Photographer’s creativity blooms with plants
Like every gardener on the planet, my time with a stack of seed catalogs is a much needed therapeutic respite from dreary winter. A yellow highlighter is gently guided to select varieties earmarked for spring planting.
While looking through the beautifully illustrated Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds — a massive 354-page tome — I was struck by the creative photography used to present the unique flowers and vegetables that have been collected from around the world.
Laura Stilson, 52, is one of three photographers who works at Baker Creek in Mansfield, Mo. She shoots photos of just about everything that moves, also plenty of things that don’t. That means everything from sunflowers to eggplants to veggies she had never seen grow before. When one of the plant experts was writing about artichokes, she was fascinated to learn about them and came up with a stunning photo of the plant’s pretty purple flower.
The company was founded in 1998 by Jere Gettle who was 17 at the time. The catalog has grown over the years offering nearly 2,000 different heirloom cultivars. Gettle’s whole family often plays a part in the photos, especially the children, Sasha and Malia.
One photo shows Malia framed by euphorbia ‘Snow On The Mountain’ and another has Sasha walking barefoot through the garden.
All season long the staff will harvest varieties grown for the catalog and bring them to Stilson for photography. She’s always looking for a way to have fun and make the pictures special.
“You just have to find creative ways to shoot everything,” she says.
After the photo shoot is done, the produce doesn’t go to waste either. She recently tried something called a cocona, a jungle fruit from Peru — “It’s kind of an unusual citrusy flavor,” she says — but favors all the varieties of basil that come through the studio.
Since the catalog is filled with so many unusual things, Stilson has been fooled here and again when taking pictures.
“One time, I actually labeled a beet a carrot. I’d never seen a carrot like that,” she says.
Some of her favorite images include ‘Rosa Bianca’ eggplant, ‘Autumn Beauty’ sunflower, a dahlia and a variety of carrots. The root crops are first photographed whole, but then Stilson gets out a knife.
“You can do some different stuff with slicing and making different patterns,” she says.
Caution is always important when shooting hot peppers like the ‘Carolina Reaper.’ “You just don’t want to touch it and touch your eyes,” she says with a chuckle. “Handle them by their stems.”
She also spends countless hours outside in the test gardens. The heat and humidity in Missouri can be challenging, but Stilson thrives outdoors.
“I’ve had days where I’ve taken easily 1,000 images out in the garden,” she says. “It’s real peaceful getting out there with nature and photographing the things, you’ve got to keep track of everything and get them when they are at their best.”
“I love photographing all of these plants,” she says. “It’s never boring because there are so many different varieties. The cool thing is, I see them come through and then I’m like, I want to try that.”
Doug Oster is the Tribune-Review home and garden editor. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodygardens.com.