5-10-5: Michael Byun, Garden Photographer @phytophile

Using his Canon EOS 70D and IPhone 5, young plant aficionado Michael Byun has perfected the art of macro photography for plants. The mild climate of the Bay Area (San Francisco, California) allows Michael limitless opportunities to capture plants throughout the year.

How did you become interested in plants and horticulture?

I’ve always been fascinated by plants and nature in general. The growth and profusion of verdant foliage has always felt remarkably fulfilling, and so I love going to forests, green places, botanical gardens, and the like. However, it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really gotten into growing plants myself. For me, it’s about the beauty of plants and a sort of primal feeling of biophilia.

What kind of garden would you have if time, space, or money wasn’t the limit?

That one’s hard! I love when plants are incorporated into landscapes beautifully, but I also tend to collect plants that are random from a design perspective. I wouldn’t actually want something especially large–I like the feeling of smaller spaces outside. It wouldn’t be tiny, but would be of a moderate size divided into several different areas or outdoor rooms, each with its own microclimate. It would have a contemporary feel but would not be minimalist or austere; instead, it would feel lush and alive. I’d use all sorts of uncommon and interesting plants in the garden. And of course there would have to be a hobby greenhouse for tropicals!

Your favorite Bay Area nursery or garden?
Flora Grubb Gardens, definitely. It’s almost the embodiment of my ideal garden. There’s something there for everyone, yes, everyone, even if you’re just getting a coffee and relaxing among the foliage. There are plenty of curious flora to peruse and they are all incorporated tastefully into the store’s displays. And not only are the plants beautiful but all of their pots and accessories as well. Add to that friendly and passionate staff and you get my favorite garden store in San Francisco.

Tips for people wanting to develop an unique point of view on Instagram.

In my experience, the most rewarding thing that anyone can do on Instagram is to follow people. Following someone doesn’t have to mean you know them well, nor are you obligated to like or comment on their posts. To me, following someone means opening yourself up to see another person. Whether it’s through food, cats, fashion design, or plants, the people you follow are giving you their perspective on whatever share-worthy things they stumble upon. And once you follow someone, perhaps you’ll like and comment. Perhaps they’ll follow you back. Perhaps you’ll become good friends! The wonderful thing about social media is that geography is not a barrier. You can connect and relate with people all over the world. So don’t be afraid to tap that “follow” button. That’s what Instagram is all about: sharing snapshots of life with the diverse, beautiful global community.

He selects the following 15 photographs as his favorites and explains briefly each image’s appeal. Follow him on @phytophile.


The photos I like best capture not only the subject in a compelling way but also the feeling and environment, directly or indirectly. This is one of my favorite shots for the feeling of late-summer-late-afternoon it gives me.

Red Leaf Close Up

I love finding fractals in nature–they’re everywhere–and when coupled with beautiful colors, they create an amazing sight. As a photographer, I feel that I am letting people see through my eyes; in that respect photography is simply capturing the beauty that I see around me.


Sometimes I love a plant just because it looks so crazy. That’s true of this Aloe. The colors are incredible and the simple geometry balances out the otherworldly texture.


Sometimes simple things are the most beautiful. Leucadendrons, a member of the amazing Proteaceae family, have exquisite blooms that in this photo can let the eye relax.

Window Wall Planting

Not all of the plants I photograph are mine; in fact, I love going to other places and seeing what kinds of flora thrive there. This shot is of a vertical garden at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco, one of my all-time favorite places for seeing plants used beautifully. Through the little community of plant lovers on Instagram, I’ve actually met several of the people that work there!


Since I do grow most of the plants in my photos, I like to get a perspective that people aren’t normally able to see. This cactus, Epiphyllum oxypetalum, blooms only once a year late in the night, and one can find pictures all over of their huge, elegant flowers. However, I found that the bud the evening before it opened was more interesting, especially with the warm hues of the flower and the cold blues outside the greenhouse.

Through the Vortex

Here’s another example of a different perspective, on one of my favorite plants: Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’. The new leaf unfurling created a beautifully textured tunnel of color.

Succulent Wall Decoration

As someone who loves both art and horticulture, of course I have to make vertical gardens. This is a succulent vertical garden I designed and created as an experiment in planting living walls.


This photo is very Japanese-inspired. I had been trying out a Japanese planting technique, or art form really: kokedama. Kokedama is the art of plants growing in suspended balls of mossy soil. Though I skipped the “suspended” part, I tried to get a more minimalistic, simple shot with an emphasis on form and light.

Shelf Fungus

My Instagram account may be called @phytophile, but I don’t only photograph plants. I document the beauties of nature I find around me, including these bracket fungi in Muir Woods.


Sometimes, I just like to take pretty pictures of plants. Like any photo, though, they have context and background. This is a waterfall at a Japanese garden I visited.


I tend towards the weird and wonderful of the plant kingdom. Carnivorous plants are some of the craziest plants–they eat animals!–but they can also be some of the most beautiful.

Fasciated Euphorbia

My Instagram account is really just a journal of the flora of my life. Sometimes, weird things happen that I of course share with my followers and friends. This is a Euphorbia characias, a common garden plant here in California, that became crested from some sort of growth defect or mutation.

Leaf Edge

For my last photo, I’ll end where I began: my first Instagram photo. I posted this almost a year ago, before anyone followed me. It’s a simple, green, beautiful picture of a plant. Which, of course, is what my Instagram is all about: snapshots of the beauty of plants.

Thank you Michael!

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