Nature and Photography: Pioneering Artists of the Natural World

Photography, as both an art and a science, has been intimately connected with nature since its inception. Early photographers often drew inspiration from natural forms and used their methods to document plants, animals, and landscapes. In this article, we will explore key figures and their contributions to the development of photography, as well as their connection to nature.

The Birth of Nature and Photography: William Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) was a British scientist and avid botanist who played a crucial role in the development of photography. He invented the calotype, one of the first photographic processes, which used paper coated with silver iodide to create negatives. This method was later developed by the French inventor Louis Daguerre, who created the daguerreotype. Talbot’s inspiration for developing photography stemmed from his desire to document his botanical discoveries.

In 1844, Talbot published “The Pencil of Nature,” the first photo book in history, containing original photographs. In it, he demonstrated the potential of the new technique to create permanent images of natural objects.

Anna Atkins (1799-1871), another significant figure in early photography history, used cyanotype to create photographs of algae. Cyanotype is a photographic process invented by her friend and scientist, Sir John Herschel. In 1843, Atkins published “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions,” considered the first book of photographs created using this method. Her work not only documented botanical species but also showcased the aesthetic possibilities of photography.

Nature and Photography as Art

Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) was born on June 13, 1865, at the foot of the Harz Mountains in Schielo, northern Germany.

He began his career as a sculptor before extending his artistic horizons to other pursuits. At 16, in 1881, he started an apprenticeship as an iron caster at the Art Ironworks and Foundry in Mägdesprung, Germany.

After three years as an apprentice, Blossfeldt transitioned to studying illustration at Kunstgewerbemuseum’s education department in Berlin. During this time, he received a scholarship opportunity to study under Moritz Meurer, a decorative artist and professor of ornament and design. In 1890, he began working for Meurer, traveling around Europe and North Africa with other assistants to photograph botanical specimens as reference photos for Meurer’s artwork. It was during this period that Blossfeldt began experimenting with photography. He continued working for Meurer until 1896.

In 1898, Blossfeldt began his teaching career with a post at the Institute of Royal Arts Museum. The following year, he was appointed to a full-time position at Kunstgewerbeschule, where he taught “Modeling from Plants” for 31 years. Among his contacts at the Berlin Arts and Crafts School was Heinz Warneke.

Photography Career

Blossfeldt is renowned for his macro photographs of plants, which reveal the intricate details and structures of natural forms. His photography career began while photographing botanical specimens for Moritz Meurer. He further developed his photography skills and expanded his collection while working as a professor. The photographs he took were used as references for his personal work and teaching purposes. He meticulously logged the common and scientific names of every specimen he photographed, eventually amassing around 6,000 photographs.

Blossfeldt’s photographs did not receive artistic recognition until he was in his 60s. In 1925, art gallerist Karl Nierendorf began representing Blossfeldt, leading to the publication of his first monograph, Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature), in 1928. This book, containing over 120 photographs of plants, gained overnight success and recognition. It is now recognized as an exceptional contribution to both photography and botany. Blossfeldt viewed nature as a source of aesthetic inspiration and used photography to highlight the geometric forms and symmetry in the plant world. His success with Urformen der Kunst led to his second publication, Wundergarten der Natur. Despite his lack of professional training as a photographer, Blossfeldt is best known for his photographic work.


Karl Blossfeldt died in Berlin at the age of 67 on December 9, 1932.


The relationship between nature and photography is profound and multifaceted. From Talbot and Atkins’ botanical research to Blossfeldt’s artistic explorations, nature serves as an inexhaustible source of inspiration and subject matter. These early photographers not only documented natural objects but also demonstrated how photography can reveal the beauty and complexity of the natural world.