Flowers at Ringling Museum – Sarasota, Florida

One of the benefits of living in the sub-tropics is that there always seems to be some sort of flowers in bloom. I enjoy photographing flowers, as they are colorful, beautiful, stay still and don’t give you any lip! There are about a million ways to shoot these things, what is the best lens, best light, do I really need a tripod? One of the many joys that I get as a benefit from my job besides working with some great folks is that I’m usually visiting many places. After awhile you are bound to repeat a venue a time or two. My main objective is to answer questions and demonstrate certain things, however I try and sneak in a few shots when I can.

I was teaching a class at the University of South Florida in Sarasota, Florida. For one of the field trips we decided to go down the road to the Ringling Museum. When I mean right down the road, we could have walked there. I’m glad that they built the school right next door, how convenient for me! I have had a history with this place. If you haven’t had a chance to read about some of my adventures with the folks there in the past, check out this post: Rearing In The Reins – Sarasota, Florida. This is an old post from 2011 but a good one. Having been armed with this knowledge from that visit, I at least know what the ground rules are. Having been to the museum many times, I try and change it up each time to make it interesting and give myself a project. I find this increases your skills as a photographer and challenges you to create new images for your portfolio. I had been there a week before with another class and I had the advantage of taking a quick look around to see what I could come up with. It wasn’t long and I decided it was time to shoot some flowers.

As we entered the front gate, the students and I assembled and I give them the game plan. I also answered some questions and let everyone loose. There was one student in particular that I struck up a conversation with, as we were from the same area in upstate New York. Come to find out he is a horticulturist. As we walked the property we noticed some flowers on a tree and took a few shots. It wasn’t long and we received a tap on the shoulder. I thought to myself, “Here we go again. Now what am I doing wrong?” Behind us was a fellow standing there with a golf cart full of tools. He took one look at us and said, “I noticed that you are admiring the flowers on this tree.” The student and I looked at each other and relied with a simple, “Yaaaa?” The golf cart person then replied, “Hello, my name is Fuzzy (no, I’m not making this up, it really happened and I have witnesses this time!). “I’m the gardener for the museum”. Fuzzy went into a 20-minute discussion about every flower, tree, leaf and I forgot about everything else that he was so gracious to explain to us. After our botany lesson we thanked him for his time and moved on.

Since I knew that I was going to focus on flowers, I took my Nikon 50mm f/1.4. I have a macro lens but it’s always nice to get back to basics and see what one can create. I also, took my 12” diffuser that would help me soften the harsh light on these delicate subjects. A tripod would have been great but after the last debacle I knew that was a no-no. In the front of the museum, I noticed a patch of purple so I went over to investigate.

 This Ice Flower was photographed at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. Photography by Spencer Pullen.Ice Flower – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

When I asked what these were, I was told they were “ice flowers”. Living in Florida, I thought someone was screwing with me so I came home and looked them up. They are in fact ice flowers. That is all about I know. These were very beautiful. I set my camera to ISO 100, f/2.8 at 1/1250. I exposed for the yellow part of the flower because if I wasn’t careful, it would have gotten blown out, meaning no detail. The higher shutter speed is the result of using a wide aperture in the middle of the day. The reason why I choose f/2.8 is that I wanted to blur most of the background, but keep most of the flower in focus.

 Spencer Pullen photographed this Brandy Rose at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida.Brandy Rose – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

One of the things that Mable Ringling was known for was her rose garden. I had been there about a month before this visit and all of the rose bushes were cut way back. I was in luck that during this visit that some of the roses were starting to bloom again. Anytime I go out and shoot some place, I try and find a plaque. For example, in the rose garden under each rose bush there is a nameplate for that specific rose. I make sure I shoot these so I can reference them later. The shot doesn’t have to be pretty, just so you can read it.

 Spencer Pullen photographed this Double Delight rose at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida.Double Delight Rose – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Here is another rose from the garden. In the past couple of photos, you may have noticed that these seem to “glow”. What’s causing this? Remember the 12” diffuser that I brought with me? I popped out the diffuser and placed it as close to the rose without it being in the frame. This spreads the light out and makes for a very flattering photo. You will notice that there are no harsh shadows or highlights and everything is nicely lit. This is what the diffuser does for you. If you are hard up and can’t afford one of these (they’re really cheap by the way) you could use a sheet of copy paper. The sharpness and color I have to attribute to the lens, that is why I use it when I can.

 Spencer Pullen photographed these daisys at the Ringling Museum at Sarasota, Florida.Purple Daisy – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

In the “secret” garden, where the Ringling’s are buried, there were many different types of flowers blooming. I have never seen a purple daisy before. Maybe someone out there can identify this flower and give me a real name. As with all of these flowers except the roses, the biggest challenge is getting on the ground and getting back up again. Most of you have seen me so you know what a sight that must look like, but sometimes you have to do things to get the shot. That reminds me, I need to go to Home Depot and get some kneepads to add to the photo bag.

 Spencer Pullen photographed this Spring Iris at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida.Spring Iris – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

I looked this one up as well and it goes by a few names. The most popular one was Spring Iris. There were a few of these in a cluster and the petals were in really good shape. I had gotten so close to this flower that I should have increased my f-stop a little. The center of the flower is in focus, however the outer petals are soft. Or I could just BS this and say this was a “creative” shot. That sounds better….yes I chose this f-stop on purpose to get this creative effect. I should be in sales.

 This Red Lily was at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, FL. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Red Lily – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

This was one of the last flowers that I photographed before I left. The other issue when you are hunched down like a two year old looking under a rock for the first time to get in position for the flower is that you have to hold the camera and the diffuser at the same time. My recommendation is to take a shooting buddy and you can help each other out. Then you can go to lunch afterwards. I’m just sayin’.

If you are ever in the Sarasota area, I would recommend checking this venue out. You can pay the fee and have full access to the museum or if you have been there many times as I have, I choose the free option. If you don’t want to go into any of the buildings and want to wander the grounds and take photos of the exterior of the mansion, then it’s free. There is also a day when they have free admission to the buildings. Check out their website for more info. At the end of the day, if you are on your hands and knees, hot, tired and trying to hold your diffuser and the frustration of not knowing what flower your are shooting is taking over, don’t worry. All you have to do is look up to the sky and yell at the top of your lungs, “I need Fuzzy!”.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. We all need a ‘Fuzzy’ in our lives – you were blessed to find yours, on this outing, at least!
    I love the Brandy Rose – the glow of color fills the frame – beautiful!

  2. Beautiful flower photos.

  3. Love them all…but my favorite is the peach colored rose. Love the way it fades out of the photo. Beautiful!

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