The Flower Silhouette

– Posted in: Garden Photography

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.  It’s the height of the season after all.


Clematis ‘Dr. Ruppel’ has 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 with 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.  Now it wants 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, never 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 has 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.  Give yourself an excuse to go take pictures today.

For those who want to see more of my botanic illustrations, check out this photobotanic “extraction” of Ribes sanguineum  on my Mental Seeds blog:

An extraction from the natural world, from my garden.  Botanic illustrators have the advantage of drawing from nature, piecing together an ideal.  Photographers have Photoshop; at least for those days we can not go out and shoot with black velvet.

head is just a pretty in its own way.  Gardens change so fast.  When a picture is to be made, don’t wait. – See more at:
t 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. – See more at:
t 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. – See more at:
Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, 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
Saxon Holt

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b social May 24, 2014, 12:08 am

The clematis looks beautiful against the black background. I prefer the close up…the detail is exquisite!

Thanks – Those details do pop when the background goes away – Saxon

Jan LeCocq May 24, 2014, 5:24 am

Saxon! These are gorgeous.

Thanks Jan – it’s all in the flowers. – Saxon

Jayme b May 24, 2014, 8:13 am

Beautiful Holt!
Perhaps the spent Clematis would have been as interesting against black velvet!

Always learn from you thoughtful posts! Grateful… Jayme B

Saxon Holt May 24, 2014, 11:03 pm

Thanks Jayme – Always glad to hear you enjoy – Saxon

Donna May 25, 2014, 6:34 pm

Very nice Saxon. I do like the black background very much. The velvet is key. Much better than using an extraction on black in Photoshop.

Thanks Donna. It is easier than Photoshop if you can get a situation to drop the velvet behind. – Saxon

Donna Jones May 26, 2014, 8:27 am

Thanks for the idea! While I have the equipment and it’s occurred to me I’ve not Judy gone out in the garden to try it… Now I will! …simply beautiful!

Be sure to have the scrim to even out the light. – Saxon

Shane May 28, 2014, 8:55 pm

The flower itself is magnificent. Intriguing specie. I guess it’s time to pick up that old camera and start clicking eh. Thank you for this.

Cathy June 4, 2014, 1:57 am

Deceptively simple and amazingly effective. Thanks for another very clever idea for getting stellar photos in place in the garden.

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