Some of my favorite subjects are dead flowers. I first noticed the dead iris and its gnarled, knotted texture. Then came the rose which with the aging or total loss of its petals appeared unique to its fellow roses. And finally the goat beard which was just brilliant in its frozen motion.
Low Hum of Melancholy
I know this all sounds crazy and maybe a bit morbid, but when I first started out photographing flowers, I was informed that we only bother with those without flaws, just very perfect specimens. Now to me that sounded crazy. If a portrait photographer refused clients, telling them they are just too flawed to have a picture made, people would pitch major fits and this photographer would most likely be run out of town. So why do nature photographers have to limit ourselves to only a small percentage of the natural world? I say we don't.
Flower pictures are often times indistinguishable from one photographer from the next. Yes, they are beautiful, technically sound with wonderful lighting, color, clarity, and exposure. But for photography to become art, there has to be more than the technically sound bit, at least for me. The photograph, like a painting, should say something about the person who created it - where they are from, where they're at. A lovely rose in a lush green garden could be really from anywhere. Almost every city in the United States has a rose garden, and they are cultivated to be perfect and attract visitors. In the end, they all look alike and have no tangible connection to their surroundings. But still as a young photographer, I looked no further than the prettiest and I got nowhere.
one sunday morning
Then I noticed the dead iris. The iris like the rose look like every other iris and for the most has one good pose. No dead iris looks like another. They collapse in different ways, resembling the knotted joints of an ancient hand encased in a thin frail veil. This dark knotted-joint texture also makes them tricky to photograph. Many times they are hidden from direct natural light, making their fine details difficult to capture. So they are a continuing challenge every spring.
Now the goat beards are another story. They stand up nice and proud in their former glory, making themselves very photogenic. I first thought these were giant dandelions but in actuality the goat beards are daisies that have simply fallen out of favor, probably because people think they are dandelions. But anyways, once they dry up, the goat beards take on a fantastic swirling appearance as if a ballerina was suddenly frozen in mid-pirouette.
The goat beards can take be photographed from below, giving a larger perceptive, straight on, or from above. Normally these are vertical shots. However, I recently found one where the "ribbons" were flattened like helicopter blades, so that naturally became a horizontal. That's one of the great things about these dead flowers, none are the same. The goat beards are also fairly small so I use a f-stop of about 2.8 with my 60-mm macro lens. With a selective focus, the top of the goat beard (where the seeds come from) should be well focused otherwise it will be as if the "eye" is out of focus. The ribbons can come in and out because of their swirling motion appearance.
reminiscent of values
To create my photographic identity, I had to look past what I was taught to examine and do what I was told not to. I take a lot of mocking and am told many times by helpful passersby that the iris were beautiful last week and the next batch should be blooming maybe next week and to come then, and of course the "you know that's a weed!" Despite of this, my photography is my own and is recognized as my own which to any artist is big step.
So just because someone tells you that this thing or that thing does not make a good photographic subject, don't limit yourself. Experiment and find out for yourself if that's actually true. Maybe it is true, but most times a creative artist can make something of anything.