Leslie Brothers Gallery

Leslie Brothers is a Horticulturist, the Assistant Greenhouse Manager at the Smithsonian Institution greenhouses outside of Washington, D.C.  Aside from her responsibilities for plant study and maintenance, she also contributes to and maintains a photo archive of the SI plants.  

Leslie's photographic technique is quite distinctive.  Most of her photos are shot in natural light with a black background, resulting in some very dramatic images.  In many cases the subjects are backlit, so that elements of the plant are highlighted -- hairs, markings on flowers, etc.   While a few of her images are tight close-ups of flowers, in most instances enough of the plant is also present to provide an excellent documentation of the plant character.

In her own words:

"I use natural light exclusively and  prefer to photograph a plant in the shade on a sunny day.  This gives bright, even light with a little direction to the shadows.  Direct sunlight can be rather harsh and wash out details, especially in white flowers.  However, sunlight (or flash) can emphasize certain features like trichomes (shiny structures on the leaves).  If I see the possibility of using backlighting to effect, I'll take it.  (I don't always see the possibility, mind you.)  The variation in lighting you see in my photography is an adaptation to current conditions - sometimes I can't completely avoid direct sunlight, and I can't change a cloudy day.

"A black background of wool or velvet isolates the plants from any other distractions.  These materials are easy to drape,  or to hang with clothespins in the greenhouse.  Care has to be taken that sun doesn't shine on the material to create a reflection, or allow shadows from the greenhouse structure.

"The photographs in the gallery are taken by three different digital cameras.  The first was a Kodak DC260, the second a Nikon Coolpix 800, and the most recent, a Nikon Coolpix 995.  All of these have optical zoom lenses and as such I can't tell you what any given focal length has been.  Any of my slides seen in presentations at meetings have been from a Nikon N90 with a 105mm lens, on Kodachrome.

"The primary purpose of my photographs is documentation of the collection.  I take a number of photographs of each specimen to illustrate the habit and flower of the plant.  I do, however, attempt to make the photographs attractive.  I also take photographs for the public web site.  If the plant hasn't yet been documented, I take the standard run of photos in addition to ones attractive enough for a "Plant of the Week".  The plant of the week photograph is always edited, at minimum for size, usually for cropping, and frequently for brightness and contrast.  I also have been known to erase mealybugs!"


Achimenes dulcis
 High Resolution  This is a typical Brothers image -- the plant character is well-illustrated, it's shot against a black background in natural light, and the contrast between light flowers and dark overall background is used to very good effect.
Achimenes mexicana (Smithsonian)
High Resolution Backlighting helps to emphasize the white throat of this dramatic species.

Alsobia sp. nov. aff. punctata 
High Resolution In my experience, this is an ungainly plant redeemed by its dramatically unusual flowers, captured well by this photo.

Chirita longgangensis
High Resolution This is a rarity, a whole-plant portrait.  The quality of the specimen warrants this treatment.

Chirita moonii (Smithsonian)
High Resolution The enormous moonii flower is nicely positioned against the foliage and the black background.

Columnea arguta flower (Smithsonian)
High Resolution Leslie does not often take tight flower photos, but this image illustrates nicely the classically proportioned arguta flower and its subtle markings.

Columnea (Pentadenia) byrsina (Smithsonian)
High Resolution In order to properly illustrate the flower and berry of this species, Leslie has turned a branch upside down, in effect photographing it from underneath.  

Columnea elongatifolia (Trichantha angustifolia) Smithsonian
High Resolution Backlighting dramatically highlights the distinctive hairs on flower, calyx, leaves and stem. 

Columnea harrisii (Smithsonian)
High Resolution The composition of this photo dramatizes the flower while providing a good sense of the nature of the plant.  Again, the flower is backlit.

Columnea (Trichantha) mira (Smithsonian)
High Resolution Light shining through the leaves illustrates the striking effect of the red-tipped leaves, in combination with the bright yellow flower.

Columnea (Pentadenia) orientandina leaves/stem (Smithsonian)
High Resolution A dramatic photo, illustrating the colorful underside of the leaves against a stark black background.  I particularly like the composition of this image.

