Finding Calm Photographing Gloomy Minimalist Flowers

Finding Calm Photographing Gloomy Minimalist Flowers

Call it a personal project or way of finding the calm again in photographs, lately I've been shooting a portrait style “sad flower” collection and I love it. Check out the how and why and if it tickles your fancy you can give it a try too.

Honestly, when it comes to photography I feel like it's almost always about the mood of an image. In my mind, mood equals style. It's the aspect that you as the photographer see in your head that no one else can see. The secret sauce that you bring to the table (like a pocket bottle of Sriracha) and the thing that you're looking for when you shoot your images. Over the past year I have been more and more actively shooting a collection I'm calling sad flowers and it's not an exaggeration to say that it has really brought a new sense of calm and joy to my photographic life.

I'm just a goth kid at heart so when I set out to shoot portrait-style flowers the vibe I want is a bit of a gloomy one. I want to capture the beauty of the flower but use light and color to create a moody sense for each image. This starts with an even and generally soft light. It can be sunny or cloudy, warmer or cooler, so long as the lighting in the actual frame is an even one as I personally prefer to avoid harsh shadows pretty much at all times. This involves waiting for days with gray skies and cooler temperatures which personally contributes to my sense of calm as I've always been drawn to the cloudy and rainy days anyway.

When it comes to gear, I've opted to stick with the same lens I shoot my fairy tale portraits with, my good friend the Sigma 85mm lens. This allows me to view the scene from both a portrait style and a minimal almost macro-style approach. Though it's worth noting here that this is absolutely not a genuine macro lens and that minimum focus distance is just under three feet. If you have or are interested in a true macro lens, this will allow you to further isolate incredible detail and individual aspects of a a flower that the 85mm will not (filling the whole frame with the surface texture of a single petal for example). I'll say that I have found I enjoy these shots at a aperture between f/1.8 and f/2.2 which allows for pretty stellar focus on just the right part of the frame. For these images I've not felt the need to go with a tripod as the flowers aren't really moving at all beyond the occasional breeze and I like hand-holding here to stay mobile.

It's important to know that generally speaking this is a seasonal venture as there aren't really many flowers hanging around for winter time. Workarounds include botanical gardens that may be maintained year-round or green house if possible though personally I actually enjoyed the time-limited aspect of shooting seasonal blooms. This allows for shots that emphasize the life cycle of a flower like the wilting of it's petals as it fades away (all about that vibe!). Furthermore, it gives you reason to get back out there multiple times over the course of spring and summer. Look up the nearest rose garden and check it out a few different times over a given season; it's amazing how much a scene can change from week to week.

Where does the actual sense of peace come from though? For me it's something I've found that comes from the act of shooting these images, the time spent outdoors in nature, and the slow pace of searching for the right flowers and the right angles. While a portrait session has a bit more going on, the flowers aren't on a time crunch (at least not a minute-to-minute and hour-to-hour time crunch) and I can take as much time as I need. The walk through a park or garden is a peaceful one, often with few people around and no pressure to get the shot right in a hurry. I can throw on a hoodie and beanie, grab my camera bag, and go genuinely relax at a garden while taking photographs. It has been a really welcome change of pace that I know I'll be continuing from season to season.

Let's recap how you go about trying something similar if you are so inclined; first get yourself a wide aperture lens at a medium to long focal length for isolating the subject in frame (whether it's flowers, leaves, rocks, moss and mushrooms in the woods, or whatever you choose, isolating an aspect of the frame is a strong place to start). If true macro is the type of shot you're picturing make sure your lens can focus as close as possible. Go to a garden or forest and slow the hell down; approach this shoot slowly and casually as there is no pressure to get it right. Take your time and enjoy the actual taking of the photos. Take time to inspect the flowers with your eyes (not just your viewfinder) and search out the one that you feel is the right one. I've found soft even light to be the mood I want but by all means experiment with different scenes until you find your niche. The whole point is to achieve a kind of reset by while finding a relaxing way to shoot.

If any of you folks out there have a similar subject that you've found really helps you find a sense of calm share it us and tell us your story. If you have an image that you'd like to share definitely drop it in the comments below. If there are any of the dedicated macro shooters out there, I for one would be pretty interested in hearing your take and get a sense of how your approach your shoots. Does anything that you've read here resonate with what you get from a macro shoot?

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4 Comments

Richard Kralicek's picture

Lay down into the grass and try some bug views on flowers reaching out of the meadow. ^^ On can also go the impressionist way and find some flowers in front of light leaking bushes in backlight with a Lensbaby (Double glass 50mm or Sweet50, Sweet35) or an old or new Trioplan for some ornament-like background.
As amateur this is the way I calm down after work, nature is great for that.

Enjoying the photos and love the style! Exactly what I want to achieve with my post processing but not there yet : )

@Evan Kane you can export as preset and share it with me tho : )

Brian Jones's picture

I agree too personal projects can be great for learning, improving and keeping inspired. Thank you for the article and inspiration. Great images by the way!