Working in projects and series- winter tulips, partial conclusion

In my last post, I introduced my new series, Winter Tulips, and I showed one of my favorite photos from that project. In this post, I discuss some of the roadblocks I have encountered, and present a partial collection. If you want to learn more about my process as I wrapped up this series, keep reading. If you just want to see the series of photos, they can be found here. Hopefully, if you start with the first photo and browse the images sequentially, you will see a story unfold.

Below I write some considerations about my process. But, before I begin….

A SHORT CLARIFICATION ABOUT WORKING IN SERIES

This is my second set of posts about working in projects and series, and somehow, I feel that I have failed to communicate why I do this. Most importantly, I want to make sure that everyone understands that working in series does not limit my creativity. Also, I am NOT trying to tell other photographers that this is how they should work. Like everybody else, I sometimes go out for random photography, and I do experiment with different techniques and post-processing. However, concomitantly, I endeavor to explore certain concepts and subjects in more depth by working in series. 

What is an art series?

A series of paintings, sculptures, or photographs is a collection of works that is connected by a thread. The main theme, and other common elements that compound this “thread”, are stated, and re-stated in every piece. 

The thread connecting the Winter Tulip series 

All images in this series portray a tulip, or part of a tulip, against a grey to black background. Additionally, I used a type of selective lighting. These are the physical connectors in this series. The concept behind it is the eternal cycle of life and death all living things are subjected to.  

ROADBLOCKS

On my last post, I wrote about feeling temporarily uninspired and discouraged from this project, and I gave a few reasons for it, such as the lack of a steady supply of tulips to photograph and feeling defeated in photography.  Added to that, the looming pandemics and all the politics influencing public health decisions have not helped my state of mind. Regardless of the cause, I have found it difficult to concentrate on Winter Tulips in the same manner that I was able to concentrate on Dry Leaf. 

A word about centering the subject

One of the mental roadblocks I encountered during the making of Winter Tulips is that, in the back of my mind, I was self-conscious about centering the subject. Photographers, particularly those in juried panels, look down on this type of composition and let you know, one way or another, that you are not in compliance when you center. This unnecessary prejudice, which has taken roots in photography for no good reason, ends up ruining a lot of perfectly good photo ideas. Of course, sometimes, and oftentimes, the dead center is not the best place for your main subject. This is particularly true when it comes to more complex scenes with more than one element. There are times, however, when centering your subject is the right thing to do! Even though I know this, I was deliberately trying to add some diversity in composition to some of the photos in the series, to please others. And that has come in the way of my creativity.    

CHOOSING THE PAPER

Keeping in mind that a print is the final medium of a photograph, I decided to do a little investigation on how my tulip photographs look like on different fine art papers. Although doing this is part of the process, I must confess that I got way too caught up in it. I have been using the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag for my botanicals (thanks Howard, for the suggestion), but for the tulips, I wanted to try a few different matte papers, as a learning exercise. Since Finerworks had a series of discounts between thanksgiving and the first week of January, I ordered different 8 X10s from them to see if there were significant differences among the following three papers: 

  • Fine Art Paper Velvet;
  • Watercolor Bright White;
  • Hahnemühle Photo Rag.

After comparing and contrasting those papers, I opted again for the Hahnemühle Photo Rag. All papers yielded beautiful results and differed very little. The Watercolor Bright White is, well, whiter than the others. It has a nice texture, and the photos look a little “cooler” on it. Although I will be using it for my high key photos, in which white predominates, I liked a light touch of warm when it comes to the tulip series. In this regard, the Photo Rag and Fine Art Paper Velvet were similar. The later, however, has more pronounced texture, and I felt that less texture, as in the Hahnemühle Photo Rag, looked more desirable. Unfortunately, the paper I like the most is also the most expensive of the three options. 

The photographs in the series will print 20” X 30 “ or 30” X 20 “ at 300 dpi. 

WRAPPING UP

  • Starting December, 2021, I got the idea to photograph tulips, concentrating on the curves of their stalks and leaves and how they complemented the flower buds;
  • I researched the work of other photographers, to make sure that I was not going to be repetitious;
  • I started my project and decided that I wanted a gray to dark gray background and softer depth of field;
  • The series gained its own life and evolved into a story of sorts, featuring the various stages of the life cycle of a tulip flower;
  • I tried different papers with a matte finish and decided on the Hahnemühle Photo Rag, which has a slightly warm tone and a pleasing texture that complements, rather than distract, from the details in my tulip images;
  • By the end of January 2022, I uploaded 10 photographs in black and white and one in color, six are landscape and five are portrait orientation. All will print 20X30 at 300 dpi. The series has been posted on my Artspan website.

RESOURCES

Digital Photography School has an article summarizing the benefits of and giving tips about working in projects, if you are interested: How to start and finish a photography project.

Art Business.com has an interesting article about the” Advantages to bodies of work over single pieces.

Another interesting article can be found in RedDotBlog‘s Ask the gallery owner, is it important to work in series?

Canva.com has an article with seven photo series ideas to inspire you.

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Published by Alessandra Chaves

Photographer with a preference for nature photography in black and white and other abstractions.

23 thoughts on “Working in projects and series- winter tulips, partial conclusion

  1. You raise a good question about whether certain conventions are valid. History shows how arbitrary some are. If we make an analogy to English, the now-prescribed distinction between less and fewer apparently arose only after a certain Robert Baker wrote about it in 1770, even though English speakers had always said (and still say) things like “less than eight ounces.”

