Walk through any public garden in spring, and you'll see strollers admiring the flowers. Stooping slightly, they'll pull their cameras to their faces, position the viewfinder or LCD parallel to the ground, and snap shot after shot of those sunny, open, plant-catalog blossoms. Every detail in focus, the colors bright and depthless, seemingly honest in their accessible flatness. Everything revealed. Maybe. Seeing everything isn't always the same as experiencing everything. And “tack sharp” isn't always the gold standard in plant photography. At least not for me.
Sitting on the ground, is when I really take the time to look closely at a flower. It's the view of rabbits and cats, who take little notice. And only when I pause in my weeding or planting do I. Eye-level and edge-on, I see moods (theirs or mine, I don't really know). And it's the ironic gift of a camera's shallow depth of field, revealing more when some edges are left unedged. When far petals softly echo (or contend with) those close by.
Hellebores present an interesting challenge. Most of them face downwards. It's frustrating when you think of "flower" as full-on, open face. Before putting this newly acquired Helleborus x hybridus 'Mardi Gras Pink' in the ground, I pulled its face upwards to get some shots.
That's a face alright. And you get to see the pretty design on the petals and the anthers and pistil. Open and honest . . . and, to my taste, sort of boring.
After awhile, I planted it and moved on. Then, a week or so later, I was kneeling in the bed, weeding, when I found myself watching the Hellebores.
Some facing down, some facing away, and all of them beautiful in their restraint; almost coy or maybe simply demure. Like the edges of a parasol, the petals suggest something precious shielded from the heat of a direct gaze.
So out came the camera and tripod. Flat on my stomach, chin in the dirt to look through the viewfinder, I found an angle that gave me a much better sense of what this flower actually is, at least for me.. Same variety, but in a more characteristic position.
Getting every detail of a macro shot in focus is fun, I'll admit it. You feel like you've mastered something, captured something your eyes don't always have time to observe in even a careful glance. But shallow depth of field can highlight a single detail or a shape that says far more about the charm as well as the complexity of a flower.
I bought some African Daisies (Osteospermum 'Astra Purple Spoon' and 'Astra Pink Spoon') to photograph because I couldn't resist those spoon-like petals. After trying all sorts of angles, I sat down next to the table I'd placed outdoors to position them at a more convenient level--it was muddy outside and I wasn't in the mood to change pants. Glancing over at them, I saw that I could express how bright and playful they seemed to me by shooting from the edges and working with much less in focus.
The 'Purple' to the left beckons to the viewer with its alien-pod petals, while the 'Pink' below appears to be lit from within, and the trumpeting colors in both seize the focus.
Lastly, one edge-on image I especially love is this Anemone 'Honorine Jobert.' Earlier in my life, I was a dancer. And this flower at this angle says so much to me about the quiet center, the "still point," at the apex of a leap or the core of a pirouette, or the lift of an arabesque.