Spring won’t let me stay in this house any longer! I must get out and breathe the air deeply again.

 – Gustav Mahler

As I started writing and checked the calendar, Spring was just days away. It has now officially arrived. In my neighborhood, it is showing its face in the flowering red bud trees and quince, the daffodils, narcissus and tulips breaking the surface of winter’s ground.

Last March I ended a workshop in Georgia and came home to the “lockdown.” I chased spring in my neighborhood and spent the entire season at home (like everyone else). I was determined not to miss the party, even if I was the only one in attendance. This spring is different. Soon I’ll be in Charleston, South Carolina, leading a workshop, celebrating not only the season, colors and scents but also the opportunity to be out doing what I love in one of my favorite times of the year. I’ll be photographing flowers and gardens and sharing my passion for leading and teaching.

To “jump start” the season of blooms, I had ordered a large “market haul” of flowers from one of my favorite suppliers, Farmgirl Flowers. I figured I could use it to get in the groove and share some ideas and techniques. Then, I realized that most of my shooting would be indoors and under relatively controlled circumstances. That is not what we deal with when we’re out “capturing” spring or any other season. I decided to do some test runs in my neighborhood and in a few areas that are actually open for visiting. I encountered great overcast light, big winds and wet grounds. I got dirty and made it work.

Last month I wrote about working the big picture to the smalls. I realized that my pattern has been to dive in close and only briefly acknowledge the bigger picture. In the series for this post, I made a more focused effort to at least capture an image or two of my starting points (though not with an abundance of excitement). The thing is, I do take my time. I sit down, I explore and bend and twist for different views. I do it mostly before I even start shooting a subject. I definitely ponder. I recommend you try this as well. Through these images you’ll learn about my approach to flowers and creative progressions in the field under ideal and less-than-ideal circumstances. You’ll see some of the path, the thought process and the end results.

Buds of neighborhood tree with Lensbaby Sol 45

Flowering Quince with Lensbaby Sol 45

THE “STUFF” (aka Camera Gear) FOR THE FIELD

When I photograph flowers and gardens, whether at home, in my neighborhood or in old and new favorite places, I almost always bring the following: Camera, macro lenses, diopters, macro filters, a selection of Lensbabies, a diffuser/reflector set (22”), a small diffuser/reflector (12”), flashlights, water spritzers, and, yes, a tripod. I realize the tripod is the love/hate tool of the trade, but often it is simply a must. Even more stuff rides in the car when I’m meandering to gardens and other places. I pare down to what I think I’ll need in the field and accept that there will be at least one situation where I wish I brought just one more thing. When I photograph at home, an advantage is that I have everything I need or want at my disposal. No worries about forgetting anything – even dead batteries can be charging.

In the gardens away from home, I pack a lot of the same gear (and more), but once I arrive at my destination, I observe the light, the place and my mood.  I make selections of lenses to bring into the field. What do I want to carry, lug or slog? I’ve gotten good at working in a macro lens, Lensbabies and macro accessories into the bag that allow me flexibility in compositions and creativity. I try to keep things relatively simple, even at home. Sometimes, I’ll use only one lens to challenge myself. And, it is a challenge. If I had to pick only one lens, it would be my Nikon 70-180mm micro (which has not been made in decades). If two, I would add the Lensbaby Velvet 56. If three, I’d add the Lensbaby Sol 45. In all cases, I would have macro adapters to get me even closer. And, so it goes … you see the rabbit hole, right? There’s always “one more thing.”

RESIST THE URGE FOR “EVERYTHING”

Do yourself a favor and resist the urge to bring and carry (lug, schlep or drag) every lens you have just in case you “might” want to use it or even better think you might “need.” Not having everything you own (assuming it all fits in one giant bag) lightens your load and lifts your creativity. It makes you use what you have.