    In the world of “art” photography, as you pointed out, there’s a strong prejudice against placing the subject in the center of the frame. Sometimes that makes sense to me. I’ve long noticed that many people taking casual photographs of other people will put the subjects’ heads at the center, thereby wasting the top half of the picture by filling it with empty sky (if outdoors) or ceilings and upper parts of walls (if indoors). As you said, sometimes “dead center is not the best place for your main subject.” But sometimes the center feels like the right place, and there’s no reason to avoid your preference just because some arbitrary guideline says you should.

    Along those line lines, let me ask about the third picture in your Winter Tulip series. I’d probably have positioned the tulip closer to the center, which in this case means further to the left. What led you to the position you chose?

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    1. When it comes to English I am reasonably satisfied when others can understand me 😉
      Writing about centered the subject reminded me of something that happened some six years ago in the Photo Club. Most members there were older and had hearing problems. In order to be heard and understood, we all had to basically yell. I had submitted, to the contest, a close-up of a rose in black and white. The rose occupied most of the frame. The judge would look at each slide and critique. When my photo came up on the slide, the judge looked at it and yelled “DON’T CENTER THE SUBJECT. NEXT.” 😉 He didn’t even look at it. From that point on every photo I showed at the club had a centered subject.
      As for the crop on figure three, I did fix it consistent with your observations and I think that it it makes more sense now. The way I was heading with it is, the leaf is on the lower left and the flower on the upper right of the intersection lines of the rule of thirds. Thanks for pointing it out. Working with long and thin subjects is not going to happen for me anymore, too much trouble with composition.
      One interesting thing I should have mentioned about centering the subject is that thumbnails look much better when the subject is centered!

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      1. I’ve thought for some time now that when websites show thumbnails of photographs the thumbnails should always include the compete image, even if that means adding blank space (or black) at the two sides or the top and bottom.

        When I’d looked at the third picture in your tulip series, my intuition was that you wanted to emphasize the lower-left-to-upper-right diagonal; now you’ve confirmed it. As for long and thin subjects, I wouldn’t rule them out. Elongated photographs, whether horizontal or vertical, can be appealing. I’ve toyed with the idea of pictures whose shape is a rectangle with a smaller rectangle missing from one corner. That could salvage a photograph where the details in one corner are distractingly out of focus. I don’t know if people would readily accept a picture in that shape.

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      2. I am having a difficult time envisioning your vision for a photograph… But you are absolutely right about the thumbnails.
        I once did a small series of unbalanced frames minimalist style, with things in the corners. The thumbnails were completely white LOL.

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      3. I’d wondered why the comment never appeared, and that’s why I posted it a second time. I’ve occasionally found legitimate comments in my WordPress spam folder for no obvious reason.

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  2. I know so little of processing, printing, and photographic ‘rules’ that I don’t have anything to offer in that regard. However, I will say that I very much enjoyed this tulip photo. You’re slowly increasing my appreciation for black and white flower photos.

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  3. By the way, when I went back to the Winter Tulips series just now I found that clicking on each thumbnail no longer brings up the complete image; I get the right text but no image at all. The same is happening with the other two series also.

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  4. This is a truly beautiful set of images! I love the way you have positioned the tulips and I am sure these look fantastic when printed on the Hahnemuhle photo rag paper (excellent choice of art paper by the way).
    You’ve raised some interesting points in this post:
    Photo series – I love series of photos based on a specific theme. It makes you think more about what you’re trying to achieve artistically, as well as how to make each photo complement and add to the other photos in the series. Incorporating a story into the series is also a great idea, but not always necessary. Displaying a series is always more interesting than displaying random images together. When you mentioned hitting a roadblock with a series I understood exactly where you’re coming from. This is the main problem with creating a series of more than 10 or 15 images… it’s easy to run out of steam. I’ve overcome this by having several different projects on the go at the same time. They are all long term projects and I feel I can come back to any of them at any time. The good thing about this approach is that I don’t feel under pressure to complete a particular series and can add to any of the projects when inspiration hits. And if there is no more personal interest for a particular series then I just call it a day after creating around 6 or 10 images. That’s fine.
    Centering the subject – I don’t know where this rule came from, but everything I’ve read about composition says that the rules are only guidelines, there are no hard and fast rules. Centering the subject is perfectly fine. I like William Mortensen’s book ‘the command to look’ where he talks about ways to create impact using patterns, arrangements, lines… methods to draw the viewer in and make them want to look in more detail at the image. This to me is more important than any arbitrary composition guidelines.
    I’m very impressed with your work and wish you well in your future endeavours!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stuart, thanks for your input. I will keep in mind the possibility of adding to my series in the future, and also, when I start a new one, I will try try to chose a subject I will not run out of possibilities so easily. I ended up with short of 100 images of tulips! But several are variations on the same theme.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Photography is meant to be a message unique to the photographer. Rules are for those unwilling to listen, read or understand the artistic message. It simplifies their life and has little to do with exploring.
    This project has yielded superb images. Subtle, ambient handling of light, form and textures….beautifully executed.

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  6. Imposing limitations can actually increase creativity. Because after the obvious shots you have to work to see differently within the constraints of the project. The project is really fantastic. And glad you like the paper 🙂

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  7. I like the way you explain your own process of building a photo project, including technical aspects but also talking about self-doubt and roadblocks. Very informative. I would add Dan Milner to the resources (he has a youtube channel). He talks a lot about the importance of working with/in longer-term projects.

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