The subject is placed in a pristine studio space, framed by a black background and painstakingly illuminated by a professional lighting set up. A digital camera clicks away, beginning with wide establishing shots before moving closer to bring small details to life. This might sound like a fine art photography shoot but it’s not. For the subject is not a person or an inanimate object, but rather a plant–an orchid to be specific–and the purpose of the photoshoot is scientific, not just artistic. The work is that of Marie Selby Gardens’ orchid photographers, a critical team of volunteers that photograph the Gardens’ renowned rare orchid collection for research purposes. “They look at each plant as a unique subject for a portrait,” says Greg Luberecki, Vice President for Strategic Communications at Selby Gardens. “We realized that this is competitive with fine art photography. It’s done for scientific purposes, but the photographers bring an artistic sensibility along with their technical expertise. They’re so much more than just pretty pictures of plants, they’re beautiful images of living things.” That realization is what prompted the team at Selby Gardens to focus this Fall’s annual Orchid Show—subtitled Capturing the Perfect Show—on the scientific photography of their orchid collection.

Dichaea muricatoides, photo by Wade Collier.


“What we try to do is highlight orchids in our live collection as well as our research collection in creative ways each year,” says Luberecki. “The Show will feature scientific photography in the downtown campus’s Tropical Conservatory and in the Botanical Museum of the Arts, along with specimens from the living collection.” While this year the photography of the Gardens’ orchid collection serves a dual purpose, historically it has been done for research purposes by a team of dedicated volunteers. “As a research institution, we document the plants in our living collection to have a permanent record and also to capture rare and ephemeral moments—a certain plant may only flower once. For our scientists it can be important to snap that as it’s happening in real time,” says Luberecki.  This photography element is critical to the Selby Gardens’ Botanical team’s research. “Our scientists can use those photos to capture rare flowerings, enlarging tiny details you might not be able to see with the naked eye. The scientific photography also highlights the collection’s worldwide significance - sharing photos is a much easier and safer way to disseminate the information gained from studying the orchids,” says Luberecki.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens,