Coleus and Zinnia – Study in Composition, Texture, and Color

Coleus and Dahlia - Study in Composition, Texture, and Color

Coleus and Zinnia © 2011 Bo Mackison

A couple of days ago I took an hour’s walk through Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison. I had exactly one free hour between appointments. As I drove past the gardens, I could see from the street that there were deep colors and textures throughout the gardens. I did not need to make much of a conscious decision — seemed as if my car naturally swung into the lot and parked in its familiar parking space.

Because I bring my basic photo gear wherever I travel, my camera was on the passenger seat, ready for action. Considering I had exactly an hour — no dawdling — I took only my 12 inch diffuser in case I needed to shield a flower or two from the mid-day light. Though I typically shoot at least some of my photos in the gardens with my macro lens, my 50 mm prime was already on the camera, and so I made a quick decision to work differently — I would walk through the gardens and capture more compositions, more textures, more paths and bridges for some metaphor projects I’ve been planning, and  fewer macro-photographs. I tucked my tripod through my camera bag loop, just in case, and off I went.

Since I carried different gear, I looked for different sorts of photographs — that felt very freeing — and I felt as if I were seeing through “new” eyes.  When I walked near this grouping of coleus, zinnias, and other late blooming summer flowers, the colors, textures, and composition caught my attention  — and refused let go!

I was quite transfixed by the variety of purples and oranges, the crinkled leaves in contrast to the long, twisting petals, and there were even a few daisy types for that touch of simplicity.

It wasn’t until I took these photographs into the studio early this morning that I really connected with many of the of the details in this photo. I wasn’t happy with a rather dark clump of leaves in the lower right corner of the photograph – it pulled my attention towards the corner, but there wasn’t much visual interest. I experimented, investigated, curious to see what would happen as I worked with the Nik Color Efex software. When I applied the Infrared Film setting to the photo, I loved the contrast of the B/W mixed with the bright flowers.

The composition stood out, the contrasting colors took on added depth against the partly grayscale background, and the textures popped right off the screen.

I thought I would share this photo — a departure from many of the botanicals I shoot.

Any reaction — positive, not so positive, unsure?  I’d love to know what you think.


Bo Mackison is a photographer and the owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. She is investigating post-processing techniques with Nik Software and perhaps having way too much fun to call her  photography to-do list for today “work”.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. i like it a great deal. The eye is definitely drawn to the Coleus.

  2. I like it! It is a gorgeous image!

  3. It is very good Bo, not a comment in the negative to make

  4. Well composed and presented. I like it.

  5. Love watching you experiment and grow. Coleus is such a wonderful, giving plant.

  6. It has a painterly look. Using the grey bg allows the colors, textures, patterns and composition to stand out. I, too, have found that just taking one lens, often the 50mm, allows me freedom and new images.

  7. This is beautiful! Something very Japanese-ey about it. And – I love the processing. It adds its own bit of beauty!!!

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