5 frames with...

5 Frames with a 35mm Summicron-R Lens at the Botanical Garden – by Christian Schroeder

April 18, 2020

It began with a new purchase, a 35mm Summicron lens for my Leica SLR cameras. This lens focuses down to 30 cm. So, what’s the deal with that? Normally I have to maintain a ‘safety distance’ of one meter. Thus, 30 cm felt like I was entering macro-territory. So many new options – finally, I could tackle the small things in life! Although this had been the essential argument to convince myself I desperately needed that lens, I couldn’t imagine an appropriate use case as I liberated the thing from its packaging material.

It took me several days until a flash of inspiration hit my brain. “I go to the botanical garden and study some plant details!”, I thought. “Maybe I can even create some images that resemble these cool black-and-white photographs from the 1920’s, depicting individual leaves or blossoms?” And off I went.

Black-and-white photograph of several blossoms taken with a Leica Summicron lens at the botanical garden.

At the Garden

Sure, I considered my trip to the botanical garden just as a test run for the new equipment. But film is too precious to be wasted for some brick wall kinda shots. So I tried my best to make the scene work. In the end, I was nevertheless surprised how much I like these images. The black-and-white representation emphasizes shapes and textures. By the way, I love Andrew’s quote in his recent Canon LTM lens review: “You 35MMC readers deserve real photographs.” He is a genius.

To be honest, plants are a grateful subject. In contrast to the animals I found at the zoo, plants don’t move. You can take your time – a lot(!) of time – to compose your image, until you have reached perfect satisfaction. Every shot a bullseye. However, I sometimes struggled to obtain a clean view. No matter if it’s a cactus, a flower or a fern: in front of every single plant stands a label with the respective name on it. After all, botanical gardens pursue an educational goal as well. But if I see one of these white bars glowing at the bottom of my image, they scream to me: “This is not real nature! You’re standing in an artificial world!”

Black-and-white photograph of a cactus taken with a Leica Summicron lens at the botanical garden.

The place offers different garden landscapes (I guess the fancy word for this may be “biogeographic regions”). Even though there are many vegetarian beauties to discover, I spend most of my time in the glasshouses at the tropic and desert species. As the garden administration doesn’t allow you to leave the trails, you can’t get really close to many of the plants. Unless… you walk inside the tightly packed glasshouses!

It’s how you use it

One thing that amazes me when photographing close objects is that I can focus with my body. Just by wiggling a few centimetres back and forth I place the focus plane exactly where I want it to be – I don’t have to touch the lens barrel. Because I had loaded the camera with rather slow Fuji Acros 100 ISO film, the shutter speeds turned out long. To avoid camera shake, I held my breath before pressing the shutter.

For other people in the botanical garden, this must have been a funny sight: “Look at this guy leaning over the cactus with his camera pressed to face! – “Yeah, I see him. He is getting closer and closer.” – “Now the guy is moving slightly back and forth, does he try to scare the cactus?” – “Mhmm, he is frozen now!” – And then, a typewriter-esque click releases the tension.

Black-and-white image of some bananas.

Black-and-white photograph of large leaf taken with a Leica Summicron lens at the botanical garden.

Thank you for reading!

Support & Subscribe

35mmc is free to read. It is funded by adverts. If you don't like the adverts you can subscibe here and they will disapear.

For as little as $1 a month, you can help support the upkeep of 35mmc and get access to exclusive content over on Patreon. Alternatively, please feel free to chuck a few pennies in the tip jar via Ko-fi:

Become a Patron!

Learn about where your money goes here.
Would like to write for 35mmc? Find out how here.

24 Comments

  • Reply
    Jim Sangwine
    April 18, 2020 at 10:37 am

    Beautiful images Christian! Purchase justified 😉

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 18, 2020 at 12:40 pm

      Thank you, Jim! We all need our reasons. 🙂

  • Reply
    J.
    April 18, 2020 at 11:11 am

    Hi Christian, I really enjoy reading all of your submissions to this site and they usually come with pleasing and to me aesthetic, tasteful results. I usually don’t care about plant photography but knowing your architectural work, I didn’t hesitate to click this article and I wasn’t disappointed. A bit short this time, but you really put that lens and camera to good use.
    Nice to see that you seem to suffer from GAS, too, not having a user case for that lens in mind at first, but then just going with it. Another slice I’d like to take for myself from your approach. Looking forward to seeing and reading more of your work here, maybe even with some more R-glass.

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 18, 2020 at 12:41 pm

      Hi Jasper, thank you for your feedback! Rest assured, there is already a longer post waiting in queue. 🙂
      Occasionally, I’m suffering hard from GAS. Now that I’m saving quite a lot of money on film and development, new R-glass doesn’t seem too unlikely. Most of these lenses still remain bargains.

      • Reply
        Terry B
        April 18, 2020 at 1:09 pm

        Christian, I can’t help it, but I hope you mean G.A.S, and not GAS. In colloquial English this means something else entirely!😫 I think the emoji may explain.
        I’d also like to give an up-vote for more of your architecture images.

        • Reply
          Christian Schroeder
          April 18, 2020 at 1:27 pm

          Looked it up in the urban dictionary. Quite some funny definitions for the terms “gas” and “GAS”…

  • Reply
    Terry B
    April 18, 2020 at 11:49 am

    Christian, a botanical garden is a great place to explore exotic flowers. The world on a doorstep, so to speak.
    In my home town, Birmingham, UK, we have the wonderful Botanical Gardens that doesn’t have animals so I’m unlikely to be pounced upon by a tiger, or bitten by a snake, as I wander round.🙂 But my favourite venue is Winterbourne House which is attached to Birmingham University’s Horticultural Department. This a working environment with gardens and hot houses covering a wide range of flora embracing temperate, arid and tropical climates.
    The arid and tropical specimens tend to remain the same, but the gardens are in a constant state of flux depending upon the season. Sadly, it appears I will be missing visits this year owing to coronavirus.
    Interestingly, your focusing technique is that used when using a Zeiss Contax rangefinder with a Contameter close-up rangefinder, and is very effective. The device has just three focusing distances governed by add-on close-up lenses, and a Contameter rangefinder. To focus, the r/f is set for the appropriate close-up lens and one moves backwards and forwards until the coincident images align. Simple, but very effective.
    By the way, the breathing technique is not strictly holding your breath, but taking a deep breath and then breathing out slowly as you press the shutter. The body is more relaxed this way than when holding your breath. Try it and see.

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 18, 2020 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Terry. This constant state of flux in the gardens fascinates me, too. I almost bought an annual ticket when I visited the gardens for the last time in early March. Should do this after the re-opening…

      Thanks for your help with the breathing technique, I will definitely try it! Maybe there’s another solution – to put in it in the words of an airplane safety instruction: “In the likely event of a sudden loss of light, insert a high-ISO film and breath normally.” 🙂

  • Reply
    Bob Weeks
    April 18, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    Really nice images, rendered without the Perfect Plastic Plant effect many color (especially digital) photos in the US have.

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 18, 2020 at 1:27 pm

      Thank you, Bob!

  • Reply
    Bruno Chalifour
    April 18, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    Thank you Christian as good a writer as a photographer. Best,

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 18, 2020 at 1:28 pm

      Hi Bruno, much appreciated!

  • Reply
    Charles Morgan
    April 18, 2020 at 6:14 pm

    Lovely! I adore my SL2 and if it’s possible adore the 35mm Summicron more – it is a beautiful lens as your delightful photos show. It’s also so much more forgiving than a genuine macro lens too. Well done!

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 19, 2020 at 1:16 pm

      Thank you, Charles! The SL2 is my favorite (35mm) reflex camera.

  • Reply
    Marc Wick
    April 18, 2020 at 6:57 pm

    Great photos Christian! Your report was not very helpful to cure my GAS for the SL2!!!

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 19, 2020 at 1:16 pm

      Mhmm. I guess you deserve one! 🙂

  • Reply
    eric
    April 19, 2020 at 12:32 am

    Simply wonderful Christian *****

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 19, 2020 at 1:18 pm

      Thanks!

  • Reply
    Jens
    April 19, 2020 at 11:41 am

    As always, your contribution is well-written and superbly illustrated, Christian. Albert R-P was also the driving force that made me visit the Garden on a pretty regular basis. I love the way you give your Images a slightly more playful touch than that seen in the rather formal compositions of the 1920s master.

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 19, 2020 at 1:18 pm

      I’m becoming more and more a fan of Albert R-P. Recently, I re-discovered a book in my shelf titled “power stations in historical photographs”, which contains some works of R-P among others. An exciting topic of its own, illustrated with impressive images from the golden age of electricity production in the late 19th early 20th century. The book was a gift of my father, who worked as a HR manager for a local electricity company. Maybe you want to borrow the book, sometime?

  • Reply
    Sroyon
    April 19, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    Beautiful work as always, Christian 🙂 They have a lovely, meditative quality. I really think plant photography with BnW is underrated. Panchromatic film makes the greens appear just a bit darker than they look with the naked eye. The conventional advice is to use green filters to compensate, but shooting without filters (which is what you did I guess?) can create some nice contrast if you have lighter elements in the frame as you do in all your photos – the flowers, the cactus thorns, the fuzz in the third photo and the veins in the last.

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 20, 2020 at 7:43 am

      Hi Sroyon, thank you for your feedback! I was indeed surprised how much fun the plant photography can provide. So many details are waiting to be discovered.
      Your assumption is true, I didn’t use any filter. Fortunately, my Summicron already has a standard filter thread (55mm) whereas its predecessor still employs the rather uncommon Series 7 filter type. Just in case I want to try it…

  • Reply
    Matthias
    April 20, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Hi Christian,
    a really beautiful series, as always. Your posts here – for me – are always highlights, no matter if it’s architecture or your great zoo animal series or now theses plants. Your pictures always have something special, they are in a way meaningful and never ordinary. And I like your thoughtful writing.
    Another thing I wanted to tell you: In one of your architecture posts you hinted at your concerns about the raising of the extreme right in Germany. I absolutely agree with your concerns and I hope this will not continue after the Corona-crises. Let’s be vigilant !

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      April 21, 2020 at 10:48 am

      Hi Matthias,
      thank you for your comment, I really appreciate your feedback. Going through my archives and writing down stories are activities that particularly help me through these days. So expect so more posts to come… And yes, let’s be vigilant!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.