When Pretty Becomes a Passion

Here is an article from my good buddy, Don Burkett. Don is a creative photographer with a great mind for creating new shots. He’s got a lot to say and he might wander off a little. That’s how he is on our photo walks too, but we still love him! (Sorry Don)

Please welcome Don Burkett!


Doritaenopsis Minho Valentine

Doritaenopsis Minho Valentine

In 2008, I began to transform my photography from snapshots to something a little more serious.  My mentor at that time, who I met through a photo sharing site, was a phenomenal macro photographer.  Accordingly, I gravitated towards that genre with Flora as my focus and the Chicago Botanic Garden as my playground.  After a couple of web postings titled “Pretty Flower”, I was coached that generic titles were unacceptable and in fact a little disrespectful to viewers.

The reality is that part of the experience of viewing a photograph is shaped by the title and/or caption.

Sometimes a title simply informs you what you’re looking at.  Sometimes the title is the teaser of a the story the photo should reveal.  In either case, a proper title can draw you in or hold your attention just a little while longer.

Captions are even better as more of the story can be told.  Test yourself, how much time did you spend exploring the Orchid photo.  By the way, it is a Minho Valentine. You are probably familiar with them as they are very commonly found at retailers, grocers and home builders, especially during (you guessed it) Valentines.  But, what if I told you, those mass-produced varieties are pale and frail by comparison to this specimen.  Did you glance back up at it?  Maybe enlarge it?  How about if I told you this specimen was grown at one of the foremost Orchid Greenhouses in the country and that they are located right here in the Greater Chicago Area?  Does that make it more interesting?

Sorry, I tend to digress.  With lessons learned, from that coaching moment on I began to shoot the name tags attached to the flowers at the Gardens so that I remember the name and family of the flower.  Hey, I’ll bet that’s why they put those tags on to begin with.  They must know that it’s a better experience if you can tell what you’re looking at.  Huh!

Eventually, I moved beyond the Gardens and guess what?  Nature doesn’t provide name tags.



It took me hours to identify this Goatsbeard.  But, success was sweet.  I doubt very much if this image would have earned the Image of The Week Award on Naturescapes if I’d have called it “Some Weed”.  Ok, so now some of you are wondering why it’s called a Goatsbeard.  Actually it’s a generic name for any number of Eurasian species of weeds naturalized in eastern North America.  It’s also called “Jack-Go-To-Bed-At-Noon”.

See what I mean, even simple flower photos can be full of intrigue once you know their name.

Anne Glidden Mural

Anne Glidden Mural

So, research became part of the photographic workflow.  The identification challenge was as much fun as the composition challenge.  Over the course of 3 seasons, I photographed over 100 varieties of wildflowers, each researched and properly identified.  In the process, I bought wildflower books, collected a library of web links and even came into contact with a friend of my father, whom I hadn’t seen since childhood.  It turns out he was an avid Wildflower and Nature Photographer.

All told, I spent considerably more time researching wildflowers than photographing them.  Eventually, the process got reversed.  I’d see an image of a wildflower in a book and set about finding a specimen of my own.  Without question, it fueled my passion.  And, this has carried over to other genres.

Do I research every photo? Heck No.  Does every photo have an interesting story?  To me it does and usually it’s a short story.  That’s the beauty of blogging.A current example can be found at my DeKalb Blog.  This project started when I drove through DeKalb one morning and saw this wonderful mural.  Then the questions in my mind began.  Why? Who? When?

That led me to poke around this quant mid-western town and the more I tugged at the threads of history, the more it’s pulled me back to DeKalb for more photos.

The goal is not to create a historical reference of DeKalb.  The goal is to present an artistic view of a quant mid-west town, with enough detail about each subject that a deeper appreciation is gleaned.

Campus Castle

Campus Castle

I mean come on, how many US college campus’ started off with a Castle as their first building? Northern Illinois University did.  I encourage you to visit my DeKalb blog and tell me how I’m doing.  Some of that material will also eventually find its way over here to Out off Chicago.  DeKalb is a pretty cool town and worthy of any photographers time.   Also, stop by my regular weekly blog if you want to see the tidbits that I find curious and worthy. That blog was initially established to chronicle the Adventures of Brody, my beagle and photo companion, but I also share my point of view on a variety of subjects.

I want to thank Chris for inviting me to participate in this project.  I think it’s an ambitious venture and am pleased to be a part of it.  I also want to thank Chris for virtually introducing me to Anne Belmont and her work at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  Beautiful work!

In the spirit of story telling let me bring this to full circle. In her February 28th post on “Out of Chicago”  Anne Belmont featured an image that looked something like this …

Japenese Garden Winter

Japenese Garden Winter

Anne’s representation is better, but the day I shot this, December 4, 2010 is the day I met Chris Smith for the first time.  I’m in the Arid Greenhouse hunkered over my 180mm Macro and this voice behind me says ‘hello’.  There’s Chris Smith, bundled from head to toe in winter garb which is then layered with a full blanket of snow, holding a fully extended 100-400mm lens mounted on an unknown body.  Hey come on, the Abominable Snowman standing in the Desert Greenhouse, how couldn’t you instantly take a liking to him?

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When I’m not staying up all night figuring out the details of our next Out of Chicago Conference, you’ll find me at the park with our son and daughter, playing my guitar, out on the golf course, or following my favorite (Detroit) sports teams. I love Chicago, but I’ll always root for my Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, Michigan sports, and Pistons.

Latest comments
  • Well said!

  • Wonderful post!

  • Your title certainly pulled me in. Great article! Given your love of CBG and friendship with Chris, I think we are destined to meet, Don…and based on your wonderful blog photos of Brody, I would like to meet him, too!


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