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 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 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 over at . For even more in-depth info on the basic technique and the different effects you can create, check out , , and – for plant-specific directions – . For ideas and inspiration, check out Craig’s , and also the work of .

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: .) 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!

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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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