For the past week I have been looking at my wife’s garden as I walk the path from our front door to the car on my way out. Her garden plants are dry; actually, crackling dry might be a better way to describe the plant life here in British Columbia’s interior after another summer season with very little precipitation. She explains that she has a “dry garden,” and that she doesn’t water the garden, only for new plants when necessary. Plants are selected that have the best chance of survival given the conditions. Parts of the garden are crispy dry, or have gone dormant, and offer a unique opportunity for photography before fall rains soften the landscape.
The nights are now getting cooler and the days aren’t as blistering hot as they have been for the past month and the plants that still have leaves that haven’t shriveled and fallen to the ground are beginning to change colour.
Most of the books that discuss garden photography recommend photographing plants in the morning when everything is fresh. Of course, spring is the most popular season for flower photography; and, I doubt those presenting their photographs to garden or photography clubs include photographs of lifeless plants. However, for this dedicated photographer, the combination of very dry, withered leaves and those with just enough life left to change colour are intriguing. As I have in the past I’ll admit that, unlike my wife, I can name few of the many of the flowers growing in our garden. To me, I look for colour and shape and how they fit in the environment.
My regular readers are already aware that I venture into our garden on rainy days and when it’s snowing. I enjoy photographing our garden in any season, and its dry condition is an invitation not a deterrent. So, this morning when I got up to a bright, clear, 9 degree autumn day, I thought I shouldn’t wait any longer and walked around our garden slowly looking for the flowers I would photograph later when the sun began to drop in the sky.
I waited for what I’ll call the “quiet light” at days end. I like that light that lasts for a very short time before dark when there is still light enough to see details, but not bright enough create highlights. As much as I like to use it, I can’t claim the term “quiet light”. That goes to photographer John Sexton and is described in his wonderful book of black and white photographs titled, “Quiet Light”. A protégé of Ansel Adams, Sexton and his collection of black and white photographs that he calls “an exploration of the natural environment” is inspiring; and it’s him, and photographers like him, that make me want to search out the unusual in the natural environment that would normally be ignored.
I wandered around with my tripod, a stand-mounted wireless flash pushed into a 30-inch diffuser, and a 200mm macro lens on my camera, and worked at picking out interesting shapes to photograph. The subdued light was perfect. I could place the camera on the tripod, focus on some intriguing-shaped plant, then direct the diffused flash from different positions to open up the flat-light conditions.
It’s easy to move the flash closer or further away to change the way the light effects a subject, or release the shutter several times while opening or closing the aperture. The outcome would be different versions. Some would have shadows depending on the position of the light while others would or wouldn’t have a dark background depending on the exposure.
I didn’t spend a long time because the light didn’t last long, but I released my shutter at least a hundred times photographing different plants, trying to be as creative as possible and get the exposure and the angle just right. I had a good time and expect I’ll be at it again before everything changes again.
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