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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is scanner photography?

A: Scanner photography, sometimes called scanography, involves using a flatbed digital scanner for making art.  Instead of scanning pages of a book or other written media, the cover is left open and a scanned image of arranged flowers or plants is made.

Q: Why scanner photography instead of regular photography?

A: I was an amateur photographer for many years, focusing (pun intended) on close-ups of flowers and butterflies.  While I was able to obtain some decent shots, any image of a flower always had a background of leaves or ground to it, inevitably taking away some from the star of the show, the flower.  With scanner photography, there is nothing extraneous, just the individual flower or elements of the arrangement, leaving no distractions for the eye.

This technique also has tremendous appeal because of the nature of the scan itself.  Certainly the amazing detail is welcomed -- because the scan proceeds slowly line by line over the image amazing detail is captured (some high resolution scans can take 10-15 minutes or more).  But the real joy in the images is the almost 3D effect they take on due to the crisp edges and rich shadows the scan reveals.

Q: Where do you get your plant material?

A: Most of the flowers and plants have come just from our small garden and flower bed.  OK, so I have bought a bouquet or two during the winter -- I just can't go so long without some new material.  I buy them for my wife, then "borrow" them for a bit (although she might argue that it is actually the reverse.)  Most of the autumn leaves came from a single parking lot near where I work.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration?

A. Because of the transient nature of the flowers and leaves I use inspiration of necessity is somewhat based on what's on hand.  Have you ever picked up a golden fall maple leaf, only to have it be shriveled up and dry by the following morning?  The scanner can preserve the short-lived colors the leaf contains.  Some flowers are ruled out as candidates for their fragility -- they begin wilting nearly as soon as they are cut.  Time is of the essence to find an arrangement that finds its natural order and harmony before the flowers lose any of their sharpness.  Sometimes what I bring home lacks any spark -- nothing jumps out at me with a call to how they should be placed.  At other times it seems like the flow of the flowers is natural: I get an "of course they go that way" feeling with the first glance of the image on the screen.  Perhaps that is just some of the spontaneity of art.

Q: Do you use a really high-end scanner?

A: Scanners available today have remarkable resolution for a fairly modest price.  While I typically scan at 1200 dots per inch, my scanner is capable of scanning at over 10,000 dots per inch!  Such resolutions are only practical for very small objects or else the file sizes become enormous.  Since each dot uses 24 bits to represent the color, or three bytes, even at "just" 1200 dots per inch the resulting file sizes are over 400 megabytes in size.  A 2400 dpi image starts out at 1.6 gigabytes before any compression or editing.  I've done some small items at 2400 dpi and one at 3200 dpi but beyond that for anything larger than a small bud or coin and you'd better have plenty of hard drive space available!  The advantage of the higher scan densities is that the resulting image can be printed significantly larger, expanding the image dramatically.  Anything above 250 dots per inch print quality is generally considered gallery/professional quality.  This means my images can be printed at least four times original size and often more -- making that flower or leaf come alive in stunning detail.  Here's a case where bigger is definitely better.

Q: What makes the background black?  Do you scan in a dark room?

A: The scans are indeed taken in a darkened room with a black fabric draped over a frame covering the scanner.  This produces a dark background on the image but not totally, 100% black.  This is where the long hours come in.  Using Adobe Photoshop Elements, I carefully edit around every leaf, petal and stamen to change the background to pure black.  Different brush types and intensities are chosen to ensure the edges are correct for the source -- different flowers have differing degrees of sharpness to their petal edges, for example.  For most pictures I need to edit with a brush size of 10 pixels or less, often down to 4-5, meaning I'm editing down at less than 1/10th of a millimeter level.  While this is a time-consuming process, generally taking 15 to 25 hours per image and sometimes much more, it is essential to bringing out the natural beauty of the flowers through the contrast with the jet black background.  The time goes pleasantly by with my daughter playing the piano or a favorite old movie on in the background.

Q: What changes do you make to the images once they have been captured?

A: The essence of the technique I practice is to never change the fundamental image.  The editing, done with Adobe Photoshop Elements, is just to remove any artifacts of the scanning process itself: dust, for example, or pollen -- and, despite great care, some flowers produce copious amounts of pollen!  Some digital artists electronically combine different elements into a single work of art, sometimes with dramatic and interesting results, but these works are simply the direct expression of the flowers themselves.

Q: What type of printer is used?

A: I don't use any hobbyist home printer but instead have my works printed by a professional printing service that uses Epson Ultrachrome inks on Fuji Crystal Archive paper which is acid and lignin-free, ensuring a long lasting work of art.  This combination of inks and papers produces rich black and vibrant colors, which, coupled with the feeling of depth that the scanner technique produces, makes for a dramatic work of art.  All of this does increase the cost a bit but the result is well worth it: a piece of art to enjoy for years and years to come.

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