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.”

Having Fun Lighting Flowers With Off Camera Flash

Spring Crocus    Crokus5

The snow has finally, and at last, left the north side of our house. It’s barely been gone about two weeks, however, that means two weeks of new growth in my wife’s garden.

I had been making notes in preparation for a workshop on using flash outdoors that I will be leading the first two Sundays in May, when my wife mentioned the crocuses were coming up everywhere, and I thought I would take a look to see if there were any left after a weekend visit from our two granddaughters who like to pick flowers, and I thought it might be nice to walk around her garden.

As it turned out the girls hadn’t got them all, and, anyway, there were many more coming up thru the ground every day. Discovering there were lots remaining I decided I should select a couple plants to photograph before the bloom was over.

Keeping in mind that I have been thinking about the upcoming outdoor lighting class I thought why not photograph the flowers just as I would do a portrait of a person.

I got out my small 2’x2’ backdrop and placed it behind some of the flowers. That small backdrop, especially constructed for flowers and other small items, is made of black velvet material attached to sharpened dowels that easily poke into the ground.

I mounted two Nikon wireless flashes on light stands, and put a 40-inch umbrella on one that I placed shoulder height to my right, and a 30-inch on the other positioned low to the ground and to the left.

Needing to shoot low, I used my favorite garden tripod, the uniquely flexible Benbo. The Benbo tripod allows each leg to be independently positioned, and instead of a vertical center column configuration most tripods have, the Benbo has a column that fits off center and when the legs, that go in almost any direction, are splayed out flat, the camera can be positioned just off the ground.

I mounted my 200mm macro lens on my camera. That focal length let me situate the camera several feet away from my subject crocuses, and I wouldn’t have to put an end to the new growth coming up everywhere in my wife’s garden while still letting me have a close focus.

The exposure was made exactly the same way I would have made it as if photographing a person in an outdoor studio; slightly underexpose the ambient light, reposition the flashes for the best light direction, and continue to make tests until I got the lighting that would flatter the subject.

Lighting a subject with off-camera flash is fun, and putting up a backdrop ensures that it is even more so. It doesn’t matter who, or what, the subject is. There isn’t really a choice when I have a chance to use a flash because I use a flash always. For me it is all about adding light. It was also really nice to spend some time outdoors in the garden and see it coming to life in the spring.

I always appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com