Over the years I have tried to successfully photograph a tulip, yearning to capture it's essential beauty in colour, shape, and form. My houses walls are plastered in the outcome of these exercises, decorative photos that brighten a room or corridor, but somehow miss the mark. I have tried printing on gloss paper, on water colour paper, shot individual flowers and bunches. Somehow I never quite achieve what I want, yet I continue to strive. I think the problem largely comes down to defining what I am trying to achieve, that essential "Tulipness" that will define forever a tulip.
My recent thoughts about how death permeates photography are best represented by a tulip, a bloom that one picked has a few days of glory before the petals fall and the bin beckons. During that short period I can capture that unique flower and attempt to preserve it's delicate colour and texture. This weekend was another go at the tulip conundrum. I wanted something very soft, but without a huge amount of work. Guess I was feeling lazy after days tromping around in the snow.
I decided to shoot with a black background using a macro flash system attached to the lens of the camera
A back cloth and the very localized flash has prevented the background intruding into the photograph and I have managed to capture colour and contrast. Using f/2.8 I have minimized the depth of field, but failed to generate an image of softness. I really need a white background for this style of shot to work, which would need studio lighting to achieve. These were shot with a 100mm macro which means that I must shoot pretty much the whole flower as I am limited to 1:1.
I switched to a 65mm macro, a rather special lens that enables 1:1 to 5:1 magnification on a full frame camera. This is not the easiest lens to use as focusing at a fixed magnification requires moving the camera or subject, there is no conventional focus ring on the lens. I have a macro rail, so that can be readily accomplished. Enough of the technical and onto the intent. I wanted to lose the overall structure of the tulips and look deeper into the colour and texture of the petals, in particular in the way they overlap. At 3x - 5x magnification I captured the following
I have left behind the domain of shapes and entered a world dominated by colour. In each image a portion is in focus, but at f/2.8 and high magnification there is almost zero depth of field. In a sense I am exploring the landscape of the flower, these images can only be seen through this lens, as I move the camera up and down I enter the folds of the petals encountering new textures and colours. I feel these photos get much closer to my emotional response to these flowers, an abstract view of a fragile colour field.