What if the world were black and white? As a photographer, I cannot say that it would be a boring world. Some of the most dramatic and powerful photos, after all, were black & white. But there is a special place in every photographer’s heart for well captured color. That goes even for those guys who will argue that artistic photography belongs on black & white (they just won’t admit it publicly). Color has tremendous power. My mentor used to suggest that we look for color first and foremost, and compose around it. I wonder if the same was suggested to photographer Jim Mayes in his beautiful photographs of the flowers in Japan. His photo, Aki-No-Sora, stands as a fantastic reason to shoot in color.
Some might lead you to believe that color is easy to capture. Some might lead you to believe that photographing flowers is easy as well. Mayes’s photography doesn’t help the argument, as he certainly makes it look easy. But I assure you that a lot of thought and experience went into capturing Aki-No-Sora. I would like to point out the angle of the shot. Mayes could have easily captured the flowers from above, the angle that many of us would see and experience the flowers. From a strict color perspective, there would be two notable problems with such an approach. First, the background would be the flower bed floor, a field of greens and soil. Such a backdrop could be turned into something beautiful with the right camera settings, but the colors would not serve well to make the pale yellows, deep reds and purples of the flowers pop. They look far nicer on the blue and white sky. Second, the placement of the sun – the primary light source – would be somewhere behind the camera. The colors would render flat. Not to mention, Mayes would not have been able to take advantage of the translucency of the flower petals. That yellow would render a much deeper hue, far less delicate, if lit from the camera side. As a bonus, shooting from the underside of these flowers offers a unique perspective that drives home the power of these flowers’ colors.
Color is all around us and we are saturated by it each and every day. For that reason, I can understand and appreciate it when a photographer feels less artistic when shooting in color. But to that, I say one isn’t looking at the right colors or perhaps they aren’t looking at them the right way. As photographers, we should be looking at color as an equal challenge to black & white. If Jim Mayes’s Aki-No-Sora doesn’t inspire you to shoot more in color, I don’t know what will.
As I mentioned, Jim Mayes focuses mostly on horticulture in his photography. Wandering about his Flickr photostream will introduce you to hundreds of fantastic plants, complete with botanical names (if that’s your thing). His photographic works may be specialized, but there is a lot that can be learned from his work for all types of photographers. You can also find Jim’s work at his personal website or follow his personal blog, The Lens Lab (note that much of the blog is in Japanese).