Flower Silhouette

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Photography

Photo editors and art directors love to use silhouette photos, cut-outs that give a bold graphic look.  Recently an editor asked me if I had any bold flowers on black background.  Rather than going through my files looking for something to transform with Photoshop I decided to shoot a new photo.


Clematis ‘Dr. Ruppel’ was just coming into full spring glory, twining up into my Pittosporum ‘Deborah’ displaying herself at eye level, an easy beauty.  This is one of those fun experiments of plant combinations that turned out better than expected.  When I led a slender line of the clematis vine into the shrub two years ago I forgot about it and didn’t image that it would bloom so well.  Here it wanted attention.

So I set up my outdoor studio.


I used a light stand with an arm attachment and draped a piece of black velvet I use for just this sort of occasion.  Black velvet absorbs every bit of light that falls on it, never going gray, nor showing folds.  It becomes a black hole.  So I gently wedged the cloth behind the flowers and in front of the Pittosporum careful not to break the tendrils that were holding ‘Dr. Ruppel’ in position.

To mitigate the hot contrasty glare of midday sun, I used a light-diffusion disc that softens the light.  The diffusion material is like a parachute cloth stretched across the disc and creates the look of a studio soft box.  The sun’s stark light is broken up and surrounds the flower.  The closer the diffusion, the softer the light;  a clean color temperature, a white balance better than overcast skies.


Clematis flower perfection.  A little closer. Move aside the leaves…


My editor’s just gotta pick this one.  Shouldn’t this be the cover of a botany book, title in the black?

As a follow-up I just went out into the garden to see how Dr. Ruppel looks today.


Flower at rest, spent, and gone; but the seed head is just a pretty in its own way.  Gardens change so fast.  When a picture is to be made, don’t wait.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic.com, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at www.photobotanic.com. https://photobotanic.com
Saxon Holt

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Helen/patientgardener June 11, 2009, 7:22 am

What a good idea I must try that

Be careful when you put the cloth behind your flower that you don’t upset the foliage and the entire composition. – S

Lisa at Greenbow June 11, 2009, 8:27 am

Yes, I agree this photo could be on a bookcover.

Well then, I will tell the editor that my blog mates approve . . . S

Mr. McGregor's Daughter June 11, 2009, 10:04 am

Thanks for the peek behind the scenes. I had no idea those shots were taken in situ, I always imagined that the flowers were cut and brought into the studio. I think I’ll be hitting the fabric store soon. I wonder if they’ll have black velvet available in the summer?

Black velvet is always in vogue I think. Many of those silhouette photos you see are indeed taken in studio, where it is relatively easy to create the effect with photoshop. I am a bit odd I suppose wanting this one with some foliage. – S

Carol June 11, 2009, 5:13 pm

How clever! Yes a lovely book cover with lettering in the black. Love the seeds too!

If I was being comprehensive in my approach I should go back with the velvet and get those seed heads as a silhouette. – S

Meredith June 11, 2009, 8:42 pm

Gorgeous! The flower is stunning in and of itself, but that black background makes it pop and look like a true work of art. Excellent photo, and thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes look. I love those seedheads — they look like a very unique flower, don’t they…

Thanks Meredith – I think I the seedheads deserve their own silhouette. – S

Debra Lee Baldwin June 12, 2009, 11:40 am

Saxon, I’m intrigued by the light diffusion disc you use. Is it a filter for your camera lens, or something external? If so, how large is it and what does it look like? Do camera stores sell them?

Hey Debra Lee – These things are quite useful for those of us who shoot in CA with very strong sunlight. They are collapsable discs that any good photo store sells that you place between the sun and the subject to soften teh light, just the way a white shade softens the light coming through a window. – S

Gail June 12, 2009, 8:22 pm

You are so right…take the picture now…before the wind/rain/dog/kids/what ever happen to it! ! Thanks for the lessons~~gail

Gail – glad you picked up on that final point. One of the great fun things about gardening is that things always change – including the photo opps.

– S

Heirloom Gardener June 19, 2009, 11:06 pm

How interesting! Sometimes I move a leaf or branch out of the way or use my body to block the direct sun, but I never thought about actually introducing a neutral background.

It is rare when one has not just the opportunity to use neutral background, but time and location to put one in place. In my own garden however it is a fun toy. – Saxon

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