From bright orange”Folded in” to monochrome  “Wabi-Sabi”,  the closed flowers of the California Poppy against the sky

On a previous post last year, I wrote that I started and then gave up on a project portraying the closed flowers of the California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica. The original project was in color against a black background. Since that didn’t work out, I decided to take a few photos of those flowers against the sky, to convert them to monochrome later.

Photographing the entire flower against the sky takes the emphasis from the geometrical patterns (which I was having difficulties with) of the folded petals and puts the entire subject under the spotlight.

California Poppy against the sky

Because the flowers are completely orange in color, converting the photos to black and white was a real challenge: too little contrast.

After a few hours of great fun playing with black and white sliders, applying dogging and burning, contrast and levels in Photoshop, I came up with a few looks that I found interesting. I then added a strong vignette and some noise, and upped the contrast. That resulted in the photo below, and the featured trip·tych.

Wabi-Sabi, 2022

Working in Photoshop layers

I initially process my files in Photoshop’s Camera Raw, then I export them in color. Next, I process them in layers, as below. Working in layers allows me to make fine adjustments to my photo, while preserving the various stages of the post- processing.

The picture above is is a static view of a very dynamic process which I might write a post about at some other opportunity. These layers can be turned on and off. For example, if I later decide that I don’t want the added noise, I can turn the nose layers off.

To me, the featured images have a certain appeal which lies, in part, on their imperfections.


In his book “Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and philosophers” (imperfect publishing, Point Reyes, California), Leonard Koren takes us to the world of Wabi-Sabi. On the first paragraph of the introduction, he writes that “ wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete”. He then writes a brief historical and cultural context trying to deepen our understanding of the term. More importantly, however, the book conveys the idea that it is very difficult to completely understand wabi-sabi outside the cultural context of the Japanese culture and language, leaving the reader with the wabi-sabi flavor of an incompletely understood word.

Although I’m attracted to the idea of incorporating imperfections in my work, I have a difficult time letting it go and embracing it. Modern photography is a lot about getting rid of imperfections: clipping, noise, vignette etc, and increasing detail, resolution and sharpness.

How about you, do you have a difficult time incorporating wabi-sabi in your artistic work?

Wabi-sabi for Artists, Poets and Philosophers


Wall Art Botanical Images

Wall Art Photography projects

Wall Art Old Work


Published by Alessandra Chaves

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

10 thoughts on “From bright orange”Folded in” to monochrome  “Wabi-Sabi”,  the closed flowers of the California Poppy against the sky

  1. I know that some people add grain to re-create the feel of old photographs. Is that your reason for adding it? I generally go the other way, treating grain as in imperfection, and am grateful when software lets me reduce grain when I find it distracting. As you said near the end: “Modern photography is a lot about getting rid of imperfections: clipping, noise, vignette etc, and increasing detail, resolution and sharpness.”

    Decades ago I did pictures of dilapidated old buildings. My recent forays into wabi-sabi have mostly been in depicting past-their-prime plants in various stages of disintegration. Sometimes the decaying stages reveal structures not visible when a plant is in its prime, for example the insides of a prickly pear cactus pad that you can only see when the surface has worn away.

    (And speaking of “wabi-sabi flavor,” I can’t help remarking that I like wasabi. on sushi.)

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    1. Grain and digital noise aren’t the same thing. There’s software we can use to generate grain consistent with that in various types of film. The reason to add grain is if you like the aesthetics of grain on your photograph. Past their time botanicals is something I also like to picture.


  2. I really love that black and white ! Honestly I believe flowers look better in black and white. Sure color is fine but it can distract from the lines and textures of such beautiful subjects. Your photo is a prime example of that. As far as Wabi-Sabi goes … I believe I’m there when I’m photographing mushrooms that have bites taken out of them or what’s left of them when they become devoured by slugs. The perfect imperfections of nature. But I do try to make it appealing in the way that I photograph them. I try to capture natures work of art respectfully. Sometimes I add creative touches because I can. Not much you can’t do with Photoshop. In the end I have to like it. So I think I’m Wabi-Sabi just trying to feel better about my photographs. I’m the imperfect matter in the midst of it all.

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  3. I feel my understanding of wabi-sabi is intuitive and complete. “Things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete” applies to all my projects. There is a point where you have to stop fiddling with a photo and tell yourself, it has buzz, it’s there, I like it and I’m moving on. Removing the color from a flower exposes its underlying graininess and imperfection, while leaving the lines and the light, a satisfying metaphor for life. Is that wabi-sabi?

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    1. Yes, I think you have a point or two. As long as we like what we make, weather it is wabi sabi or the peak of perfection, I have to like what I produce. And more and more I have come to accept and often add imperfections.


  4. A Chinese friend introduced me to Wabi-Sabi, and helped me make sense of it. One thing she pointed out was that Wabi and Sabi are separate concepts. ‘Wabi’ is about recognizing beauty in simplicity. ‘Sabi’ focuses on the passage of time: the way all things grow, age, and decay, and how those changes are manifested in objects. Her view as an artist was that our task is not to seek perfection, but to achieve excellence as we reveal the world’s hidden heart. I’ve always found myself resonating to that approach.

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