June 26th 2012 by Andrew S Gibson
Flowers are a popular subject for close-up and macro photography and when I wrote Up Close I knew that I wanted to include a case study with a photographer who has taken the art of photographing flowers to a higher level than what I’ve achieved. I think you’ll agree that Mandy Disher’s work does just that. Her photos are beautiful, and they are also inspirational. There is no specialised equipment, apart from a macro lens, involved. It’s all about her eye for composition, an appreciation of natural beauty and an understanding of light, colour, shape and form.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen her work that Mandy’s flower photos are in demand from book and magazine publishers. I thought it would be interesting to find out a little more about her work.
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?
I consciously strive to create a visual impact of colour and shape combined with beauty or elegance with a sense of energy or tranquillity from something which is often quite an ordinary and extremely popular subject. I love the play between soft tones and crisp detail too.
I enjoy using textures in some of my work, applying this technique to some floral close ups but especially still life where a painterly effect can really enhance the mood.
Each time I pick up a camera I want to produce an image which will draw you in and hold your attention.
I really don’t know exactly what my style is, I think it’s good to continually search for fresh ideas, I’d hate to feel my work is becoming stale or too predictable so I try to explore new possibilities all the time.
When did you start taking photos? What made you decide to explore photography as a means of artistic expression?
I’d always had an interest in photography, I remember getting my first SLR camera many years ago, I loved the fact that I could have control over the shutter and depth-of-field and loved the picture quality the camera gave. Looking back it was so different from now of course, buying a roll of film and being so careful not to waste a single shot then waiting two days to see the results of my efforts.
My photos were precious reminders of happy events throughout my life and the people around me which I will always treasure. At that time that’s all I wanted from my camera and was happy just to try to take decent shots for the family album but then new technology arrived on the scene. Gone were the days of film, the cost and the long wait to see what turned out. I could now indulge to my hearts content and see them instantly, how fantastic! This new and exciting technology opened up a new place to explore.
I was embracing the digital experience and eager to learn how to get the most from my images so Photoshop was the obvious next step, daunting at first but in time I mastered some basics. I enjoyed reproducing my old mono family photos and learnt how to repair scratches and tears and bring out the contrast in the very old and faded images, then moving on to apply some of the techniques to floral captures. This powerful software allowed me to craft my images in a creative and artistic way, it amazed and excited me and proved to be a crucial tool to create and support my vision.
How did you get started with taking photos of flowers and still lifes? What inspired you – and what still inspires you to explore this subject?
I’ve always loved the natural beauty surrounding me and flowers seemed the perfect choice of subject for my love of macro photography. Nature does inspire me greatly, an endless supply of colour and texture brings a fresh opportunity every single day, I could never ever get bored of taking floral shots. Still life is more challenging to me at the moment, maybe that’s why I feel a need to pursue this genre, I want to achieve my goals and produce an image that I would be proud to hang on my wall.
Have you ever attended college or taken a course to study photography, or are you self-taught? What are the most helpful photography websites, magazines or books that have helped you learn?
I worked part time in a small photography retail outlet for several years until about eight years ago, most of my duties included handling customer orders for printing and advising on framing and of course selling cameras and accessories, and keeping up with all the latest technology at that time to be able to do my job properly.
I enjoyed my time there and learnt so much from the day to day routine of the business.
I’m self taught in Photoshop learning primarily from magazine and online tutorials. Practical Photoshop magazine and Digital Camera magazine are two that I subscribe to and find very informative and helpful as are their respective websites .
Who are your three favourite photographers and why do you like them?
I admire Anna Nemoy‘s work immensely, her still life images are an inspiration. Her outstanding compositions are very original and her control of light superb.
Magdalena Wasiczek‘s macro images overwhelm me with their beauty. In her own individual style she shows a remarkable use of colour and shallow depth of field, the bokehs she creates with her lens are just magical.
You have a lot of beautiful photos. But if you had to pick one as your favourite, which would it be – and why?
A close call as I have lots of favourites but I think Cosmos Charm (above) is special.
This one ticked all the boxes for me, I love the fresh feel of it, the simplicity, the light, the delicacy and elegance of the pure white petals, the sharp detail and complimentary background, it all seemed to work well and encapsulated all the elements that I try to incorporate in a floral portrait.
You’ve had some success in the International Garden Photographer Of The Year competition. What has this meant for you on a personal level and how has it helped your photographic career?
Winning the Plant Portrait category two years running (see here and here) and becoming a finalist in the portfolio category this year (see here) gave a huge boost to my confidence. At the time of my first success in the competition, I hadn’t even contemplated having my own website and now suddenly I had been awarded this wonderful accolade. The winning entries are exhibited at several venues throughout the year here in the UK and abroad as far as Australia and America, and also published in the yearly IGPOTY book. It was fantastic to have my work promoted in this way.
Interest in my photography grew, media coverage of the competition meant my images were suddenly gaining a wider audience. I received encouraging and positive responses from many people. I decided it was time to create a website to showcase my images and since then I have had many requests from magazine editors and book publishers to use my images, my most recent commission was for a Ladybird image which was to be used over a page and a third, from correspondents for Germany’s largest weekly magazine Horzu for a feature they were running, which has now been published.
I would say the success in the IGPOTY competition and the spin off associated with it has been one of the highlights of my photography so far.
Can you give three tips for success for anyone thinking of entering a competition like the International Garden Photographer Of The Year?
1. Being up against thousands of other photographers in a competition means it’s important for your image to stand out from the crowd and be noticed, they need to have impact and be memorable, the judges will be looking for a fresh interpretation of the subject, something unique and original.
Get a feel for what attracts the judges to the selections they make, have a look at previous winners to see what has impressed them in the past.
2.We often become attached to an image and find it difficult to be objective about it, maybe it was very challenging to get the shot or we went to great lengths processing the image, neither will make it a more attractive entry to the judges, even though we feel we’ve worked hard to produce it. Therefore it’s a good idea to have a selection of your work critiqued by trusted and impartial parties before you decide which of your images to submit, they will give you an honest and unbiased assessment of your work and be able to highlight points that you never even thought about.
3. Your entry must be technically competent but not necessarily flawless, don’t rule out an image that may lack technical perfection, sometimes judges will look past minor flaws if the image is creative, strong and conveys emotion and has a story to tell.
My latest ebook, Up Close, is available now at Craft & Vision for just $US5.
All photos copyright Mandy Disher. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.