Picture This Challenge: Bloom Scans

– Posted in: Garden Photography

Bloom Scan Brights June 29 2010

In the upcoming months, we’re planning to mix things up a little for Picture This. To that end, we’re expanding the judging pool to include some of our fellow garden bloggers, and at the same time, we’re going to showcase the out-of-the-ordinary photo techniques they are known for.

We usually don’t announce monthly Picture This themes ahead of time, but since most of you probably haven’t tried these techniques before, it seems only fair to give you some extra time to practice. One of these challenges, which will be coming up in October, is creating “bloom scans,” or digital collages.

Bloom scans are a specific technique within the broader scope of technology-based artwork known variously as as digital collage, scanner art, scanner photography, scanography, or scannography. You place flowers, leaves, seeds, and other 3-dimensional objects on the glass of a flatbed scanner, then scan them just as you would a document to create a 2-dimensional image. It’s an incredibly simple technique with the potential to produce absolutely stunning results.

Those of you who have participated in Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens on the 15th of every month have likely seen bloom scans before, thanks to Craig Cramer at the blog Ellis Hollow. Craig would be the first person to tell you that he didn’t invent the technique, but his Bloom Day scans are the first ones I ever saw, and I’ve greatly enjoyed seeing what he comes up with each month. With a little arm-twisting, Craig has agreed to be our judge for the October Picture This focusing on bloom scans.

Craig has already posted simple directions at Create a Digital Photo ‘Collage’ over at The Bulb Project. For even more in-depth info on the basic technique and the different effects you can create, check out Scanography, Scannography, and – for plant-specific directions – Patri Feher’s Flowers. For ideas and inspiration, check out Craig’s Bloom Day scans, and also the work of Ellen Hoverkamp.

I don’t know yet exactly what Craig is going to ask for, so I recommend experimenting with a variety of approaches. You can arrange the flowers and foliage in a vertical or horizontal, bouquet-like arrangement, for instance, or in geometric or abstract pattern.

I recently had a great afternoon trying bloom scans for the first time. In about three hours, I gathered a grocery bag full of flowers and leaves, sorted them, arranged, and scanned them to make eleven images.

One thing I learned is that it’s ok if your plant bits are sort of wilted by the time you get around to putting them on the scanner. In fact, it seems to make placing them a little easier. You end up flattening them anyway if you place a background on them.

This is what happened when I tried scanning without putting on any sort of covering as a backdrop, and then with a covering.

Bloom Scan Rich Colors Not Pressed June 29 1020 Bloom Scan Rich Colors June 29 2010

Here’s another before-and-after example:

Bloom Scan Stachys Big Ears Molucella Not Pressed June 29 2010

Bloom Scan Stachys Big Ears Rubus thibetanus Molucella June 29 1020

I experimented with fabrics of various colors and textures for backgrounds, including a dark brown terrycloth towel:

Bloom Scans Digitalis ferruginea Pelargonium June 29 2010

…and an off-white, violet, gray, and maroon shirt. Letting some of the fabric show gave a canvas-like effect to the collages.

Bloom Scan Hemerocallis Milk Chocolate Belamcanda Justicia June 29 2010

Bloom Scan Zinnia Cosmos Lonicera June 29 2010

I also tried filling the entire surface of the glass. In that case, the background didn’t show much, but it served the purpose of pressing down on the leaves and flowers.

Bloom Scan Zinnia Cosmos Ammi Lonicera June 29 2010

Bloom Scan Stachys Big Ears Polanisia Molucella Mentha June 29 2010

Bloom Scans Digitalis ferruginea Stachys Big Ears June 29 2010

A couple more things:

  • Look for leaves and flowers that are free of damage or insects. Spots and dead bits show up dramatically in the final image. Any insects clinging to the parts will also show up, which can be cool, but you’ll end up with them all over your scanner and office (trust me on this).
  • Keep in mind that you need to place the foreground items first, then build up the background, because you’re basically building an image in reverse. That also means that in most cases, the leaves and flowers need to be face-down on the glass, not right-side-up.
  • Feel free to work in rocks, feathers, shells, bark, and other non-living elements, but place them carefully; if you scratch the glass of your scanner, the imperfection will show up on your images, and on any documents you scan later.
  • Try out different themes for your collages: by color, for instance, or all edibles, or all seeds, or all petals. Or use single or multiple parts of just one plant to create a silhouette or herbarium mount-like effect. (To learn the basic how-to of herbarium mounts, check out this video on YouTube: Herbarium Mount.) I used Photoshop Elements to add the labels to these.

