A few years ago, photographer Pat Rose found her perfect pandemic photo project. “Deb uses a flatbed scanner to create some of the most beautiful floral images I’ve seen to make her still life images,” she said in an email to us referring to the woman who inspired her. “Her talk was so inspirational; I resolved that evening to try my hand at scanner photography myself one of these days.” Indeed, Pat’s project takes a lot of inspiration from paintings. And in a way, she created her own painting with these photos.
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When you look at Pat Rose’s Flora project, you immediately fall in love. We’ve seen similar projects with this effect done with plexiglass, like the work of Erin Mulvehill. Pat owns “real cameras” but didn’t use them for this series. Shot during the recent pandemic here in America, she used a flatbed scanner to get these photos. One can easily tell when looking at the photos that the effort was specific and intentional. What’s more, some of these photos remind me a bit of some recent music album covers. One of my favorite bands, the Magic City Hippies, has a current album called Water Your Garden, and the artwork resembles what Pat could’ve made. I was incredibly curious as to why some photos had a black background and one didn’t. And Pat’s response really got me thinking.
The Essential Photography Gear of Pat Rose
For this project, Pat Rose used:
“The only essential photo gear I use for my botanical work is my Epson Perfection V800 Photo flatbed color scanner. When I first started my flora series, I experimented using an older all-in-one printer that also copies and scans. It quickly became apparent that this piece of equipment was inadequate for the job. For my purposes, I needed a scanner with the highest resolution and the greatest depth of field possible. So, after doing some research, I learned the difference between scanners using Contact Imaging Sensor (CIS) technology and those using Charged Coupled Device (CCD) technology, which uses the kind of imaging sensor found in legacy digital cameras. My old all-in-one uses CIS technology, which is satisfactory for my routine photocopy needs, but falls very short for the kind of fine art work I wanted to create. I finally settled on an Epson V800, which has CCD sensor technology and scans at up to 6400 dpi, offering me the best image quality and the greatest depth of field available. And, though still somewhat pricey at $900, it was the most affordable CCD scanner on the market at the time. I also use Silverfast 8 scanning software in conjunction with my scanner to create the digital files for my floral images, which I then further process in Lightroom to make global adjustments. I use Photoshop primarily to rid my images of the tremendous amount of floral dust that naturally winds up in the scanned image.”
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you first got into photography?
Pat Rose: I got seriously into photography about 10 years ago, though my history with a camera is in part a story of childhood angst. I traveled extensively with my family throughout the U.S. and Europe as a kid. My father was the family photographer back then, but when I asked him to teach me how to take a picture at that young age, I became extremely frustrated by the technological challenges of learning to use his manual 35mm film camera. Consequently, I gave up my interest in photography entirely until about a decade ago, when I purchased my first iPhone. After receiving praise from family and friends for the images I captured with my phone, I quickly developed a new determination to master the technical features of a DSLR camera. So, as I worked to conquer my childhood fears and finally learned to embrace technology, I discovered a renewed passion for photography.
My first ILC was a little Olympus PEN E-PL1. After shooting with that camera for a couple of years, I got my first “serious” camera, a Canon EOS 6D, a full-frame DSLR, which I still use today. When I first started with photography, I shot landscapes exclusively, and I naturally began collecting lenses for my work. Besides the Canon EF 24-105mm f4L kit lens, my other go-to lenses for my landscape work are the EF 16-35mm f2.8L, the EF 24-70mm f2.8L, and the EF 70-200mm f2.8 L with the EF 1.4X III Extender. Later on, when I got into street photography, I picked up a tiny pancake lens, an EF 40mm f2.8 STM, and when I ventured into portraiture, my favorite lens became my Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM ART. And as I’ve explained, for my botanical work, I acquired my Epson V800, which I’ve come to think of as just a great big wonderful camera!
Phoblographer: Flora is completely different from your other projects. You otherwise shoot street, landscapes, and portraits. So what made you want to do this project?
Pat Rose: In February 2020, my local photography group, the Portland Photographers’ Forum, invited the botanical still life photographer, Deb Stoner, to present her work to our organization. Deb uses a flatbed scanner to create some of the most beautiful floral images I’ve seen to make her still life images. Her talk was so inspirational; I resolved that evening to try my hand at scanner photography myself one of these days. As it so happened, one month later, the coronavirus pandemic started gaining traction globally and began to spread in America. So, sooner rather than later, I began exploring the genre of scanner photography. This involves the use of a flatbed scanner rather than a camera to make digital images. This kind of work seemed an excellent alternative to traditional photography as a way to continue my creative efforts as I started practicing self-isolation at home during the growing pandemic. So far, I’ve been using flowers and other botanical specimens to create my ‘virtual’ bouquets.
