Photography forum: Documentation first, then art

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Name: Frank Richards
Clinton, Michigan

Garden Ideas: Master Level Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Jun 24, 2017 7:11 PM CST
I take photos of my plants first and foremost for documentation: Specifically, I

1. take macros of flowers and leaves.
2. take garden shots documenting the location of the plant.
3. take annual photos of every plant
4. take life cycle photos of the plant
5. post my photos with extensive metadata to flickr so I can reference any given plant (and share)

However, I do try to take interesting, artful photos:

1. I shoot from different positions
2. I edit my photos to make them look more natural
3. I have a good camera and lenses
4. I try to learn from other people

I am interested in how other gardeners view photography?
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Photo Contest Winner: 2016 Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Sep 23, 2017 7:51 AM CST
Not sure how I view it Frank Shrug! relatively new hobby for me... if it has to be either/or, then probably art first, especially considering that I tend to view gardening and the gardens as somekinda art form--dynamic sculpture Hilarious! or something like that

Art is pretty squishy though, eye of the beholder and all that
Name: Asa

Bee Lover Garden Photography Region: Utah Garden Ideas: Master Level Photo Contest Winner: 2016
Sep 23, 2017 8:10 AM CST
I don't know how much standing I have to comment here, but...

There's a reason that the police take mug shots. And so much of what I see posted here is mug-shot-ey.

That said, there's a spectrum of quality in every genere. It's absolutely possible to write a both mechanically perfect yet otherwise absolutely terrible sonnet, for example.

So with the notion of documentation in mind, I think it's possible to get stuff in focus, frame it well, light it well (most things in the garden can be shot with better light than harsh, midday sun), and produce it well.

Guess after all that rambling, what I mean to say is: one can probably make good art within the mugshot/documentation genre...or subset. So that's probably my aim or approach.

Hitting that target is easier said than done, though, for me.
Name: Joshua
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia (Zone 10b)
Köppen Climate Zone Cfb
Region: Australia Bookworm Cat Lover Lilies Orchids Irises
Seed Starter Annuals Container Gardener Garden Photography Forum moderator
Sep 23, 2017 8:16 AM CST

Plants Admin

Asa, that is basically what I try to do - produce good photos (or "art") whilst documenting at the same time. Definitely easier said than done! I'd like to think I'm getting better at it after a couple of years practicing.
Plant Authorities: Catalogue of Life (Species) --- International Cultivar Registration Authorities (Cultivars) --- RHS Orchid Register --- RHS Lilium Register
My Notes: Orchid Genera HTML PDF Excel --- Lilium Traits HTML PDF --- Lilium Species Crosses HTML PDF Excel --- Lilium Species Diagram
The current profile image is that of Iris 'Volcanic Glow'.
Name: Mary
Lake Stevens, WA (Zone 8a)
Near Seattle
Bookworm Garden Photography Plant and/or Seed Trader Plays in the sandbox Region: Pacific Northwest Seed Starter
Winter Sowing
Oct 6, 2017 9:43 AM CST
Frank I am kind of like you, trying to do two different kinds of photography. Art vs. documentation.
I have been playing around with taking seed and seed pod photos, to upload here. Interestingly, I found that my expensive Nikon with the big sensor has such a narrow depth of field that it is better to use my cell phone for this! The tiny sensor gives a better image for this particular purpose. I could use the computer to "stack" the photos from the big camera but that seems like a lot of work.
Thumb of 2017-10-06/Pistil/843441
Thumb of 2017-10-06/Pistil/343b3e
I just yesterday bought a wooden ruler, so it won't be so shiny.
I also considered using the method of "The Seed Site" which is to put the seeds in a 1" circle on paper for the photo.

Name: Rick R.
Minneapolis, MN, USA zone 4
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Hybridizer
Seed Starter Plant Identifier Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Oct 6, 2017 7:28 PM CST
Nice clear photos, Mary!
In the same way, I also was a little disappointed with my seed photos with my newer Olympus OMD E-M10 II vs. the Sony RX100M2 I have. I expected a much bigger improvement. I think it is mostly because the Sony macro mode is available only at the widest angle of the non-interchangeable zoom lens, allowing maximum light and a greater depth of field and faster shutter speed vs. the 60mm macro lens I use on the Olympus (=120mm full frame). But that was my first impression, and there is always a learning curve. And of course, if you don't have the right lens, you can't make it do what it was not built for.

I get much better pics now.....

