Those of you who have been following the results of the Camera Jabber Photographer of Year will know that Molly Hollman won the first round of this year’s competition with her beautiful image of a shoot emerging from an acorn.
Molly won a £500 voucher from MPB to spend on anything from a huge range of kit from the World’s biggest platform for used photographic gear.
I caught up with her to find out what she decided to buy with her prize and discover a bit more about her photography.
Molly told me, ‘I have always loved nature but I only began specialising as a flower, plant and garden photographer about three years ago. Previously I had been interested in most genres of photography, especially landscape, portraiture and street photography, and these genres still inspire me, even though I don’t shoot them as much.
The pivotal moment for my switch to flower photography however was probably when I won a Sony RX10 III bridge camera in 2017. This showed me the real potential of shooting with a long lens – prior to this I’d had nothing more than 100mm but the new camera gave me the equivalent of 600mm to play.
Starting with birds, I then moved to insects and butterflies, and then to the flowers that my subjects were to be found on. I discovered that I loved to sit, often for an hour, quietly in a garden, observing the small details of nature and how the light fell upon them. Shooting small subjects at 600mm from a distance meant that whilst the background was beautifully blurred, I could still preserve the detail of most of the flower or insect, unlike when using a macro lens where the depth of field is much more narrow. In fact, the RX10 Mark III at full reach gives an equivalent aperture of more like f11. One of my favourite flower photos of a blue Nigella flower is taken in exactly this way, at full zoom, but retaining enough detail to preserve the petals and flower bracts whilst giving an ethereal light with its blurred background. Light and colour are so important to my style, and I’ll study how the great artists and photographers use them at length as part of my photographic development.
In 2020, I bought a Sony A7 III and Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens and then set about finding flowers that worked well at an aperture of f/1.8. From my days with Pentax, I had always loved shooting wide open in an ‘Impressionist’ style and in fact have kept some of my vintage Pentax lenses so that I can use them with the Sony A7III with an adapter. This means I don’t have access to autofocus, but when you’re shooting flowers close up, manual focus is usually preferable as you can place the point of focus exactly where you want it to be (which is often the centre of the flower). Given the choice, the camera will often focus on the nearest petal instead. My vintage lenses give beautiful bokeh if the light is good and not too harsh and I’m learning more and more which flowers work well with particular lenses.
Depth of field is sometimes hard to preview on the rear screen and to counter this I’ll often shoot the same image at different apertures, only deciding later when viewing on the computer which one works best, and it often isn’t the aperture you would have started out with. I always shoot in raw as flower photography works so well in the beautiful light of the golden hours, and raw files means that I can adjust the highlights in post production if I need to.
First book: Creative Flower and Plant Photography
About a year ago a routine emerged – the day job (I’m head of music in a secondary school) was Monday – Thursday, and every Friday I’d visit a local garden and photograph it. I started writing two books – one about photographing flowers, and one on the gardens of Kent (where I live). Writing about method and ideas actually helps my understanding of the photographic process better and I find that I refine my ideas more effectively and even think outside the box more.
Then Covid happened, and lockdown meant working hard on my own garden to make sure I had enough to photograph! During this time I began shooting more with a macro lens (a vintage Vivitar 55m Pentax fit which I love) but also explored the still life genre as it was something that I could do indoors.
Learning how to use layers to add an overlay on to my photos was also something crucial for me as it meant that I could mask out backgrounds that didn’t compliment the subject, and I began making my own overlays for this purpose, and now sell them via my website. I still always try and photograph my flowers ‘in the field’ as it were but if I shoot indoors, particularly with still life, I will invariably add an overlay or texture, as plain white or black backgrounds don’t give the depth to my photos (or the interplay of light and colour) that I find preferable to my style.
I’m very lucky that I don’t need to make money from my photography (and hopefully this means that I won’t get stuck in a rut creatively), but I sell prints via my website and also in the region of about 300 greetings cards each year, most of which I have professionally printed. I give flower photography lessons and workshops and have now finished my book about flower and garden photography which will be published in May this year. It’s called Creative Flower and Plant Photography. Each of the 12 chapters deals with a different aspect of photography (eg still life) and the end of each chapter has ‘what to photograph in…’ Naturally, the first chapter it’s about what to photograph during January, and then second one is February and so on, throughout the year.’
CJPOTY Round 1
Molly entered the first round of the Camera Jabber Photographer of Year competition after seeing it mentioned on the SheClicks Facebook group. She explains, ‘I saw it and was up for the challenge, I like to push myself thinking up new shots etc. I shot especially for it, and made the whole scene inside my light box at home where I knew I could control the light better (although I do shoot regularly in the woods the light isn’t as good in January).
I’m a keen gardener and always have bits and pieces growing outside that I can use.’
With £500 to spend at MPB, Molly has decided to go for the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM C that’s she’s been thinking about buying for a while. She explains, ‘after lots of research, especially reading your Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM C review, and a recommendation from a friend who loves it, I decided to take the plunge. I’m still going to keep my bridge camera, but a long lens for my Sony will mean I don’t have to take two cameras out with me all the time.’
Molly is photographing a lot of insects this year and she’s looking forward to using the 100-400mm focal length on them as it should produce better quality than the bridge camera, especially in low light.
Connect with Molly
The theme for the third round of the Camera Jabber Photographer of the Year (CJPOTY) competition is ‘Spring Colour’. Colourful spring flowers and blossom are a welcome sight every year, but particularly so in recent times. We don’t mind if you shoot them close-up or use a wide-angle lens to put them in the context of the landscape, just make sure that spring flowers are a key element of your image. And don’t worry, we’re calling white a colour so images of snowdrops count as spring colour!
This round of our monthly competition is open for submissions until 18:00 GMT (19:00 CET and 10:00 PST) on 31st March 2022.
To submit your entry visit cjpoty.com. You can submit one image per entry but make up to three entries for £2.00 plus payment processing costs (£0.26).