This morning, I made my annual summer visit to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in northeast Washington, D.C.
The gardens are an extraordinary place, a haven of unmatched beauty in the middle of one the roughest neighbourhoods in Washington. Outside the gardens, the low, redbrick houses are dilapidated, the streets strewn with discarded beer cans and plastic bags. It’s not the sort of place where most of the DC area photographers I know would normally venture but, each July, we make the trek up to the northeast corner of the city to photograph the thousands of lotuses that briefly bloom in Kenilworth’s extensive lotus ponds.
Flower photography was my first love when I took up digital photography seriously about seven years ago. Although I have been doing mostly travel photography lately, it is always a pleasurable feeling to return to my first love.
Every time I try my hand at flower photography, I contemplate the words of two of the greatest exponents of the art: Joshua Taylor Jr. and Mike Moats. Josh always says that there are only two times to photograph a flower: when it’s at its pristine best or when it’s withered and atrophied. And, if you’re attempting the former, you have to look for the most perfect specimen in the garden, the one flower that seems to jump out at you and shout, “Hey! Photograph me!”
Mike’s advice is to look for what he calls the “Lady Gaga flower”, the one that’s weird and flamboyant and doesn’t look like any of the others. I didn’t find any Lady Gaga flowers this morning but I did spot a few lotuses that were at their peak, so I followed Josh’s advice.
The principal challenge of photographing the lotuses at Kenilworth is finding order in the midst of chaos. It takes patience to spot pleasing compositions when the lotus beds are teaming with flowers in different stages of bud, bloom or decay; plus, of course, the green foliage that supports the flowers is massive and often impedes clean compositions. In the above image, I noticed that the way the light was reflecting off the outer rim of the pad was creating a circle of light, so I positioned the lotus bulb in the centre of the light circle as a way of framing the subject. This is the classic “frame within a frame” compositional device, so beloved by photographers.
Other than that, the compositions I found this morning were mostly simple portraits of the flowers. I’m fine with that. In flower photography, it takes a while a re-train the eye, once you’ve been away from it for a while, to seek out more complex compositions. I may go back to Kenilworth next weekend and challenge myself to do so.