Penstemon grandiflorus
Best pic with the Sony RX100M2
Thumb of 2017-10-07/Leftwood/6dd48a

With the Olympus
Thumb of 2017-10-07/Leftwood/eb9b45 Thumb of 2017-10-07/Leftwood/1716b6

And I too, found the reflectiveness of a metal or clear plastic ruler not to my liking. I use wood.
And seed pods, yes, seed pods!
Thumb of 2017-10-07/Leftwood/4579d6

And as you can see, white balance is critical if one wants consistency.
Name: Asa

Bee Lover Garden Photography Region: Utah Garden Ideas: Master Level Photo Contest Winner: 2016
Oct 6, 2017 9:27 PM CST
I'm having a really, really hard time with the definition of "documentation" in this thread.

In his first post, Frank tells us what he shoots (life cycle, relative position, leaves, etc.,), but doesn't tell us what makes a high-quality (better, relative to other shots) "documentation" shot. What criteria are used as differentiators?

Then, which of these criteria are unique to "documentation" shots? Or, in other words, which would you not want to incorporate into art?

That might not be a fair construct given the title of the thread (documentation first, then art). But, still, what are the criteria? What elements do we give up to document?

Or in other, other words, what is it about documenting something that makes us sacrifice one thing or another?

I don't think Frank meant to set up a dichotomy - an either/or. He was pretty careful not to. But he did create a hierarchy (first, then...).

For me, I think the conversation gets much more interesting when we talk about elements of good photography (as is happening in the thread - care is given to composition, focus, lighting, etc., in the sample shots, for example). Not exclusivity or hierarchy.'s what I think I mean: it's probably disingenuous and lazy to excuse a nosogreat shot as "documentation". I think that's what's been eating me about the construct. Not saying anyone here is employing it as a dodge. But the construct itself sure lends itself to that.

That was all a little harsh. I'm trying to tease apart the circles (art vs. documentation) in the Venn Diagram.

Probably the real answer to this lies in the question: what brings this photo into existence? If I'm trying to identify one seed, I really only want to look at other, single seeds on a white background. I want a standard. Something easy for the eye to process and differentiate. Same with leaves, and even flowers. Even arrowheads or animal tracks. That's probably pure "documentation".

The thing that brings those shots is an almost iconograpic representation of it (and its elements) that one might identify or differentiate one thing from another. But, in order to use such a shot to differentiate, it must have some pretty specific elements: focus, light, even composition, etc.

So it seems to me that when one truly "documents", one intentionally leaves out other stuff...for example, when we're looking at a heart, in situ, we're not going to be paying much attention to the person's hairstyle. We just won't see it. It won't be part of the shot.

So for documentation, exquisite detail and what's not there might be the two values in question. (If I'm looking at seed morphology, I'm not interested in seeing the roots...and I'm not interested in magical depth of focus across the seedhead.)

I'm still not sure what I think of this, absent a definition of "documentation" for this thread. Here's a shot I took today.

Is it "documentation" or "art" (or neither)? Why? What elements would you identify to support either case?
Thumb of 2017-10-07/evermorelawnless/efd96e

(upon rereading this, it smacks as a little prickly - it's not my intent and I probably didn't do all that well that way - as you can see, I'm trying to figure this out and wandering all over the place as I do)

Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Photo Contest Winner: 2016 Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Oct 7, 2017 9:46 AM CST
Why not both???

today's 'popular' photo

some of my 'arty' documentation of seeds/seed heads (arguable)

once upon a time, I tried to take a seed pic--didn't have any white grid paper, opted for the needle eye for scale although not proper, on blue-green card Hilarious!

poor attempt resulting in marginally passable documentation

Ultimately, not very fun nor satisfying to my apparent desire to diverge from the 'clinical' approach when it comes to my creative hobbies...
Thumb of 2017-10-07/dirtdorphins/9dc3ef
is this not art that documents the way anemone seeds appear at dehiscence?
Name: Ruud
The Netherlands
Aroids Region: Europe Foliage Fan Houseplants Solar Power Birds
Bromeliad Bulbs Butterflies Cactus and Succulents Cat Lover Composter
Oct 15, 2017 11:41 AM CST
Though I agree with the priorities (well most of them anyway) set by Frank I notice that in time I try to improve even on pics pure for documentation. Things like: is there no distraction in the background?, how is the composition? etc. Here is one I took for determination, which is also a nice pic, so the 'why not both' type mentioned by dirtdorphins.

Thumb of 2017-10-15/RuuddeBlock/d4bd1d

So even as if take a pic for documentation only, it makes double fun to make it a beautiful photo


[Last edited by RuuddeBlock - Oct 15, 2017 11:42 AM (+)]
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Name: Honey
9a (Zone 9a)
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Oct 17, 2017 6:39 AM CST
My view of photography in my garden is quite simple in my opinion. I just want to combine two of my favorite pastimes. I have thousands of dollars of photography equipment that I want to utilize and I spend a ridiculous amount of time in my garden.

The garden is a very dynamic environment so skill is required for optimal results but I can step out the backdoor and try again when I don't get it quite as I had hoped.
I share photos (my family is begging me to make a butterfly calendar) and just generally try to challenge myself and learn more about both gardening and photography. I use photo editing tools but I began photography in the film age and I try to get the best shot I can with as little editing as possible. It's just my own personal preference, my own personal challenge. The garden is a great place for that challenge. I'm not a good portrait photographer and the thought of photographing other peoples children or weddings is just yuckk!!!
So to the garden I go with my tripod and my lenses. It's a good thing. Thumbs up
Name: Teresa
Indiana (Zone 5b)
Cat Lover Lilies Daylilies Irises Cut Flowers Canning and food preservation
Butterflies Birds Bee Lover Annuals Seller of Garden Stuff Vegetable Grower
Nov 13, 2017 6:25 AM CST
I enjoyed reading this thread, though I came to the forum really to try to learn to take better photos if I have time. I really know nothing but point and shoot.

I shoot simply for documentation, as probably police do. It's all about business and time factors; though of course I would rather have the composition, lighting, etc. to also be present. I'm guessing that a lot of users here on the forums do the same simply for documentation to the database for a missing link.
. . . it's always better to ask questions, than jump to conclusions.
AND . . . always hear both sides of the story before making a judgment.
North Carolina (Zone 7b)
Nov 18, 2017 7:31 AM CST
Many, many years ago I bought a 35mm Pentax Spotmatic SLR to take photos through my telescope. After the camera broke I gave up photography. Last year I started a website to chronical my hiking trips and took photos with a Canon Powershot A590. The photos were okay but I wanted more and decided to buy a DSLR camera thinking that a better camera would produce better photos. Being on a fixed retirement income I purchased a Pentax K-50 DSLR which was first released in 2013 and sold on Amazon as a bundle with two lenses. I was hooked. I took photos of everything, plants, bugs and spider webs. There is no shortage of flowers in the yard as there is always something blooming all year round to take photos of. I am still learning how to use my camera but have already noticed an improvement in the quality of my photos. Here is a photo of a Mountain Laurel I took on a hike last May.
Thumb of 2017-11-18/Tewhano/ce3d22
Name: Mary
Lake Stevens, WA (Zone 8a)
Near Seattle
Bookworm Garden Photography Plant and/or Seed Trader Plays in the sandbox Region: Pacific Northwest Seed Starter
Winter Sowing
Nov 18, 2017 11:55 AM CST
Tewhano- Your story is almost identical to mine, except I had no telescope, and just one 50mm lens way back when. I sure am enjoying my digital camera, but wow the computer stuff is hard. I love your Mountain Laurel. It does not grow here in Washington State, I think it is too dry in summer, but I sure recall hiking on The Appalachian trail in the spring, walking through corridors with 25 foot tall Mountain Laurels on each side. It felt like being in a cathedral.

TsFlowers- You are hoping to learn more about taking good photos. There are two parts of this, one is the artistry- what is the subject, what is the background, where is it placed in the photo. This you can work on while never getting out of "point and shoot" mode. The other half is the technical stuff- proper exposure, manipulating depth of field with the choices of ISO, aperture and shutter speed. When I first got my camera a zillion or so years ago, I decided I might not need to pay for a photography class, and I could read a book instead. I bought the Kodak Book of Photography, recommended by the guy at the camera store. This was long before digital cameras. I found the explanation to be excellent, I read it over and over, while trying the different choices out. It is so much easier now it is digital and you can change a setting and look at how it changes a photo immediately. There have been many editions since then of this book, later it was named The Complete Kodak Book of Photography. You can buy the 1993 edition for $0.27 on Amazon! I don't think getting a newer book will be particularly helpful as a first step. ISO (previously called ASA), f-stop and shutter speed have not changed on the new cameras, and you can get all boggled down in the computer part without learning the basic concepts.
Name: Asa

Bee Lover Garden Photography Region: Utah Garden Ideas: Master Level Photo Contest Winner: 2016
Nov 19, 2017 7:56 AM CST
+1 for another Pentax user.

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