Photographing a late summer garden.   

 

I woke up to a wet day.

There was a light shower overnight, not the strong rain everything is dying for here in the southern part of British Columbia, but it did dampen things down the most since those rainy weeks last June. However, any rain is good and if I had better hearing I surely would have heard happy sounds coming from the garden outside my door.

The drizzle ended and as I lazily finished my morning coffee, like any serious photographer, I knew there was an opportunity waiting.

Many photographers that are excited with all the brilliant colours of spring ignore the dry plants at the end of summer. Sure the reds, blues, purples, bright yellows and greens have mostly gone, but there is still an abundance of colours if one just takes a moment to look.

I like photographing the garden. As that well-worn quote attributed to Mark Twain goes, “ I don’t know much about Art, but I know what I like”, I admit that I have no memory for plant names, but I like all the flowers, trees and bushes one finds in a garden.

With me, it’s not really the colour as much as it is the shapes. My approach to a spring, summer, fall and winter garden is much the same. I search for the shapes, differing tones and, of course, the light.

My favourite accessory for rainy days is my ring-flash. As I would with any portrait, person or plant, I always use flash. I usually operate my flash off-camera using light stands and light modifiers. Sometimes just holding my flash at arms length works at the end of the day. But after a rain I like the sparkling direct light a ring flash produces.

The ring flash is a flash that fits around the front of a lens instead of on the camera. I prefer keeping the flash at some distance by employing longer focal length macro lenses. My macro lens, a true macro, is a 200mm. That lens keeps me out of the garden ensuring that I don’t step on other plants.

I photographing the garden, spring, summer, fall and winter, calming. Maybe that’s because I am looking into and at the small details of a landscape ignoring the world around me

When my wife and I photographed the garden together her final images were about space, design and how all the bushes and flowers fit together and how the colours interacted. Linda’s visuals discussed the landscape rather than individual flowers. Mine are more intimate. As I wrote, I am always, “looking into…at the details” when I wander our garden.

As with any portrait, I am rarely satisfied with natural light and almost always add light from a flash. And during those hours of low light as the storm slowly drifts away adding a bit of light to makes a normally flat subject come to life.

That garden just outside my door is always waiting. I never ignore it and am always looking to see what it offers.

I found this quote by the famous Canadian nature photographer and writer Freeman Patterson, “Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, you intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.”

Photographing Hoarfrost on Christmas day

Frosty rose  Rosehips  Icycle  Frost sculpture  Frosty leaves  Cattail  Frost hanging  Winter pineneedles  Hoarfrost and snowy fence

Christmas day couldn’t have been better. The sausages and champagne additions to our ordinary breakfast of coffee, yogurt, and bagels was yummy, and my wife, Linda, and I were happy with our presents. Yes, it was a great Christmas morning and to make it even better, when I went outside to feed my chickens, I noticed everything, well, everything but my hungry chickens, was coated with hoarfrost.

The day was overcast and sometime during the evening another inch or so of snow made its way to our yard and the surrounding forest, and I guess that chilled the air around the already freezing surfaces created what this photographer can best describe as a wonderland of frozen, white, crystalline frost.

I attached a ring-flash to my 200mm macro lens and mounted it on my camera. My wife chose an 18-200mm lens for her camera, and then we donned our boots, and warm coats, and headed out.

Linda began trudging through the deep snow in our yard picking out interesting snow and frost covered features. She wasn’t using a flash, but had her camera set at ISO 1600. The high ISO allowed her to choose faster shutterspeeds so she could leave her tripod behind.

Even though there was a light cloud cover, the day was perfect, with just enough light to give the frost a slight illumination on the snowy morning.

I was shooting close-ups and could have easily selected one of the automated modes in the shadowless, flat light; but using the ring-light on my lens allowed me to underexpose and slightly darken the background to build some dimension and depth in the images I was making of the hoarfrost-covered foliage.

Selecting manual modes for both flash and camera, plus a low ISO of 100, gave me more control over my subjects. I made exposures at 1/250th of a second and adjusted the aperture to control how much depth of field I wanted. I like using flash when I do close-up or macro photography. Whether it’s wandering around in the rain like I wrote about last August or on a frosty Christmas day, adding light from a flash allows a photographer to build the image, not just document it.

I thought about putting a flash on a stand and shooting wirelessly by positioning a flash at different angles, but the mobility of the ring-light mounted around the end of my lens worked pretty well for the type of photographs I was making, and besides I could easily walk everywhere and after our Christmas breakfast I think I needed the exercise.

The frosty morning pictures were a good addition to those Linda and I made of each other earlier. I have closed my shop till after the New Year, so there will be lots of time for more picture taking in the snow-covered landscape.

I hope everyone has a great Year End with best wishes from Linda and I.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photography Excursion in the Garden – After the Rain

Red Mahonia/ Oregon grape  Rose bloom

Crab apple tree after the rain

Crab apple tree after the rain – Infrared.

Oregon grape on a rainy day

Oregon grape on a rainy day

Close up of an Iris on a rainy day

Close up of an Iris on a rainy day

Mahonia in black and white

I have heard complaints recently from photographers that they haven’t been able to get away from the wet weather this month and have only been offered a few rain free days to plan photography events.