Columnea pulchra (Trichantha) Smithsonian
High Resolution There are several photos of this species on the GRW, but I like this one the best.  The plant appears to be growing into the space of the photo, flowers at attention.

Columnea raymondii (Smithsonian)
High Resolution The saturated color and dramatic presentation illustrate the decorative potential of this large-flowered species.

Columnea schiedeana 'Huatasca' (Smithsonian)
High Resolution Again, the contrast of brightly colored flowers against dark foliage and a black background dramatizes the beauty of the plant.  Note as well how the pair of parallel flowers adds to the effectiveness of the composition.

Corytoplectus cutucuensis (Smithsonian)
High Resolution This species is usually seen as a foliage plant, so the colorful flowers and calyces are a pleasant surprise.  In this case, Leslie has filled the frame with the flowers and foliage, dramatizing the color of the flowers while also illustrating the beautiful leaves. 

Corytoplecus cutucuensis seed pod (Smithsonian
High Resolution Documenting plants means attending to fruits, not just flowers.  Sometimes, these can be as interesting as the flowers.

Drymonia coriaceae (Smithsonian)
High Resolution This is one of the best illustrations I have seen of the differences between bracts and calyces.  To the bottom right of the flower is a bract, from which have emerged the flower with its leafy calyces -- note that the bract contained at least one more bud with calyces, which can be seen starting to emerge just below the flower. 

Drymonia ecuadorensis (Smithsonian)
High Resolution  

Eucodonia andrieuxii (Smithsonian)
High Resolution The pert blue and white flowers make this photo, but the fuzzy attractive leaves are also well-captured.

Gasteranthus atratus (Smithsonian)
High Resolution The dark bullate leaves of Gasteranthus are its main attraction, well-captured here, and serve to set off the rarely produced yellow flower.

Koellikeria erinoides (Smithsonian)
High Resolution This species is an attractive small plant, but its long spikes of small flowers are difficult to photograph effectively.  This is perhaps the best illustration of the species that I have seen.  Only the flowers at the front of the plant are illuminated by direct sunlight.

Lysionotus pauciflorus (Smithsonian)
High Resolution The whole plant can be ungainly and straggly, but the clusters of large flowers at the ends of stems are a photographers delight, as Leslie demonstrates here.

Nautilocalyx melittifolius (Smithsonian)
High Resolution The bright pink flower is the focus, but the bright green leaves are nicely presented as well.

Nautilocalyx pemphidius (Smithsonian)
High Resolution Another plant that is usually seen grown for its dark bullate foliage.  The clean white flowers provide an interesting contract to the foliage in this photo.  This photo was not taken by Leslie, but by Mike Bordelon.

Nematanthus sp. albus ined (Smithsonian)
High Resolution  

Niphaea oblonga (Smithsonian)
High Resolution The mounds of gray-green attractive foliage reminds me of hillsides in this interestingly composed photo, with the white flowers nicely set off against the darker foliage.

Paliavana prasinata (Smithsonian)
High Resolution This is a wonderful photo of big green bat-pollinated flowers with black speckles.  If I were to choose, this is the one that I wish I had taken.

Paradrymonia binata (Smithsonian)
High Resolution I like the composition of this photo, with a shaft of light picking up the bright flowers at the center, amidst the rhubarb-like stems and leaves.

Pearcea abunda (Smithsonian)
High Resolution Bright red flowers, interestingly textured foliage, black background -- nice composition, but the focus, unfortunately, is behind the flowers.

Sinningia calcaria (Smithsonian)
High Resolution The droopy flowers, characteristic of the species, create a kind of angular motion in this composition.

Sinningia incarnata (Smithsonian)
High Resolution  

Sinningia sellovii (Smithsonian 2)
High Resolution  

Sinningia waechteri (Smithsonian)
High Resolution Illuminated from the side, the reflected light off the large leaves illustrates the shininess of the leaf surface.

Smithiantha canarina (Smithsonian)
High Resolution  




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