that once you've sat with a flower for a while, it becomes more familiar, obviously, and then you can start to shoot and capture its personality. I've often found that the very first shot that I take of something that's new to me often turns out to be the best because I'm working from a subconscious stance.

I'm not overthinking, I'm just jumping in and doing, and you might notice that too.  either my first or my last shot is usually the best. And it's very rarely that something in the middle is the best. I might approach something. That's really interesting to me, you know, maybe there's some dangling flowers.

Uh, my, my dad really likes these flowers called FHAs and they are often in hanging baskets and they have kind of an alien sort of look to them. They've got, if you've ever seen them, you can look up the pictures. There's different varieties. They're all quite pretty. Um, but they have interesting shapes.

And, you know, when I first sat with, of hanging basket, I bought, I think from Walmart, you know, nothing super special or anything, I just thought it was fascinating. And some of my favorite pictures of FHAs are just those first few shots I took of something brand new. I did spend a little time with it. I looked at the, the different shapes and put 'em into memory so that I could think about what kind of picture would be compelling.

when we're making a portrait of people, the point is to record them for all time or for their family or for their friends or for a significant life event. Like they're graduating high school or college, you know, there's a reason behind taking pictures of people because we want to remember them. Well, what are the reasons that we take pictures of flowers?

Usually it falls into two categories either we're recording our garden because we put love, sweat and tears into something, or we're recording it just because it's pretty, you can walk into any major store, like for decorating, say Ikea. You know, and you're gonna be inundated with lots of different art.

That's gleaned from different photographers and painters, usually through image or art licensing or stock photography. And they're looking for something that people wanna walk into their home and see every day flowers have this unique tie to people. Oftentimes people are the reason we like flowers. My aunt may really like.

This type of flower, or my friend Lily was named after this flower, or, you know, Daisy are so happy and that's why my daughter's name is Daisy. There's a connection to people. There's a connection to emotions with flowers. And because of that, um, we want to walk into our homes and see them on the wall. . So when you're thinking of shooting often keeping in mind the output, the direction that you wanna go, the, the final destination of the picture is really important.

Yes. I'm a huge believer in sitting down and shooting for the sake of shooting joy of the journey. The process of shooting nature is extremely healing and wonderful. And, and, and that is something that I will never deny. And the outcome of those pictures isn't necessarily about. The the print. It's not about the final image.

It's about the joy of the journey. However, when you're shooting continuously over a long period of time, figuring out what you might use these pictures for. So they're not just dead space on your computer can be really helpful. And I like to study art and just walk into a store like again, Ikea and see what's on the wall.

What are people buying that they want to surround themselves with in their home? And there's the, it, it goes the gamut, you know, there's everything from abstract to, to, you know, photo realistic to somewhere in between. I personally am a huge fan of painterly processing, painterly processing, and it's kind of a, a mashup word.

It's not quite a painting because it's digitally painted, usually starting from a photo. And it's not quite a photograph because you no longer. The pixels arranged any way that they were before. They've all been sneered and mushed and, and blurred together. So it's a, it is a different kind of hybrid art, but I absolutely adore it.

It's one of my favorite winter activities. So when I'm shooting flowers, sometimes I'm thinking, well, the light is kind of terrible here. So maybe I could go painterly with this. And it would work to note Mo Monet, especially some of Monet's paintings that he made of his gardens often were, were created with that really harsh lighting.

And so he used that harsh sun that I kind of issue and want to move away from. He embraced that because he. He in his impressionist desires created something that was very energetic filled with all of the little light fragments that were hitting pedals, the reflective nature, the, the varying colors as the light hit it.

He embraced that in an impressionistic way. So if you're interested in taking your photos and moving them into a more artistic. Expression through painting on your iPad, say, or using something like curl painter on the computer, then you can embrace taking pictures and sometimes horror light, because you can make it work.

And if you're interested in learning more about that, I really suggest studying Monet's pictures. He often created art that was of the same subject in different lighting scenarios over time. And I found that.  as an artist, he's really inspiring to me because he took light that we wouldn't necessarily be too excited about as photographers and made it work.

I'm not really sure how to translate his impressionistic, work into a photo realistic endeavor with a camera, because again, those harsh shadows and, and highlights are often really hard to make beautiful. There are some situations where a camera just struggles because you have blown highlights and clip shadows, and it's just a mess.

But as an artist, he was able to take that same scene that a person sees with their eyes and turn it into something kind of light and airy and fun. So you might be able to work with something later by opening shadows and post processing or using things within your camera that can make it more possible.

Video photographer, videographers, I should say, not video photographers, videographers use something called slog often to, or log it's often referred to, which is a really flat profile on a camera that lowers the highlights, opens the shadows and gives them a lot of latitude for, for creating a final look or in video case a lot that they can add to their image and tweak and make it look really beautiful.

With photography. We, we don't have quite that amount of latitude. However, you can use your camera and choose in internal settings that help to flatten the highlights and open the shadows. A lot of cameras have custom settings that you can choose that will let you do that. So that's a, a thing to consider.

One of the things I do shoot is raw and that gives you a lot more.  a lot more room to maneuver when it comes to post processing and, and working with some of these harsher situations that may not be the most beautiful. But I do believe that if you, if you are shooting JPEG, it's really important to find a profile or a camera style or a camera look or something within your camera that gives you more room to maneuver all the things that you would also do for people.

right. So post processing is a big part of it. How you want the final to look and your reason why? In every episode, I like to leave you with the photo challenge we learned today, how portraiture photographing people can sometimes be applied to flowers, how flowers with their faces and their personalities can be brought out just like we would do with a person.

My challenge to you today is to go shoot a flower and sit with it for a while. Don't shoot the flower immediately. Give yourself at least five solid minutes of careful observation. What are you seeing? How are the pedals laying? Is there any unique characteristics that you might want to enhance or avoid?

How is the light falling on the pedals? What is the personality of the flower? If you could think of this flower as being a person, what would their personality be? After five minutes of looking at this flower, then I want you to shoot it. How would this flower like to be photographed? Is there a potential end game?

Is this a picture for the wall? Is this a joy of the journey process? Is this something to remember something that you've helped create in your garden that you've worked hard and, and nurtured and loved over a period of time? What's the story? Even if you never share the story with anybody who views the image down the road, it's good to go through it in your mind so that you know, the purpose behind it and believe me, that purpose, that reason that, um, intention is feel.

Is that a word feelable  other people can feel it. They can understand what you're doing, even if they don't understand it consciously. I often believe that the, the difference between stellar work and just normal work is the amount of intention behind it. Was there a story there was it, uh, a culmination of.

Subconscious thought that went into it. Maybe it was a quick shot, but there was a lot of backstory in your own life that, that culminated in this image. There's a lot of ways that we can approach portraiture and flower images. Use intention. Think about your subject. Think about the personality of the subject and think about the.

That's your challenge. And you can find me at creative photography,, where you can also share your images, if you would like, I would love to hear what, what you think of this lesson. I'd like to see what you create so you can find me over there. You can also find me on Instagram at Caroline J.

Thank you. And I'll talk to you next week.