Photographing a Late Fall Garden   

oregon-grape

thistle-2

thistle

grass

thorns

yellow

I try to wander about in our garden with my camera each and every time the season changes; spring, summer, fall and winter.

I have photographed the changing garden throughout the years and, although it always seems very familiar and comforting, I find myself discovering different ways to capture the life that begins, grows, blossoms and then retreats into sleep. There are times when I have constructed elaborate sets with reflectors to capture and control the light. I have built mini studios much like the controlled indoor setups that portrait photographers are familiar with. I’ve lain in the snow and employed umbrellas on rainy days. However, on this particular day I wanted light, and waited all day for sunlight that seemed reluctant to bring me one day of fall warmth I wanted to photograph before the snow that was predicted in a day or two.

When 3pm rolled around I worried that if I didn’t get something done in the quickly dropping light, other than look out the window, I wouldn’t get any pictures at all.

My camera was waiting with a manual 200mm macro, wireless sender and two light stands with a flash and umbrella mounted on each. However, when I finally walked outside (yep, I already said “quickly dropping light) I realised I was doomed to failure if I relied on taking the time to set up that equipment.

Years ago I was asked to give a lecture to the Abbotsford Photo Arts Club. I won’t go into that long discussion, but the title I chose was, “A problem solving approach to photography”. And I realised that this was the time to move into a problem-solving mode.

I removed the 200mm macro from my camera and replaced it with my wife’s 70-180mm macro. I prefer my old manual lens for close up photography, but that Auto focus zoom macro is really easy to use.

I also put aside the light stands and attached a single flash to an eight-foot TTL flash cord. I could have set things up wireless, but I was going for quick and easy and with the TTL cord I just let the flash hang off my shoulder until I wanted it.

I could have used a high ISO, a wide aperture, and just popped a bit of light for a proper exposure. But a high ISO would increase the ambient light and show the lifeless colours of surrounding foliage. A wide aperture would limit my depth of field, and TTL is fast and easy to light, compose and relight a subject.

I under-exposed my exposure by several stops, and let the dedicated TTL flash (with a diffusor cup) do what it was designed for, to deliver just the right amount of light on my subject.   That gave me a dark background that I could later make completely black by adjusting the contrast in Photoshop.

I didn’t have a lot of time before more clouds moved in making an already dark afternoon even darker, but my portable set-up made things easy and even gave me a moment to pause and watch our three legged, feral cat flee as it ran out from the cover of the shrubbery. Gosh, in spite of the damage to her one back leg, she sure can move.

I had been trying for three days to get some pictures, but unpleasant weather and life in general got in the way. However, with a bit of problem solving and the will to finally get out and do something, a person can end up with a few photographs worth keeping.

 

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