Phoblographer: There’s so much depth to these photos. It looks like they were incredibly difficult to do. Was there a long trial and error period or frustrations that came about while creating these scans?
Pat Rose: Yes, it can be challenging. The process itself is not complicated, as you basically arrange your botanical matter on the scanner glass and scan away. When I first started making these images, I used straightforward designs, so the learning curve was not steep. Eventually, I started making more detailed images, which meant spending lots of time arranging the flowers to create the desired composition. This was a bit more difficult, as you’re basically working backward with your design, and the floral pattern is only visible from underneath all the floral debris. Fortunately, the Silverfast 8 scanning software allows you to check how the design unfolds as you build it. However, as you start to fine-tune your arrangement by tucking in new botanical bits and removing others, the whole design is apt to shift, and everything that you worked so carefully to arrange often falls apart. I often got so frustrated by this that I pulled everything off the glass and started over! Because of these kinds of difficulties, the composition can take a few hours to create. However, once things work out, I am always amazed at the result of sheer perseverance. Also, even though the Epson V800 makes images with very sharp resolution, the depth of field is still relatively shallow, so it’s sometimes a challenge to get the degree of sharpness you’re looking for as you build your design—the significant bits need to be very close to the scanner glass for maximum sharpness. And the degree of sharpness the scanner achieves is breathtaking! I don’t think you can easily get this kind of detailed clarity with a standard digital camera.
Once the composition is achieved, I can run the scan and create a digital file. Now begins the most time-consuming part of the process. No matter how careful I am, the amount of debris that falls from the botanical matter I am working with is astounding. And the only way to remove all the floral dust is to clone out each particle almost literally one by one. The most efficient way is to use the clone stamp and healing brush tools in Photoshop. This part of the process requires spending lots of time in front of the computer, and it can take many hours to clear out all the unwanted debris. Fortunately, this is a pretty mindless activity, so I just grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and get the job done!
Phoblographer: What made you arrange these flowers in these specific ways? Was it part of your creative expression? Were you trying to elicit a specific feeling? Did some of the inspiration come from paintings?
Pat Rose: I’m always on the hunt for inspiration for my floral compositions, and I might find it in any number of places. But you’re right, much of my inspiration comes from paintings, so it’s not a coincidence that my botanical work has a painterly look and feel. I’m particularly attracted to those old botanical illustrations of a bygone era that were once used as a way to classify and catalog various forms of plant life. I love how great artistic skill was employed in the interest of science. I’m also fascinated by traditional still-life paintings that depict floral arrangements in which every element in the scene has a purpose and a proper place. The interplay of form, color, and texture that characterizes this kind of art very much appeals to my aesthetic sense. Of course, I also admire the work of countless photographers who skillfully and beautifully capture flora in so many unique and beautiful ways, and I have definitely been influenced and inspired by them as well. In terms of my own creative expression, though, I can’t really say that the way I arrange the flowers in my pieces is an attempt to elicit a certain feeling from the viewer. Instead, I would have to admit that I’m motivated simply by an appreciation for beauty and hope that I might also create something beautiful through my own efforts.
Phoblographer: Obviously when you pick flowers, there’s a sweet spot where they still look lush. Did keeping them fresh looking make this more difficult?
Pat Rose: Because I don’t have a garden, I have to come by my botanical subjects in other ways. I’ve gotten many of my flowers from my neighborhood florist, who has kindly offered to give me some of the “day old” blooms that she can no longer sell to her customers. I’ve also acquired botanical specimens from gardener friends, and I’ve even bought a few fresh flowers from the supermarket. When I first started out, I mainly used fresh subjects for my scanner, but I had to work quickly to capture them before they wilt. But even slightly wilted flowers can be miraculously brought “back to life” by placing them strategically on the scanner glass or by getting rid of some of the dying bits and other troublesome spots using the healing brush tool in Photoshop. When I got tired of working with all those fragile fresh blooms, I started drying my flowers, which offered me a whole new realm of creative opportunity. Dried flowers have a certain kind of delicate beauty that the scanner loves, and the resulting images have so much texture and subtle color to play with in post. The downside of working with dried flowers is that they tend to be persnickety—they are even more challenging to position on the scanner glass since they shift and crumble more easily than fresh ones. But my favorite scanned images were made with dried flowers.
Phoblographer: Most of these images have black backgrounds but one has a light blue. This one stands out from the rest. What was the creative choice here? Also, what made you want to scan some of the plants in sepia (or death)?
