Last summer I began using a simple background of very inexpensive black foam core for some sunflower images (click here) to some success, and followed up with some flowered vase still lifes (click here) later as fall approached. During this past winter, I used the same technique on tree trunks of various species (click here), combining the two or more images while holding the foam behind either side of the trunk to block out the clutter behind them. I’ve heard of using black velvet as a background in such cases, but it needs to be hung from something, or at least held with two hands, which means either having an assistant or not having a hand left over to trip a wireless shutter release needed since you are away from the camera while the shutter is tripped.
One evening, while helping with dinner preparations, before peeling some carrots, I placed them on the foam core and shot straight down on the arrangement of five carrots before they became part of the meal. The blank, black background really sets off the subject, no matter what it is, and gives the “portrait” a sense of formality. And since everything is completely still, with the camera locked down on a tripod, excellent sharpness can be achieved with low ISO’s, small apertures and long exposures allowing colors and textures to really “burn-in” without concerns of distractions in the background. No additional light source is needed other than the natural light from a window, an overcast sky, or in the evening when there are deep shadows or the sun has already set, leaving the subjects in much more even lighting.
A few days ago I visited the lovely Duke Gardens in Durham, NC with my son on a cloudy day, and found the tulips were definitely past their prime, which sometimes gives them a bit more character than a perfect specimen, and luckily the black foam core was in the car. I used the same technique for a few single flowers using a 70-200mm lens with a +1 close-up filter attached to allow closer focusing of the tulips. All that was needed was to find an interesting subject close enough to the edge of the planting beds to get into position without trampling any of the flowers. There was one tulip similar to the one on the left below in that some of the petals had already fallen off revealing the pistils. But the remaining petals on that flower really caressed the pistils more so than in the image here. However, as I set up for the shot, a gentle breeze came up and the last petals fell off right in front of me!! But it was a great way to spend an hour or two, and an easy way to formalize a flower.