Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Escape to a Warmer Greener World

Last week I left home all bundled up, walked through cold blowing snow, opened a door, and entered the warm verdant stillness of a forest of fig, lipstick and butterfly trees. In the understory grew bromeliads, bamboos, orchids, and plants I remembered from our yard in California long ago. It was a magical transition!
Bird-of-paradise awakened childhood memories. Photo by Betsy Jo Moore.
Betsy and I spent several hours in the Williams Conservatory (University of Wyoming), intent on improving our camera skills. We didn’t look at all that many plants, waylaid as we were by technicalities. But it hardly mattered—there still was so much to see!

All around were splashes of bright colors. Betsy captured them in beautiful flower portraits.
Photo by Betsy Jo Moore.
Photo by Betsy Jo Moore.
Photo of Betsy Jo Moore.
Meanwhile, I fell down a rabbit-hole into a wonderland of leafy abstraction.

Several years ago I blogged about abstract photographyPlants in the Abstract. Things haven't changed; it's still just as fun and satisfying. The abstract photographer looks at plants in non-traditional ways, seeking things like pattern, line, form and texture. It’s a fascinating experience, full of discovery. Immerse yourself in it, and you can escape whatever reality you’re currently stuck in.
This is obviously a plant. But high-lighted curving lines feel like the subject to me.
There was no shortage of patterns, curves, details and arrangements to capture with my macro lens (and tripod). It’s astounding how much I don’t see when I look at a plant, preoccupied as I am by the whole subject and its larger parts.
Bromeliad leaves.

Cactus areoles.

I entered a miniature Enchanted Forest …
… atop a giant barrel cactus!

The umbrella sedges (Cyperus alternifolius) looked like the ones we had in our backyard as kids. It was here that I took my only flower photos.
Flower head shot with macro as telephoto (100 mm).
Many tiny flowers in a cluster of spikes.
By making close carefully-framed compositions, I came away with a greater appreciation for the plants than my eyes alone would have provided. Will this ever be possible without a camera?
How to look closely—one of life’s persistent questions.

My escape didn’t end when I left the Conservatory. At home, I discovered more details after downloading the photos. I cropped profusely, and played around with post-processing.

Sometimes converting to black-and-white got rid of distracting color.

It was fun to experiment, even to the point of creating surrealistic images from subjects that were quite real. I was reminded of one of Ann McKinnell's recent photo tips (#4): “Give yourself permission to play! Sometimes you just need to allow yourself to experiment with new subjects and techniques without the pressure of making good images.”


  1. I remember escaping into the then-nearly-new conservatory at Powell Gardens in Kansas City one cold, blustery day. What a haven! Then outside in a surreal transition as it had begun to snow in the meantime.
    Your photos - and Betsy's! - are lovely; and the monochromes are thrilling. So glad you could take camera and tripod as some places put significant restrictions on photography...

    1. Thank you, Amy. I have no idea why I don't go there more often, why I always wait until I have a photography project. It's a bad habit I need to change ;-)

      The staff are always very welcoming -- seem glad to have visitors.

  2. Beautiful photos, Hollis. I often carry a hand lens with me to help me look closely and appreciate plants in a deeper way. However, like you I find that taking photographs is a great way to see the details that can be so easily missed.

    1. thanks, Tim. And thanks for sending the link to the video about composite macros. I "read" the Seeing Seeds book--amazing photos! Not sure I would buy it though. The text is not the greatest--mainly the intro, which is confusing at times with regards to seeds vs. fruit vs. seed heads, and other terminology. I think diagrams would have helped. The essays on each plant are interesting. Hope you can find it in a library.

    2. No problem, I'm really glad you liked the photos.
      Our library doesn't often have American non-fiction, but I do own the Seeing Seeds book. I really like the photographs, but felt the writing was a let down. The author overused the phrase 'seeds from hybrids don't come true' and sometimes it felt she said it for every plant!
      However, I'm glad I have it and continue to flick through it for the photographs.
      I recently got the seeing trees book, which has a different author and looks more promising.