Bloom Scan Tomato June 29 2010

Bloom Scan Phuopsis June 29 2010

Now, it’s your turn. If it’s too hot (or too cold, or too rainy) to work outside, just pop out to collect a variety of materials and bring them inside so you can work comfortably indoors. It’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Maria Pellum July 8, 2010, 12:35 pm

Wow! I am always looking at this blog with the hopes to get the courage to go ahead with an old dream of mine: photography. This did it! While I am not a full-time garden blogger I spice my blog (community-school oriented) with pictures of my adventures with gardening (another fairly new hobby), but this post takes the longing for a long desired skill and my love for flowers to a different level. I will not only try Scannography, but are now more inspired than ever to go ahead and enlist myself in a proper photography class! Thanks a lot.

How exciting, Maria! I’m glad this inspired you to follow a dream. We hope to see you as a Picture This participant too. Best of luck!
-Nan

Rosie@leavesnbloom July 8, 2010, 1:43 pm

I can’t wait to try this technique out – now to find that cable for the scanner! Thankyou so much for sharing – your bloom scans are inspirational :) Rosie

Thanks, Rosie – not bad for my first attempts, I think. But make sure you check out the links to Craig’s scans, and those of Ellen Hoverkamp too, to see the results you can achieve with more care and experience.
-Nan

healingmagichands July 9, 2010, 2:33 pm

Oh, this sounds like a lot of fun. I love doing paper collages and I’ll bet this is going to be a real blast.

Thanks for the heads up, too! I’m pretty sure that right now and during August will be better times for finding great blooms for scannings than October will be. . . Flowers tend to get a little sparse around here that late in the year.

Your scans are very nice too. I enjoyed them all but I liked the one with the terrycloth towel the best. Somehow it reminded me of the still lifes painted by the old dutch masters like Vermeer.

so glad I stopped by.

I’m glad too. I hope you have as much fun trying this as I did. One thing I learned from looking through Craig’s years’ worth of Bloom Day scans is that you can find things to use pretty much year-round.You’re right that the abundance of bloom this time of year makes for lots of colorful possibilities. But I bet we’ll be able to come up with some great images with berries, seedheads, and fall-colored foliage later in the season. Don’t forget to try veggies, too!
-Nan

Diana July 9, 2010, 8:37 pm

Nan, these are simply lovely! the first main one has an old world style about it with the darker coloring. I’m excited to try it .

Thanks, Diana. That was the very first one I did, and it’s my favorite too. It’s very simple: rusty foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) and ‘Grey Lady Plymouth’ rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens). It was lucky that the dark brown background worked so well. I could have tried to brighten the image a bit – the possibilities for further enhancing these digital collages in Photoshop are endless – but these images are all just as they imported from the scanner.
-Nan

Teresa O July 12, 2010, 1:06 pm

Oh my gosh…these are fascinating! The arrangement on the dark brown terry cloth towel is captivating and the deep burgundy folds at the top of pink/purple arrangement rich and elegant. Such varied looks! I can’t wait to give this a whirl…garden here I come!

Have fun, Teresa! I was stumped about finding appropriate fabrics for backgrounds until I thought to try using clothes and towels. One thing I wish I’d tried (and maybe will next time) is making one arrangement I like and then experimenting with different backgrounds.
-Nan

joco July 12, 2010, 5:15 pm

You never do anything by halves, do you?
I never cared much for this technique, but your ‘Nanscans’ are so beautiful that I am ready to give it a go. Don’t they look seventeenth century. The maroon zinnia scan is just gorgeous. Are they all A4 size?

Great – I’m so glad you’re planning to give it a try. I look forward to seeing what you come up with! The surface of my scanner is 8 inches x 10 inches, but there’s a flaw along one side of the glass, so I mostly designed to fill 6 x 8 inches. I hope that answers your question.
-Nan

healingmagichands July 13, 2010, 8:07 am

Good heavens. I tried this last night after I collected some grasses when I was walking the dog.

My scanner is not as big as I thought it was! This is a lot harder to do than it sounds, actually quite a challenge. I’m glad you gave us plenty of warning so we could practice. . .

I had the same experience. I gathered three times more stuff than I actually used. I like what you ended up with in your own scans!
-Nan

Heather's Garden July 14, 2010, 12:12 pm

Having seen Ellen Hoverkamp’s work in person (and run into her several times — she’s local to me and we have a mutual friend), I can tell you that her work is amazing. So much so that I’m going to enjoy watching this one and likely won’t participate. But what a great idea and Craig will be a great judge!

ryan July 15, 2010, 12:00 am

Great idea. His scans are great, and always a bloom day highlight.

Jack Holloway July 15, 2010, 2:09 am

Oh dear. I’m not getting around to all the photography or blogging I’d like to do, and now you distract me with this…*sigh* ;)

Town Mouse July 17, 2010, 8:07 pm

Oh, that is sooo cool. I’m not sure I’ll be back home in time, but otherwise, I’ll just have to try out outside the contest context.

Country Mouse July 21, 2010, 11:48 am

Wow – Whoda thunk! Very Victorian looking somehow and atmospheric. Beautiful shots!

Kareen July 28, 2010, 5:13 pm

That is really cool. I will definitely give it a try.