Seeds: You Have Never Looked At Them This Way

Categories: Nature

Based out of his studio in Earlysville, Virginia, Llewellyn (pictured below) has spent his life photographing the natural, and in the last several years, he's focused his lens on bark, leaves, flowers and — more recently — seeds.

While challenging at times, the journey has proved well worth the effort, as Chace writes in the introduction of the book:

"Photographing seeds, pods and fruits requires a far amount of inventiveness and flexibility. Sometimes [Llewellyn] had to carefully slice open a fruit to reveal its hidden contents. Sometimes he had to search a room for seeds that had flung out in his absence. Sometimes he had to soak, dry, coax, pry or pin plant bits to expose seeds. He went down the rabbit hole into a wonderland."

Learn more about his inspiration and process in the interview below.


Robert Llewellyn in his studio (Photo: Robert Llewellyn/Timber Press)

MNN: 'Seeing Seeds' is the third installment of a book series that also includes 'Seeing Trees' and 'Seeing Flowers.' What inspired this multi-book journey?

Robert Llewellyn: I published a book called "Remarkable Trees of Virginia" and traveled the state photographing trees. There was a sudden realization that trees were alive. They were another civilization living with us on Earth. They were born and they died. They made flowers and seeds and sent their children out into the world. I wanted to know more, so I studied and photographed parts on the tree. I started looking at Earth as if I was visiting another planet for the first time. I was amazed at what was hiding in plain sight.

I found it worked better to study them in the studio. So the next book was looking at the life of trees. "Seeing Trees" got me interested in flowers, so I did "Seeing Flowers" I realized the flower was only there to be pollinated and produce seeds and seed pods — the plant children. So, continuing the journey, I did "Seeing Seeds."

It is a never-ending journey since there are 400,000 flowering plants in the world.


Eastern red cedar "berries" are actually small, seed-bearing cones. (Photo: Robert Llewellyn/Timber Press)

What role do you think art plays in the pursuit of scientific understanding?

The old watercolor botanical drawings were made with great detail on white paper. They were intended to be educational and often came out beautiful. The artist started with a blank white sheet of watercolor paper. They could light and arrange anything they wanted.

In my studio, I put plants on a white light table under my camera. I looked to see what called out to me. A part would wave at me, "over here" I always went "wow" with this array of color, texture, and shape. Humans say "wow" when they see something new. Usually what called out to me as a photograph also became the most revealing of the botany.


Every seed of a dandelion is equipped with its own stalk and fluffy parachute. (Photo: Robert Llewellyn/Timber Press)

What techniques do you use to capture such uniformly crisp and detailed photographs of these tiny subjects?

With macro photography, I did not get everything in focus like the painters did in the botanical paintings. I discovered a technique called "focus stacking."

I would make a series of the same images but each with a different focus point. Sometimes I had a stack of more than 100 frames. I then added these frames to "stacking" software and clicked on "render." Everything sharp in each frame would be added to a single final image. I had infinite focus.


Larkspur seed (Photo: Robert Llewellyn/Timber Press)

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