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  • Writer's pictureBeverley Johnson

Photographing fern fronds

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

One of the advantages of being an artist is that it sharpens your interest in the visual world. Wherever I go, I’m on the look-out for artistic inspiration. This is especially true when we are travelling. Even when we are on holiday, I keep my eyes open for things that link to my practice but also tell me more about the place we are visiting.

On our trip to New Zealand, one such link was ferns. The ferns of New Zealand are much larger and lusher than their European counterparts – they even have tree ferns with exotic names like ponga, mamaku, katote and wheki. I quickly fell in love with them. Whenever we were walking in forests, I sought them out. We visited in March, which is autumn in New Zealand, so many ferns were curving into elegant curves or turning a rich, rusty brown.

For me, taking photographs is a form of meditation. It takes time and patience – and certainly tried the patience of my travel companions, who were keen to gain some fitness benefits from our hikes. We saw hundreds of ferns, but not every fern makes a good photograph. And once you do spot one that is catching the light in just the right way, it takes experience to compose the image effectively and technical skills to bring your subject into focus so that it stands out clearly from the background. It also requires a certain willingness to stand in a ditch or crouch in an ungainly position in order to get just the right angle.

Once I find a subject, I take several photos. Then, once back at the computer, I choose the one that is exactly right. I also try to learn from those that do not work so well. Why does this composition work better than that one? How can I crop this image to improve it? How can I minimize distracting objects so my viewer knows where to focus?

Taking and analysing photographs has helped me become a better painter too. The practice has taught me about composition, colour, light, and contrast. My photos provide an endless source of inspiration for my paintings. But sometimes a photo works just as it is. For some subjects the simplicity and clarity of photography is the perfect medium. I believe that is the case for this series of ferns.


What subjects inspire you when you are on holiday? Do you use a phone or a camera to capture your images? Would you be prepared to stand in a ditch or kneel in the mud to get the right angle for a photo? Let me know in the comments below.

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