Photography in the October Garden       

 

Echinops 2

grass 3

Yellow leaf 4

Oregon grape 5

Pink leaf 6

Salvia 1

I have written before that I find wandering around our home garden with my camera relaxing. Unlike photographing people, animals, scenics, sports, or almost any other subject, garden plants are just waiting to be looked at, and it’s not necessary to pack the car with equipment to search for some secluded or exotic location. Most of us can find an easily accessible and welcoming garden close by.

I know that spring’s brightly coloured plants, or the mature flowers bathed in light on a damp morning in early summer are what most photographers are interested in. I admit that I am not very savvy when it comes to the names of flowers. Plants are more my wife’s interest than mine. Her time is spent designing, planting, and coaxing her sprawling garden. Sure, I do much of the heavy lifting, but my time in her garden is mostly with a camera and unlike those photographers that I mentioned that do most of their gardens’ photography in the spring and early summer, I don’t really care about the season, weather, or the condition of the flowers for that matter.

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 think some people get all tied up with a need to have inspiring subjects, and ignore the commonplace subjects just outside the door. I just walk out in my yard and make pictures of anything and everything. I guess the difference is between making and taking pictures.

My sojourn into the October garden was a bit about the colour and a whole lot about the shapes. I waited for late afternoon and lucked out when the sky clouded over just a bit. I like what photographer, John Sexton calls, “quiet light”, that as he says, “fades toward the darkness of evening.”

The light at day’s end allows me to underexpose the background and to add a “pop” of light on a specific subject from an off-camera flash.

I don’t really have a plan or a specific subject that I want to work on. I just wander and look. Figuring out the exposure and balancing the fading light with my flash only takes a moment as I choose an interesting plant and search for a creative angle.

It is that quiet and calming time on an October afternoon that welcomes me to the garden, and to quote Sexton again, “I feel quiet, yet intense energy in the natural elements of our habitat. A sense of magic prevails. A sense of mystery – It is a time for contemplation, for listening – a time for making photographs.”

When Do I Like Photographing Flowers?

Iris sculpture

Columbine bloom

 

Columbine

 

Foxglove

 

Poppy bud

 

Dandelions seeds & Oregon grape

When I am bored, stressed, or just want to get away from crap that sometimes happens, I grab my tripod, camera, and flash, and head out to my wife’s garden.

I admit that I am not really a flower kind of person and plant names are more my wife’s interest than mine, although, I do try to document her sprawling garden as creatively as I can throughout the seasons.

Somehow pointing a camera at some colourful plant is calming, and wandering through a garden of differing shapes and tones offering photographic opportunities gives me a different experience than any other subject.

Unlike photographing people, animals, scenics, sports or almost any other subject, garden plants just wait to be looked at. One doesn’t have to cajole, creep, or climb, and it’s not necessary to get in a vehicle to search for some secluded or exotic location. Most of us can find a welcoming garden close by that is, in most cases, easily accessible.

The result of 30 years of my wife’s effort has put me in a fortunate position of having about a half-acre of garden right out our front door. However, even if I lived in a city and only had four or five potted plants, I still would have a place in which to get lost.

The past month has been busy keeping me constantly on the go. So when my wife and I went to the car to drive to a mid morning appointment, the doggone thing just stopped working, and I was confronted with another stressful problem. To make a long story short, I was (I’ll use nice words here) very irritated as I watched it disappear down our rural road, chained to the bed of a tow truck.

I stormed around for a while. Then as the bright afternoon sun began dipping into the mountains and the light started to fade I looked around. I had walked back into our yard and was standing hidden from the road in my wife’s garden. Everything was bathed in what photographer John Sexton called “quiet light”.

“It is light that reveals, light that obscures, light that communicates. It is light [that] I listen to. The light late in the day has a distinct quality, as it fades toward the darkness of evening. After sunset there is a gentle leaving of the light, the air begins to still, and a quiet descends. I see magic in the quiet light of dusk…”

As I wrote in the beginning, I was “stressed and just wanted to get away from the crap that happens” So I returned to the house, I grabbed my tripod, camera, and flash, and started looking at the plant shapes waiting in the garden.

Sexton had continued by saying, “I feel quiet, yet intense energy in the natural elements of our habitat. A sense of magic prevails. A sense of mystery – It is a time for contemplation, for listening – a time for making photographs.”

I immediately began to calm down. I wonder if it was the act of setting up a tripod and attaching the camera. Maybe it was figuring out the exposure and balancing the fading light with my flash. It might have been choosing an interesting plant and searching for a creative angle. Or it just might have been all of those together that stole my attention and allowed me to redirect my energies.

Another of my favorite photographers, Robert Mapplethorpe wrote, “With photography, you zero in; you put a lot of energy into short moments, and then you go on to the next thing.” I guess so.

I expect capturing an expression on someone’s face, photographing an exotic scenic or some sporting event, will get more raves from friends than a picture of some delicate flower. But none of those help to relax me and sometimes even trouble me more. So, next time I am, as I was this week, confronted with problems or just feeling pressure. You’ll know where to find me. And maybe it’ll work for some readers, whether it’s in their garden, a public park, or even on the side of the road; there are plenty of photos for the taking.

I enjoy all comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

The Autumn Garden for Photographers

       

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.

I appreciate all your comments, Thanks

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com