Scanned Perfection

WWU biology professor builds beautiful works of art with flowers, foliage and a scanner bed
Naomi Schapiro

Most people associate cameras with photography, but Western Washington University Associate Professor of Biology Sandra Schulze takes her photos with a scanner, and does it so well that she just traveled to the United Kingdom to accept an international award for her work.

Schulze was invited to the world famous Kew Gardens in London on Feb. 7 to receive a silver medal award for her scanned photographs in the International Garden Photographer of the Year Contest, or IGPOTY.

IGPOTY is the world’s premier competition specialising in garden, plant, flower, and botanical photography. The competition receives about 20,000 entries in any given year, from amateurs and professionals alike.

Schulze started photography as a hobby, and said that she was inspired by Dutch botanical paintings of the 17th century.

“The paintings are always against a beautiful dark backdrop, so the colors are very striking,” Schulze said. 

Schulze said she really wanted to imitate that sort of background and she tried to do that with a camera at first. She covered her couch with black velvet and then put flowers on it, but she said that it didn’t really work.

Schulze did some research and found a video of people using scanners to get the black background she sought. So she took the lid off her scanner, covered it in a metal frame, put velvet over it—and got exactly the image she wanted on her first scan.

This passion for scanning flowers actually helped lead to a new research subject for Schulze. She had previously studied the genetics of fruit flies, but found that field to be getting a bit too competitive.

Schulze said she had always loved breeding and photographing passion flowers, and she found these plants to be perfect for her genetic research. Sadly, while her new subjects are beautiful to look at, they also reproduce far more slowly.

“You can usually get a result from a genetic cross in fruit flies in a couple of weeks, whereas with plants of course it is seasonal — so you have to wait at least a year to get any results,” Schulze said. “Passion flowers usually don’t bloom the first year, and maybe not even the second or third, so it is a long wait.”

Schulze said she decided to enter IGPOTY specifically because the organization that sponsors the awards donates a lot of the money raised to charities.

She entered the competition with a portfolio of six photos in a category called “The Beauty of Plants” and said that she tried to arrange the photographs she entered seasonally, one with winter flowers, one with spring flowers, and so forth.

“I probably have about 2,000 scans, but only about 300 or 400 are usable,” Schulze said. “You have to balance popular opinion against less popular taste, and it was a difficult choice.”

Schulze attended a reception at Kew Gardens on Friday, Feb. 7, when the award winners were honored. The winning images were printed, framed, and on display at the ceremony. IGPOTY also publishes a coffee table book of all the images that the winners will receive.

She said she was able to take the rest of the day to spend in Kew to meet leading passion flower hybridizers, and visit the research greenhouses at the invitation of the chief Kew horticulturist. IGPOTY will also take all the winning photographs on a traveling exhibit through Europe.

Fine more of Schulze's work on Facebook, Instagram and at

is a journalism-public relations major who recently completed an internship with the WWU Office of Communications.

Photos by Sandra R. Schulze, WWU Video by Taylor Bayly