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Photographing Cut Flowers, Leaves And Fruits

( Originally Published 1902 )

Outfit same as Part I, with the exception of a short tripod and the addition of several different-coloured backgrounds.

WITH cut flowers the greatest difficulty is in keeping the flower from wilting. How delicate flowers are can only be realised by those who undertake to photograph them. This is especially true of the wild flowers. After they are picked, with some few exceptions, they are not fit to be used for many hours.

If used too soon they will move all the time; this movement is so slow as to be almost imperceptible to the eye, but it will be revealed by even a fairly long exposure. The best way to avoid this is to pick the flowers in the afternoon, and put them in water or in a damp box and leave them in a cellar or other such cool and dimly lighted place overnight. In the morning they will be found strong and in full bloom, when they should be photographed without unnecessary delay in a cool place free from draughts. For some flowers the damp box is much better than water. Any ordinary wooden or tin box will answer if it is lined with thoroughly damp material such as paper, felt, or cloth, and covered over with a wet towel. If a flower is very full blown this is the best way to preserve it overnight. Flowers to be photographed may either be cut or pulled up with complete roots. For pictorial effect the former is the better, but of course if the roots are shown the portrait of the flower is more perfect and certainly more interesting, but it is also more difficult to arrange. One way to overcome the difficulty is to lay it on a piece of clean glass and photograph directly down on it. The background is of course placed at some distance from the glass ; care must be taken to avoid the reflection on the glass. Another way is to pin the plant to a vertical background with very small pins, which must be arranged so that they will not be seen. Either of these methods may be applied to cut flowers and leaves, but the former method is much the more satisfactory.

A useful arrangement for cut flowers is a soft-wood board several inches wide attached so that it may be set at any angle ; flowers, or branches of flowers, leaves, or fruit, may be fastened to this by means of fine nails or steel pins. A piece of wet absorbent cotton wrapped around the stem will keep the flower fresh for a sufficient length of time. An ordinary well-lighted room will answer for a studio, but of course a top light is an advantage. An abundance of light is almost essential so that the exposure may be as short as possible. How sensitive flowers are to the slightest vibration will be discovered before many pictures have been made ; with some flowers a door banging in any part of the house will cause them to tremble violently, and even a person walking across the floor in another room will affect them. So it is needless to say that during the exposure everything in the room must be absolutely still. When a very long exposure is needed the photographer should sit down rather than stand. These precautions may sound absurd, but I can assure those who undertake this work that they will find them only too necessary, and that overlooking them will be the cause of many needless failures.

As regards plates, use isochromatic plates altogether, and be very careful in developing them not to let them become too dense. Use a slow developer, and keep the plate well under control. On no account use absolutely black grounds, for, as already stated, they detract enormously from the artistic value and beauty of the picture, all the softness and delicacy being drowned by the intense black.

With flowers, leaves, or grasses, very striking and decorative effects may be obtained. Curiously enough, this has seldom been attempted why, it is difficult to understand, as the work is, comparatively speaking, easy, requiring, of course, a keen sense of the value of lines, of masses, of tones, lights, and shades, just as decorative drawing does. A considerable amount of patience is needed, and perseverance also, if you would find the flowers and leaves that just fit into the scheme.

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