The last three days has seen rain, sun, and shortly thereafter, rain again; nevertheless that needn’t be a reason to be depressed about the weather. Of course, the rain meant delaying a trip to the mountain waterfalls; and landscape photography might not be as dramatic unless one is willing to wait for the clouds to part. But, in my opinion, one doesn’t need to stray far from the back door to pursue that insatiable need to make pictures.

I have heard of groups having photographic challenges and I suggest that because of the rain that they have a challenge in their own back yard.  My goal this week was to get out during the rain to make pictures of the wet plants in my wife’s garden. I had planned to attach two small umbrellas to light stands, one for a flash and one for my camera and me. However, when the rain came down the last three days it really came down hard. So even though I don’t mind getting wet, there was no way I could be successful in the kind of deluge I faced each day.

The rain would come fast and hard, then abruptly stop. Next would come a strong breeze and bright hot sun that quickly dried the leaves. All perfect if one wanted to go for a walk, but I wanted wet leaves and water drops that I could add sparkle to by using a flash.

After waiting three days I put my umbrellas, light stands and flash away, slipped on rubber boots, and dashed out into the still wet garden as soon as the rain began to ease up.

As had been the pattern for the past few days, the sun came out quickly, hot and bright, and, as usual, the breeze began. Fortunately, the bright sun allowed shutterspeeds of 1/600th of a second and above, and, in most cases, made up for the plants moving with the light wind.

I used two cameras; one converted to infrared with a 70-180mm macro lens and the other shooting normal with a manual focus 200mm macro.  Some plants looked as though they might be perfect for infrared while others were so colourful that I knew I wanted the image to end up as close as possible to natural, although some would be converted to black and white. As I mentioned I wanted something unexpected and that also meant I photographed some plants taking into consideration that I might do some altering in post-production.

Wandering around the home garden is relaxing. My intention is to find something unexpected in the familiar plants. When I’ve chosen my subject, I look at it from all angles paying attention to the background so that whatever is behind won’t interfere, and I want the shadows, colours, and other plants to add interest to my composition.

I know many photographers may be content with aiming their programmed, little point and shoot cameras straight forward at some particular flower or foliage, and that is acceptable if all one wants is a life-like representation for a club’s plant catalogue, however, I find much more interesting photographs are from photographers with their DSLRs who are more intent in creating artistic representations of the flowers and other plants.

I think photographers get themselves all tied up with a need to have inspiring subjects, and ignore the commonplace subjects just outside the door.  When I want to try out some new piece of equipment, or software, I don’t wait for an excursion; I just walk out in my yard and make pictures of anything and everything. I can easily return to the computer to test some recent exposure, then go out again; and on days like I just wrote about it is easy to change out of wet cloths immediately at home, instead of driving home uncomfortably for several miles.

I always appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photographing a late winter garden.

Oregon Grape birch  golden leaves  dry&frozensedum

Last September I wrote about how I like photographing my wife’s garden in every season and I didn’t really care about the weather conditions. I mention here that the more uninviting the elements better I like the photography.

The day here in the interior of British Columbia wasn’t really cold, it was only about -3 Celsius. With a slightly overcast sky I knew it would be perfect for photographing things poking out of the snow. I mounted my 200mm macro on my camera and connected a ring flash on that and stepped out into the snow-covered garden.

We had lots of snow this winter and if one digs down the soil is damp and unfrozen. The images I made last September were of dried out faded plants with a golden hue. But as I wandered around this time I found more than one green plant sticking out of the slowly melting snow. The deep, powdery snow that I had been photographing in all winter had turned crusty and no longer clung to the trees. There had been enough of a melt that I even could see some of the garden hose I forgot to put away last fall.

I mentioned that the overcast day was perfect for my subjects. Bright sunny days increase the contrast of scenes, especially snow covered ones, making it hard to capture details in the extremes and I wanted to retain what details I could. The diffused daylight reduced the number of f/stops from black to white.

I used a ring flash. That is a flash that mounts around the front of a lens and can emit a soft direct light towards small subjects. When I add flash to a daylight scene I usually underexpose the ambient light and create fill light with the flash. My ring flash doesn’t have the TTL technology with which modern flash users are familiar.  I must first determine the exposure, remembering that the shutter controls ambient light and flash intensity is controlled by the aperture. The flash is constant power, but can be full, quarter or sixteenth power output.

I began by photographing tall plants, but the small features poking out of or just above the snow seemed more interesting and instead of looking eye level I wandered searching the snow covered ground at my feet. I wandered around with my tripod searching the snow-covered garden for intriguing shapes.

I again ignored what books on garden photography recommend. I shot late in the day, not in the fresh morning light. Of course, spring is the most popular season for flower photography, but that is still months away, and, as I have written before, I doubt presenting winter photographs of shriveled lifeless plants to garden or photography clubs would be acceptable. However, my photographs are more about colour and shape than of a garden environment

Just about anytime is good for a dedicated photographer to make photographs. My advice is to be creative, have fun, and don’t worry about failures. Open them up on the computer, learn something from them then quickly delete.
Of course, some tweaking with PhotoShop always helps and, for those photographers that like me are trying for something different, anytime, and any conditions will be just fine.

I appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com