I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
As I sit down to write these words, it is raining. The colors of spring and almost summer are rich, green and painted with many hues from pastel and subtle to bold and vibrant. The sound of the rain falling is strangely comforting, keeping me inside. I am thankful for this time and the awareness I have of the beauty that shines just outside my windows.
REMINDERS & GRATITUDE
I am reminded of so many days over the last three months that were filled with wind and rain. I am reminded of my “chasing spring” walks and my efforts to record them within the frames of my camera. It is the first time in decades that I have been home for this long – the first time I have not worked as all or most of what I had planned has been cancelled or rescheduled. I am thankful for the opportunities that this time has provided. It has pushed me far, far, far outside my comfort zone. And, yet, I am thankful for all those still moments this time, this season, has provided.
It is a story of mixed blessings. I had to stay home. I wanted to be working. I wanted to be photographing flowers and more in all my favorite gardens. Without that option, I wanted to photograph the flowers of spring outside, in the natural light, on my back patio. And, nearly every time I was ready to do so, it was either too windy, raining or both. Dang! So, I began to work on a series of indoor set-ups and still lifes and stories. There were very few days when I was able to set up my flowers outside, but when those times came, I took full advantage of the opportunities. What follows in this post are some of the images and ideas that came from my “chasing spring” mostly indoor still life moments.
I have learned that there is much more for me to learn about creating a still life, but there is always more to learn, no matter how much we know. So, here, I will share the stories and the tools that helped make the images I share happen. In doing so, I hope that this helps anyone who is still at home and inside “make some lemonade.” These still life moments are what has helped me move a bit easier through the uncertainty and frustrations and desire to get out. There are more projects and lessons waiting in the wings, but for now I remind myself to continue being thankful, hopeful and as encouraging as I can be to myself and to others.
When I started the indoor shoots, I didn’t want to simply “plop, drop and shoot.” I had in my mind some stories, and I have plenty of props in my collection of things that bring me smiles and need to be shared. Most of the subjects have been worked amid the backdrop of vintage pieces that reflect my love for things of old, things with character. As I worked each subject, I wanted the props to be different. I did not want to use the same vase or jar or bottle for every shoot. Each subject and story called for something unique. I wanted the look or feel and techniques to vary, but the theme to run through in some way.
Of course, I veered a little. That’s what we do. And the turns of the veer often led down a different and sometimes better path. Remember, I’m “home alone.” Thankfully, my husband has continued working this entire time. It’s not that I mind alone time, but I was definitely missing interaction and sharing moments with others. So, I made up stories for my flowers and went to “work.” (You’ll read some of those stories in the image captions.)
Some of the stories originated from the flowers, others from the holders of the blooms. Each had to work together, to complement and make as much sense as possible. An underlying theme for some included “serving spring” after the chase. Oh, and besides pinching flowers and branches in the neighborhood, I also ordered in some therapy from Georgia – twice. I simply love ranunculus, but have failed at every attempt to grow them in my garden. It was awesome to have these beauties in my home, even if I had not made a single photograph. I got to know and love these flowers even more and am thankful that 3 Porch Farm was able to ship those wonderful ranunculus direct to my doorstep.
SOME OF THE TOOLS
Well, of course, the greatest tool we have is our imagination. There’s always that. And, I could give you a long list of the physical tools I used for this series. Instead, I’ll share a few that were most helpful in the process. The first would be backgrounds and stands (meaning what I put the flowers on). I used a variety of mat boards of different colors, and fabrics – especially black velvet, but also other collected pieces with different colors and textures. I used a ProMaster folding still life table for shooting with smooth transitions between the bottom and background of the image. It’s very useful, but I wish it sat a bit taller.
I also discovered a super cool, rigid, lightweight and waterproof backdrop (23” x 23” square), Replica Surfaces, that has brackets to stand them upright. I now have quite a collection. I used a large LightMaster lightbox (17” x 24”) for high-key images. And, besides window light, I used small flashlights, diffusers & reflectors and the Litra system for lighting my subjects. When the natural light worked, I used it. What I used depended on the subject, the situation and the story. And while I did handhold some, most images were made using my tripod so that I could repeat and refine compositions and exposure issues and lighting.
As for lenses, I used my macro lenses (90mm & 70-180mm), my “normal” lens (24-70mm), an array of diopters and a Raynox 250 that attaches to front of lens and magnifies the subject. All of my Lensbaby collection stood ready to serve, and serve well it did. My favorite Lensbabies are the Velvet 56 and 85, the Sweets (35, 50 & 80) and the Sol 45. Each one offers different effects within the image in camera, and the images require minimal post processing.
My flowers were fading, and I never worked this purple one when it was fresh. The broken bottle was a perfect pairing. I added some dried flower parts to the scene (worked on the still life table in natural light) and finished with a texture. More of the Wabi Sabi – beauty in imperfection – theme that matched my “home alone” series.
As I mentioned, there is much more for me to learn to produce even stronger still life images, but the process of thinking, doing and using my imagination to create the ones I share here was uplifting. The time I spent conceiving ideas for each flower, deciding which container to use, what backdrop, lighting and such would work best for what I wanted provided an opportunity to immerse myself in what is good, what feeds my soul. These efforts kept me from falling into a hole while home alone without the promise of work. The still life moments have kept me “whole.” They reminded, and continue to, remind me to look for good, to feed my creative soul and to have fun playing with all the things I love – flowers, collecting cool stuff, photography and making up stories in my head.
The wisteria on a platter was fun to work with a mirror floor and black velvet reflecting the scene. An old blue bottle, small white bowls and a 40 year old, simple wooden tray given to me years ago by our neighbor, “Unkie Al”, serve as foundation for the fading flowers. I draped the ones still “whole” and filled the bowls with all that had fallen while waiting for their close-up.
I share a quote I found recently by Roy T. Bennett, from The Light in the Heart, and hope it bring a smile to your face in its simple reminder for all of us:
Each day brings new opportunities, allowing you to constantly live with love – be there for others – bring a little light into someone’s day. Be grateful and live each day to the fullest.
May you find your own still moments in every season . . . Look for the good, look for the light, and feed your soul.
Before falling and fading, this wisteria showed off its curves and color in front of a white mat board on the back patio in the elusive natural light, creating a lovely high key image. I dressed her up with a French Kiss texture that complimented the motion in the frame. There was some wind that day, but it played nice and gave intervals of stillness.
I drove eight hours in one day for these peonies. Yes, I did. For this story, I filled a blue-gray enamel vintage colander with mostly fresh flowers and shot them straight down with a black velvet background. After working the image a while, I decided that a more artistic feel would give me what I wanted. Topaz Impression & Edward Hopper and some blending and masking feels just right.