Learning to see

I started out yesterday morning taking photos of my perennial Black-Eyed Susans, Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'. They're in full bloom right now and looking great, but the heat and lack of rainfall will probably fade them pretty quickly, so I wanted to make sure I took photos.

Then something interesting happened to my eyes or my brain and I really started seeing them, for maybe the first time.


As always I was trying to capture visually interesting images -- I'm not a fan of plant photos that look like they should be used in a catalog or encyclopedia.

So I started taking some shots.

I got a few that I was happy with, especially when this little perfectly-colored bee stopped for a quick sunbath:

But overall I wasn't really satisfied. I realized that what drew me to these flowers this morning was the way that the drift of them caught the early sunlight and just forced my eyes and then my feet over to them.

It was the overall blaze of them -- the feel -- and that was missing from my photos.

A simple photo of the drift of blooms wasn't doing it for me either -- yes, it showed that there were a lot of blooms here, but it didn't have the right feeling.

Then I noticed that all of the photos that I had already taken and was somewhat satisfied with had one thing in common: they all showed several out-of-focus blooms in the background.

So I started experimenting.

I purposefully defocused, and sometimes didn't even bother looking through the viewfinder -- I just pointed the camera in a direction I thought might result in an interesting capture.

I'm very pleased with the results.

These convey more of the feeling that the mass of blooms gave me... in a way. It's not the details of each flower that did it for me, or the fine texture. It was the overall impression: the big blobs of color, the mixing of textures, greens and golds and blacks. Also, the feeling of "sunny" that these flowers conveyed... or "happiness".

(Of course I'm not the first to notice this sort of thing -- I must fight the urge to get out my book on Monet's gardens or I won't get any work done at all today.)

So this was an important day for me, as I learned how to really "see" what made these particular plants so attractive to me.

I need to do more looking now, as there is so much more of my garden for me to "see".


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Janet  – (July 26, 2011 at 7:57 AM)  

It's an interesting idea and certainly works in terms of overall impression and with a mass colourful planting. I'm thinking maybe I shouldn't be so quick to get rid of my out of focus shots (a mistake in my case)but look at them differently. Food for thought.

Rock rose  – (July 26, 2011 at 8:46 AM)  

That s how my eyes a seeing this morning after 4 days of garden flinging! We had a lesson yesterday with David Perry, who is a wonderful photographer. He was teaching us to do exactly as you did. Rudbeckias are wonderful subjects but you took some stunning photos. I have decided that gardening must be your work!

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (July 26, 2011 at 9:30 AM)  

Alan, bravo! I think you made an important breakthrough as a photographer, interpreting what was in front of you and presenting it such a way that it reflects your feelings rather than reality. This technique is used in very interesting ways by many contemporary fine art photographers. Uta Barth comes to mind and Keith Carter although he uses very shallow focus instead of out of focus.

Gardener on Sherlock Street  – (July 26, 2011 at 4:07 PM)  

Great photos. You did good trying all the different shots.

Cat  – (July 26, 2011 at 5:25 PM)  

I especially love the second to last shot Alan. The colors are so vivid and summer-like! It's an interesting point you make and I agree. I've struggled with photographing my Susans as well and I think you've expressed my struggle...it's been hard to capture the emotion. Your 'blurred' images do just that though.

Alan  – (July 26, 2011 at 6:57 PM)  

Thanks all!

Janet: slightly out-of-focus shots and extremely out-of-focus are so different. I've got way too many slightly out of focus shots that I delete without hesitation.

L. Rose: gardening my work? No, but it feels like it sometimes. :-)

Gerhard: we're gardeners -- we don't work with reality that often (weeds? what weeds?) ;-)

Ginny  – (July 26, 2011 at 8:13 PM)  

You've inspired me! Beautiful shots.

Anonymous –   – (August 1, 2011 at 5:58 PM)  

Lovely photos and I love how you shared the idea of your experiment. I have not thought of capturing garden stand-outs in this way but am excited to try it. My favorite photo is the 6th one of the experiment. Outstanding!

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