Pat Rose: Interestingly, scanning with the scanner lid wide open renders the background black, while scanning with the lid closed renders the background white. The problem is that I can’t close the top while the scanner glass is stacked high with assorted flowers. So, in an attempt to change the background color, I experimented with holding a white reflector over the glass during the scan. This exercise results in a gray image background, which I can somewhat easily convert to another color in post-production. Although this conversion gives the image a different look and feel, I generally prefer a black background. My decision to convert some of my scans to monochrome (I always scan in color and convert in post-production) was another attempt to shake things up a bit. I found that a sepia tone is the most appealing to me, as it gives the image the look of an old vintage photograph.
Phoblographer: You’re a fascinating photographer; you both capture and you create. Portraiture and flora are more creative, while landscapes and street are more about capturing. Does your mind lean more towards being more of a creative or a documenter? Does it ever change between the two?
Pat Rose: That’s a good question. Some artists are somehow wired to create at birth, but I don’t think of myself that way. Also, I didn’t grow up in a home that focused much attention on the visual arts, so an early exposure to art wasn’t there either. I think for me, the desire to create stems from a lifelong search to find something to be passionate about, so I spent a lot of time over the years dabbling in this or that until I finally landed on photography as something to explore more fully. I started out interested in capturing landscapes, which stemmed from my exposure to traveling when I was growing up. Although I love landscape photography, I eventually got burned out on getting up before dawn to drive to a location to chase the best light, which is especially difficult where I live in the rainy Pacific Northwest. So I took up street photography as something I could do more easily by simply walking out the door. The kind of street work I did was mainly from the perspective of being the unobserved observer trying to capture those authentic decisive moments Cartier-Bresson talked about. But at some point, I started getting the itch to actually interact with some of those people as I photographed them, so I eventually gravitated to portraiture as a way to capture people more collaboratively. I had good luck finding models willing to work with me in exchange for portraits they could use in their own portfolios. I really loved making portraits, but when COVID-19 came along, that kind of work just stopped dead in its tracks, requiring me to find some sort of creative project that didn’t involve working with people. And, as I’ve explained, my introduction to scanner photography was perfectly timed to coincide with the onset of the pandemic.
So, I’ve grown into a photographer who actually feels comfortable shooting in the capacity of capturer of landscapes, documenter of city streets, and creator of portraits and botanical images. Each approach simply exercises different visual muscles and requires other skills (and gear!) to accomplish. But there’s always been a reason for me to explore another kind of photography, and I’ve really enjoyed the ride along the way!
Phoblographer: Has the pandemic affected your creativity?
Pat Rose: Yes and no. During the first year of the pandemic, I was very involved in doing my botanical scan project, which was ready-made for working in isolation, so my creative drive didn’t suffer too much. Another fascinating opportunity that presented itself in 2020 was an invitation to write on the photography beat for Oregon ArtsWatch, an online journal covering culture and the arts in the Pacific Northwest (www.orartswatch.org/author/pat-rose/). Writing articles about local and regional photographers and the Oregon photography scene for OAW has kept me busily engaged and focused on photography for most of the past couple of years. However, for the last several months, I’ve been experiencing a bit of a creative impasse for some reason. I’m not sure whether this is due to pandemic burnout or just a temporary feeling of malaise. Since I was uninterested in picking up my camera for most of 2021, I spent a lot of time getting my older work out into the world by answering various calls for submission by photographic galleries, publications, contests, and the like. I’ve had reasonably good success with this activity, and it had offered some validation for the quality of my photography when I wasn’t motivated to create new work. Being asked to be interviewed by The Phoblographer has given me a nice boost, too, so thank you!
Phoblographer: How do you feel you’re changing as a creative?
Pat Rose: I’m definitely ripe for some kind of change, and I’m always on the lookout for something new to try. I’ve just acquired a Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II tilt-shift lens, and I’m hoping to get out soon to give it a go. I’d love to try my hand at architectural photography, and the shift function of this lens will help me with that. I’m also curious what kind of creative work I can do by employing the tilt function of the lens, as I’m intrigued by some of the images I’ve seen that depict the world from exciting perspectives. These are some creative challenges I hope I’m up for soon. So stay tuned!
More About Pat Rose
I am a photographer based in Portland, Oregon. My work includes landscape, street, portrait, and botanical photography. I am a retired teacher of English as a Second Language who has taught in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as in Austin, Texas, and most recently at Portland State University. My photography has been shown in various juried group exhibitions in several galleries around the country, and my landscape photos have been published in two outdoor guidebooks. I have won several awards for my photography. I also write on the photography beat for Oregon ArtsWatch, an online journal covering culture and the arts in the Pacific Northwest.
All images by Pat Rose. Used with permission. Find out more about Pat Rose at her website, Instagram, and Oregon ArtsWatch.