This photographer creates dramatic flower studies using the simplest of setups
Paris-based photographer Katie Mitchell began her monochromatic flower studies during the first COVID-19 lockdown.
One of my favorite hashtags on Instagram is #FloralFriday, and it’s safe to say that Paris-based lifestyle photographer Katie Mitchell does it like no other. Follow her and your feed will be overrun with nostalgic, dreamy images of the City of Light—including the florists and flowers that seem to be on every corner.
I’ve been following Mitchell for what feels like forever—maybe nine years, a significant chunk of my 25-year-old life. She moved to Paris from Australia in 2013 and built a successful wedding photography business, working with the likes of Monique Lhuillier and Jenny Cipoletti of Margo and Me—and that was just the beginning. With the arrival of her two children, she’s transitioned out of the wedding world but continues to document stories: families, love stories, and “branding portraiture,” as she puts it.
Her photographs are the ones that keep me dreaming of my own floral-filled Parisian adventure, and when she started sharing striking, monochromatic flower studies during the pandemic, it opened up a whole new world for me. Some things just demand color, but here I found dazzling, masterful proof that flowers have much more to offer than color permits.
Mitchell told me that her flower studies began in lockdown. In Paris, people were restricted to venturing no further than a kilometer from their homes. Though I left for the countryside with my host family (I too was living in Parias at the start of the pandemic), friends recounted being stopped by police on the street corners who would verify their papers.
“A local florist gifted me a bunch of almost expired anemones which were too beautiful not to photograph and I just love how they looked in black and white,” Mitchell shares. “I usually gravitate toward color in my work, however, there just seems to be a whole other level of emotion when it comes to flower images being black and white.”
Paris kicks off a blossoming love for flowers
Her love affair with flowers isn’t new, though. From her native Australia all the way to France, she’s always gravitated towards everything floral. But, it was Paris and its bounty of blooms that really let her work blossom.
“Having an abundance of flower shops with a wide variety of affordable blooms on my doorstep is when the real ‘love affair’ began!” she says. If you happen to run into her and the season is right, there’s a good bet her arms will be filled with café au lait dahlias and coral peonies—two flowers that have won her over with their exquisite forms and tonal ranges.
Mitchell’s flower portraits pack a serious visual punch, yet her camera and light setup are incredibly straightforward. These days, simplicity is key for the photographer and new mom, who loves both film and digital but primarily works with a Nikon D750 for this series.
“I’m a Mum of a toddler and a seven-month-old baby so keeping it simple is key,” Mitchell says. “I use a Nikon 105mm f/2.8G macro lens—I throw a piece of black velvet over whatever I can find (often a small chair or baby play gym!), set down a floral pin frog and one flower stem from the bunch I’ve chosen on that occasion, and let the exploration begin!”
Her lighting strategy, though it comes across in the final photographs as elaborate, is hardly embellished. She does everything in her living room by the window, staying true to her love of natural light. Mitchell allows the calendar to guide her subject selections, often choosing something in season that she’s stumbled upon at the florist.
“I just let light and form lead the way,” she says. And the edits are just as simple. “In terms of my editing process, I shoot in color and convert to black and white in Lightroom during post-processing. Some florals tend to work better in black and white than others so I just feel it out as I go along! I like to keep the editing simple and let the flowers do the talking.”
On balancing creativity and parenthood
Any artist knows that producing a body of work takes an incredible amount of time and focus. And Mitchell impressively manages to create stunning photography while also juggling two small children.
“Being a full-time Mum and photographer has proven to be altogether beautiful and rather challenging at times,” she says. “Balancing the artistic desire to create alongside sleepless nights and pairs of tiny hands wanting to touch everything is a skill I will likely never perfect!”
Though it’s a balancing act, Mitchell is committed to giving herself a creative outlet—to her, it’s important that her children see her doing something she loves. Though, she often works with a tiny assistant in her lap!
“It’s become all part of the process and my journey through these early days of motherhood.”