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.
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!”
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.
Thank you for reading!