- powerful as an art form
standing on its own,
- as a basis for transforming
botanical secrets into “Macro” artwork,
painted or drawn
Spectacular centrestage eyecatchers (such as Lilies, Wisteria, or Bird of
Paradise) are most enjoyable and invite us painting them.
Yet, how many of us give Gypsophilas and Forget-me-nots as well as
humble Pansies more than a passing look? These tiny and inconspicuous
or otherwise overfamiliar plants have fascinating details often overlooked
by the spoiled eye used to dramatic displays of colours and shapes.
So, get either your magnifying glass or your camera with its macro lens out,
and stoop down to look at plants with different eyes.
Think “Macro Paintings” (similar to Macro Photography).
Botanical Artists are familiar with this of course.
For the rest of us: discover the dainty, sometimes fragile shapes of fresh
and crisp looking blossoms, how their petals may curl back from the centre,
or notice their slight frill; some come in longish tubes, deeply fluted, or
cup-like, and there are single and double petals, some with a smooth, waxy
look, and some are tiny yet graceful. The variety in shapes seems endless.
The colours often shade into soft-tinted, delicate hues, and you might even
find two-tone effects, or petals notched with coloured touches at the tips;
- on the other hand see the purity, uniformity, and brilliance of other
blossoms, especially when they react to various light and weather conditions.
Have a close look at the delicate stamens and pistils, focus precisely on
them, and become aware of the plants’ structures and intricate mechanisms
and interactions with other plants.
Sometimes you can see pollinating insects on flowers; other visitors can
include snails and amphibians, and spiders often leave intricate webs
behind, which again invite magnification and experimenting at different
Stems and leaves vary in their textures and shapes, and it is interesting
to observe the relationship of various plant parts to each other.
In Japanese culture the stem, leaf, and blossom, even the spaces between
them, form a pattern.
The ingenious shapes of seed vessels may well excite your curiosity when
autumn is approaching, as there are spherical, cylindrical, oval, conical,
prismatic and other shapes among them.
And the seeds themselves are designed in a bewildering variety; just
compare the roundish Nasturtium seeds resembling gravel with the
semi-circle shaped Marigold seeds, or Lobelia “dust” with dandelion
“parachutes” floating in the wind. You might like to add on an extension
tube on top of your macro lens for very small subjects. (Just allow a bit
more light in to compensate for its use, either via aperture setting or
It is particularly exciting to see developments happen and then to translate
that into artwork: Watching the first unforgettable stages of leaves or
blossoms unfolding; Witnessing the “metamorphosis” from blossom to
fruit may take longer, but a regular check will reveal the wonderful
transformation taking place. And, be warned, you may even see
“seed pods explode” and be able to freeze the movement with a fast
speed, your camera firmly in place with a tripod.
We may have preferred in the past to captivate the more spectacular
plant species. But if you have a knack for details, both a well-planned
garden as well as what may appear to be a drab countryside garden can
really come to life for you. If you haven’t got the advantage of your own
garden, you can ask your friends for the use of theirs, and you can take
advantage of public gardens, or private gardens open for charity.
(They might also be flattered having an artist set up an easel and paint their
plants and flowers.)
Even so-called “weeds” will come into their own. Try different viewpoints
and angles, and keep an eye on the lighting.
Macro-Photography as well as “macro artwork” might sound like a very
specialised enterprise. But after a while you get a feel for it.
Then you don’t consciously think about the camera-technical side of
things anymore, you just enjoy doing it while being fascinated by the
botanical details. Of course you can make do with a magnifying glass
and just look and draw and paint. Photographs have the advantage that
we can study them, while the real plant or plant detail might have moved
or withered, or the light or possibly weather conditions might have changed.
What I look out for in the first place is a perfectly or interestingly shaped
object that I can get close to. Then it’s good to walk around it to see it
from different angles, and not to forget all 3 dimensions.
This helps to choose a viewpoint that will highlight interesting details
unique to that plant. Next, the object’s position may need some
improvement for photography, inasmuch as any disturbing grasses or
branches etc. can be bent out of the way and possibly held away using
clothes-pegs or sticky tape. As artists we can also simply use “artist’s
license” and ignore disturbing things by not including them in the artwork.
f the background is disturbing, it could be replaced by an artificial
background when photographing, you can also just throw it out of focus
by adjusting depth of field. A contrasting colour background is often
desirable. Also, it is attractive to place the object asymmetrically within
the frame, which might find a balance in some hazy colour hue in the
background. Personally, I like the unusual pictures and paintings that
differ from the regular run of the mill. On showing some of my photographs
to one of my friends, he wondered where I had been to get so many tropical
plant pictures, - when in fact they simply were very close-up macro photographs
of small wildflowers and other small flowers, taken from unusual angles.
One very powerful effect, that of virtually lifting an object out of its
surroundings, - which could mean making stamens and pistils stand out
from the surrounding blossom -, can be achieved in photography by
varying the depth of field. It is that crucial relationship between aperture
and shutter speed that decides if you will see the subject clear and sharp
in all its parts, - or to emphasise only a part of it.
Depending on the amount of light coming in through the aperture, the
timing will have to be adjusted. As a basic rule, the smaller the aperture,
the more will be sharp - but the longer the required shutter speed.
And that is what usually calls for the use of a sturdy tripod, as even the
slightest movement will be magnified along with the subject.
If a tripod is not at hand, you can put one knee on the ground and lean
an elbow on the other knee for stability; or otherwise, if the object is too
high up, let your elbows rest in your stomach area to take a motionless
picture. Shutter speeds around 1/125 or 1/60 second are ok for outside
under normal circumstances, this allows for a wider aperture, and thus
the background will be beautifully out of focus.
(You can also break the photographic rules occasionally in order to
experiment, sometimes with surprisingly stunning results, which in turn
can inspire your painting.) The same depth of field effect can be produced
in paintings of course.
There are two things that I usually avoid though: windy conditions
and full sunlight.
Movement can be attractive, but only if it does exactly what is desired
at the right time. Alternatively you might like to fix the stem of a flower
with wire and wait for a calm moment.
Full sunlight is nice for other avenues of photography,
but in close quarters with plants and blossoms the colours are much
more vibrant and details more visible when it is slightly overcast.
Early mornings or evenings are best, as sunlight comes at a lower angle
and is slightly diffused. This also carries the bonus of a gentle inclination
towards warmer, slightly reddish tones.
These are also the times when in the great outdoors it is easier to get
back-light (without having to crawl on the ground too much), which can
make colourful petals appear translucent or even create a beautiful rim
around the edges.
This effect can of course be achieved much more easily
inside, which doesn’t have to be a fully-fledged studio by the way.
You can use 3 lamps, one with a daylight bulb from above at a distance,
and 2 small halogen lamps from the two sides, one a bit more from the
back, the other a bit more from the front, but both very near to the blossom.
It’s well worth experimenting with their positions and observing what will
give the most interesting results.
Thus the mood of a picture can change completely. And indoors it is possible
to create a triangular relationship between aperture / shutter speed / light
By “macro”-diving into flowers and plants it has been my experience that
a completely new world has opened up to me, a new dimension of beauty,
that translates very well into artwork.
Here is one of my articles incl. photos, published years ago in the Outdoor Photography magazine.
Other articles and photos have been published in the PARROTS magazine, in a British newspaper, etc, and also on www.ephotozine.com .