Petaluma Photographer Turns Flowers Into Instagram Art

Susie Dranit's simple, spare compositions call to mind Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs of flowers, Geogia O’Keeffe’s oil paintings and Dutch masters of light.

Petaluma photographer Susie Dranit likes to keep things simple. Using only her camera, a black foam board backdrop and the light that shines through the windows of her home, she captures the natural beauty of her models — dahlias, peonies and roses that strike a pose for her Instagram account @bobandmarge.

Dranit, whose day job is as a contract manager for a national engineering firm, has always been a “visual person,” able to see and appreciate details others might overlook, she said.

“I think that I was just born that way,” Dranit said. “I can remember being a little girl and seeing things that maybe most kids wouldn’t see.”

Dranit took up photography five years ago. Working remotely at home, she noticed the beautiful light in her house and wanted to capture it. That prompted her to join a local MeetUp group focused on smartphone photography.

“It was perfect for me, an average person just wanting to learn what else I could do with my iPhone,” she said. “That inspired me to dig a little deeper.”

After three years of photographing with her phone, Dranit decided it was time to move up to the next level. She bought a used Nikon camera and started to share her photos on her Instagram account (the handle is a nod to Dranit’s artistic parents).

An avid gardener, she sources flowers for her photographs from her backyard and, during winter, from local flower shops and Trader Joe’s.

“I love that the same flower can look different with time,” she said. Peonies she photographed over the course of five days, for example, transitioned from a flamingo pink to deep pink to a pale peachy blush.

Her simple, spare compositions call to mind Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs of flowers or Geogia O’Keeffe’s oil paintings. With a keen eye for natural light, Dranit captures the delicate details of her subjects — the thin ridges in a petal, subtle changes in shade and color, the elegance and the tiny flaws. She takes inspiration from Dutch masters of light like Rembrandt and said that museum visits in Amsterdam and Paris piqued her interest in a darker style.

“I remember standing in front of a Dutch master painting and seeing how they painted with such incredible use of light. That fascinated me,” she said. “You stand a foot away and think, is this not real?”

For aspiring photographers, Dranit advises sticking to the old adage “practice makes perfect” and being patient.

“You just get better as you do things more, and it takes time,” she said. In the meantime, for people who want to take their own beautiful photos in natural light, Dranit offers these practical tips.

6 tips for aspiring photographers

Avoid mid-day light which gives a “washed out” look without depth. Early morning or late afternoon light often casts a soft glow that creates more interest.

Experiment with the direction of light on a subject. It can be from the front, back, above, below or the sides. Each will provide a different look. Dranit said she prefers light from the side (called chiaroscuro) to create the perception of depth.

Take lots of photos, often. Practice really can improve your eye for composition, light and creating a mood in an image.

Camera phones take great photos. They are a good way to practice and develop your eye. Instagram galleries are filled with incredible photos taken with camera phones.

Focus on one subject, say an apple on your kitchen counter, and take lots of photos of it. Photograph it at slightly different angles and different times of the day in natural light. Study the differences, which will help you hone in on a style you like.

Browse Instagram and follow galleries with photos you like. Think about what it is you like about different photographers’ styles. This can help you develop your own style.

To view more of Susie Dranit’s photographs, follow her on Instagram @bobandmarge.