Forgive Us Our Lens

A group blog by the Knoxville News Sentinel photo staff

My photo editor asked me to come up with a way to photograph spring flowers including dogwood blooms that appeared fresh and different from what we are used to seeing.

An art show by Robert Creamer at the University of Tennessee’s Downtown Gallery on Gay Street immediately came to mind and served as the inspiration for the project. I remember seeing the show in 2010 and was stunned by the vivid images that his technique called scanography produced. (note: the print edition of this story mentions a different artist named Patri Feher who uses the same technique. The error (which unfortunately was mine) has been corrected.)

I wanted to try the technique in the field while the flowers and blooms were still either in the ground or on the tree. This would save me the trouble of having to dig something up or buy something at the local greenhouse. 

This technique requires little to no ambient light or the images will appear washed out. The dogwood blooms you see above were scanned in my bathroom at home since it was too bright outside when I cut the blooms from a friend’s tree. They would have wilted too much if I waited for the sun to go down. Also, it was incredibly windy the day I scanned these which made the redbud particularly difficult to scan without blurring.

The only light source affecting the flowers came from the scanner which results in the beautiful light patters that I cannot possibly even begin to imagine how to recreate with studio lights.

I used a Canon CanoScan LiDE 25 color document scanner that we normally use to scan prints at the office. It is USB powered so it allowed me to make the scans with just a laptop, two light stands and some clamps. Very little post-processing has been done to these photos. The black background is the result of the scanner’s light falloff. Most of the editing that I did in photoshop involved removing dust spots from the image. I did little toning to the final images. 

For some of the photos I clamped the scanner (very carefully!) to the light stands and positioned it in such a way that the blooms were touching the surface glass. Anything not touching the glass was very much out of focus as you can see in the photos here:

The more successful scans came from flowers with flat faces. (sorry I’m not a botanist and don’t know what you call that…) Although I should note the columbine flower was my favorite, but the scan didn’t turn out well as most of the flower wasn’t touching the glass due to its shape.

The photos in this post show the setup for the scans that I made of the pansies and the redbud tree in the News Sentinel parking lot. The redbud scan was the only one that was not done in complete or almost-complete darkness. That is why the background on that particular image is lighter. (I should also note that I got several quizzical stares from coworkers as they left work as I was scanning the redbuds…)

Some of the failed scans can be seen in this post as well.

Many many thanks go to UT Gardens director Sue Hamilton for allowing me to scan the flowers after hours in the gardens. 

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