The Digital Journalist
Living with Orchids
August 2005

by Barbara Ellison

My interest in flowers, art and photography began when I was a young child in Illinois. My mother had a series of fantastic gardens where she spent many hours a day tending her flowers. The way of spending time with her was to get my hands in the dirt and learn all I could about the flowers. The love of gardening led to my interest in orchids, certainly among the most exquisite and intricate of flowers. Starting out with one plant for the piano, it quickly multiplied to a few hundred throughout the house. When my husband opened Southwind Orchids over 12 years ago, I began documenting the species orchids in the greenhouse for his records. With over 30,000 species orchids in the world, one would never run out of opportunities to document new flowers. Having been a photographer since 1986, recording flowers was a natural transition from working with large-format portraits. Initially I shot film and scanned the slides, but since 2002 I have been recording the blooms digitally.

Lycaste fragrans

Barabara Ellison
When Theresa Airey introduced me to pastels, I found the missing link for enhancing my orchid images. The first step is to print the files in black and white on watercolor paper. Traveling regularly with Canon, I often pack the pastels, along with a few b&w prints, relax in the hotel room in the evening and enjoy blending the colors. When working with species orchids images, I try to replicate the exact colors in the sepals and petals. People have asked why I prefer using the pastels over Photoshop for hand-coloring effects. My reasoning is simple. I like the process of working with the pastels, the way that they blend and layer and can be controlled through the slightest touch. The chalk-like feel and appearance cannot be replicated through the computer.

This is an ongoing project, as there will always be more flowerbeds to develop, species to record and hand color. I have started to expand my choices of papers, from silks to rice paper, for printing the base image. The tactile property of the papers has almost become as important to me as the pastels.

Being able to utilize my photography to compliment my interest in art and flowers has helped me to branch out in different directions. I now work with my travel shots and landscapes in new forms, from using the pastels to working with watercolor and inks. I look forward to experimenting with new media, but will always hold a special love of the softness of pastels.

© Barbara Ellison

Barbara Ellison has spent the past 16 years as a pro-market representative for Canon USA. She regularly teaches flower photography workshops at Palm Beach Photographic Center in Delray Beach, Florida. Barbara resides in Goldvein, Virginia, with her husband Michael, two dogs and a cat.