Photographing in the garden on a stormy day                                   

 

During my many years enjoying the exciting medium of photography I have photographed all most anything that happened to be in front of my camera.

I haven’t bothered with restrictions or claimed specialties. Sure, I have worked for all kind of clients, and most of the images I produced included people. That was how I put bread on our table for years. But when it came to my personal photography I always have been, and still am, an opportunist.

The process of creating an image on a roll of film or capturing data on my camera’s sensor excites me. Thinking the picture through, capturing a feeling and making technical decisions stimulates and excites me. However, I will admit all that also drains me. Photography has never been relaxing.

When I go out to photograph something it’s hard for me to think about anything else. Back when I when I spent almost every weekend photographing weddings my wife learned to just leave me alone. Nevertheless, over the past 40 plus years I did find a way to relax. No, not getting drunk.

No matter how wired I am or how mad something (or someone) has made me, if I pick up my camera and wander my wife’s garden the tension drifts away. I suppose any garden or quiet wooded area would work as well.

My wife could find enjoyment walking, smelling and looking at her flowers, but I don’t really care about the flowers unless I am pointing my camera at them. Where the colours would have mesmerized her, I would be thinking about how some plant’s tonality would look as a black and white photograph.

This week the storm clouds have been coming at me from all directions, not just the sky. Some photographers might chose to search out large birds that frequent the river or lakeside, while others would select the nearest sporting event to work out frustrations. I have friends that seek out the camaraderie of others and spend time in their studio creating masterful portraits. But for me a solitary walk, searching out shapes in a garden always lifts my mood or at least helps me cope with the storm clouds in my head.

Wednesday was as stormy as my mood and the clouds were darkening the landscape. There was a time when low light was bothersome for photographers, but with the technological marvels we now hang around our necks, low light is no problem at all. I just selected ISO 800, (I could easily have gone to ISO1600 or higher) and kept my shutterspeed at 1/250th to reduce camera shake and started taking pictures.

As readers know I prefer to use a flash to balance the overall exposure. In this case I mounted a ring flash on my wife’s 70-180 macro lens. I usually like to use a tripod, but I needed to walk and besides I was pretty sure I was going to get wet.

On flat overcast days it isn’t the colours that attract me, it’s shapes, interesting locations and the position of the plants. I spent a lot of time lying on the ground shooting at plant level.

The nice thing about using a flash is one can easily brighten or darken the background by either slowing down or speeding up the shutterspeed. And when the background has fewer details I stop down my aperture to disguise elements by under exposing them.

An afternoon garden is quiet, the plants are just there waiting and unlike locations with people one doesn’t have to engage in conversation.   How does it work for me? I like this quote by American photographer Annie Leibovitz, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

 

Photography in the Garden on a Rainy Day

     

Two weekends in a row have seen me climbing up steep, loose, shale-covered cliffs to photograph eagles where they live high above a long, green, lake-filled, British Columbia valley.  However, this last week the weather has been cool, pretty wet, and certainly not good conditions for climbing or wildlife photography.  Oh, well, I had intended to stay away from those eagles until the chick was ready to fly later in the summer anyway, and I expect the interior of this province was getting a bit dry so the rain is welcome.

As I drank my morning coffee to a forecast of another day of rain I forgot about those birds and instead decided to go out into my wife’s garden to do some photography of her very wet plants. Hmm… I seem to make a lot of decisions over that first cup of coffee.  Just after a good rain is a favorite time to do garden photography and the dripping, spring morning was perfect.  When I mentioned I was going out, my wife, Linda, grabbed her camera and rubber boots and joined me.

Linda placed a ring flash on front of her 70-180mm macro lens and I used a 200mm macro and included a stand-mounted, off-camera flash. Adding light on the overcast day gave our images contrast and “pop” in the otherwise flat and limited lighting conditions of the rainy day. We both used monopods to steady our cameras as we moved around in the wet landscape.

When photographing plants I meter much the same as I would if I were doing an out of doors portraiture of a person. Selecting the camera’s manual exposure mode, I meter for the proper ambient, or existing, light exposure of my subject, and stop down to reduce the overall exposure. Then I add light. If the flash is set to TTL, then I use its exposure compensation feature to increase or decrease the power. If the flash is set to manual I move the flash closer or further away from the subject (in this case, the flower) until I get the illumination I want.

We enjoyed our photography in spite of the steady drizzle and I’ll mention that it is a good idea to keep wiping the slowly accumulating water off one’s flash. I don’t worry about my camera because it’s weather sealed, but the electrically charged flash is another matter. I know many photographers would opt for the dry comfort of home on a day like this, but sometimes we need to make our own photographic opportunities and even though this isn’t as exciting as hanging off a high ledge photographing eagles, I personally can’t think of any kind of photography I find more enjoyably relaxing than ambling through a garden capturing interesting light on interesting shapes, and the addition of rain drops on leaves and flower petals makes everything all the more creative.

We don’t have to go far to find something interesting to photograph. For my wife and me that location is just outside our front door and on that rainy day we would walk back to the cover of the porch to view and discuss the images on our camera’s LCD, and then we would step back into the garden and continue. There were no camera bags to be packed, trip planning, or driving of a car to a distant destination.

I am sure that is why I got interested in garden photography in the first place. It isn’t so much that I am fascinated with flowers, however, as a photographer, I am interested in colours, shapes, shadows and how easy it is to access all that. When I first started venturing into my wife’s garden, I would do it as a way to relax after a day of work.  Now it’s just fun photography that I recommend to any photographer wanting to be active with their camera.

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