While you’re at it, resist the urge to kick yourself for what you forgot or didn’t bring – in the field or for the trip. Give in to the urge to be open, have fun, play and create in ways that are different from what you normally do. Step out, no, JUMP OUT of your comfort zone. Of course, if I did that, I would be photographing people. That said, I realize that shooting with a wide angle is not something I do on a regular basis. I may need to step out in that direction. I will … just not for this post. The more we step out, the more we learn, and the more we grow.

Tiny pink flower right outside my front door with texture.

Snow drops at Tryon Palace in New Bern with Tamron 28-300mm

MY BASIC APPROACH

Truth be told, I really do make the observation pass when I’m out photographing. I don’t “plop, drop and shoot.” I can’t. I need time to tune in, settle down. That means being present, slowing down and figuring out what is tripping my trigger and why. Doing this gives me a starting point and direction. It opens up a path for working and connecting with my subject. It helps me decide what lens and other tools I want for each situation.

For example, this spring I’ve discovered how awesome and beautiful the hellebores are. How could I have missed that? In the Wilson Botanical Garden, there are several large groupings of the purple variety. Before I started shooting them, I looked at them from above, then sat down in the circle and began examining them, figuring out why I was so attracted to them. I leaned, I hovered and twisted in odd directions for different perspectives – all before I started shooting. Some of the images I wanted lent themselves to using a tripod, others didn’t. When handholding, I made sure that my shutter speed was fast enough by increasing my ISO and making sure that the stabilization (VR for Nikon) was on. I now have another favorite flower …

Warning: Start with the bigger picture. If for no other reason than to have a reference photo. That’s the one that tells me where the heck I was when I took the pictures. With no reference image and just a bunch of mostly close-up, macro and abstract flowers, I have no clue where I was and no way to know where to visit again at the same time of year. Taking pictures of signs with location names is also a good idea. It’s not always important, but sometimes I wish I started with the wider shot and moved inward. I’m working on that. What I know is that I do “see” the wider shot and do the pondering and inspecting before I start shooting. I guess I’ve been thinking that my reference photo will remain in my brain, that I’ll remember. Not always.

ACKNOWLEDGING THE LEFT AND THE RIGHT

We all see things differently, which is wonderful. Surprise – we all come to the table with a different set of everything (knowledge, life experience, and so on). You’ve probably heard about the left-brain (analytical & methodical) and right-brain (creative or artistic) thinkers and what makes us different (beyond the fact that we all are). My observations have been that while seeing “creatively” feels like a challenge to the left-brain folks, everyone is creative. It just doesn’t look or feel the same. And, it takes a bit more time and patience to move into the “artsy” zone for some. That said, it’s not a requirement at all.

Some of us (not me) are documenters. In part, these are the ones who want and need to have everything in focus and, often, make sure that nothing is changed in post. This can be a good approach for those who are recording the natural world as it is for specific reasons – conservation, science and history. Typically, but not always, this might include those who who operate more easily with their left-brain. These are the people who tell me that they find it hard to “be creative.” I argue that their creativity is simply different and challenge them to push past the comfort zone of an analytical and methodical approach. Most of us are a mix of left/right. Where we are dominant, we are most comfortable.

Others of us (including me) are creators, visual artists, “rule breakers.” Generally, it’s easier for us to move beyond what the subject “is” (like off the charts) and into how it makes us feel and zone in on the parts and pieces without feeling the need to make certain our viewer knows what it is. One could say that we can be perfectly okay with nothing in focus if the image communicates our impression or feeling. It’s not that being right-brain dominant is “better,” it just seems easier to maneuver in the less documentary approaches. By the way, neither set of thinkers are immune to getting creatively stuck. It happens to me all the time. Sometimes that means walking away, but mostly it means stepping back for a few, taking a break.

My “better late than never” reference shot of the hellebores that enthralled me.

My more typical reference shot of the hellebores with my Lensbaby Velvet 56.

Hellebore portrait and a Topaz Studio 2 texture.