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 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.”

 

What Shall I Photograph when its windy? 

Lilac

Oregon Grape

Allium

Oriental Poppy in wind

Iris in wind

B&W Iris in wind

I looked out the kitchen window at my wife’s garden. It was late afternoon, the sun was peaking out under the clouds after a light rain, and the garden was glowing with a gusty, light breeze.

Linda mentioned that we hadn’t taken any pictures of the spring garden yet and suggested that it looked so fresh after that rain that I should be able to get some good flower photos in spite of the wind.

Wind? Wind is not a problem if photographers take the time to problem solve. I could increase the ISO or shutterspeed, but that wouldn’t do much for the ambient light, and I like more control. My normal technique for photographing flowers is to underexpose the ambient and illuminate the subject with a flash. I recall years ago having given my photography students a “stop action” assignment. They were to go out at night or find a large, dimly lit room, and use a flash to stop a moving subject in a photograph. All they had to do was select enough flash power at a specific distance to illuminate their subject properly when they released the shutter.

Those were assignments given before modern, computerized cameras and TTL dedicated flash when the flash would always produce the same amount of light and the aperture controlled the amount of light exposing the subject.

My technique for my windy garden was the same. I placed my 200mm macro lens on my camera and attached a ring-light on it. I really like is using a ring light on rainy days. I keep it on manual mode and stay at a specific distance so it won’t under or over expose the subject I am photographing. My ring flash also has ¼ and ¾ power increments to reduce the flash power output if I need it.

Just as my photography students learned all those years ago, when I pressed the shutter the flash stops the movement of the flowers in the wind. Nevertheless, the wind was quickly drying out the plants, so I had to quickly search for leaves that still showed raindrops.

The movement problem was almost solved. I took extra shots when I thought some motion had wrecked my shots, however, it was the sun that became the biggest concern. I had hoped the high clouds would block the sun, but instead of getting more bad weather, I got less, and with the clearing sky I began to struggle with the bright light.

The bright light would have been fine if all I wanted to do was document plants in the sun, but I wanted to go beyond that. Just pointing and shooting is boring. I would have liked to get out lightstands, a couple of off-camera flashes, and even a black backdrop, but the wind continued on, and would probably blow all that stuff over and I never followed up on that option.

So while other photographers might have celebrated the sunny, clear sky and be willing to put up with windy landscapes, I was done for the day.

I think I am pretty lucky that I don’t have to go far when I want to take pictures. Over the years I have looked hard into what is close to me and instead of being one of those photographers that depends on a car to find a location to get inspired. I just look around the yard and adjust my thoughts and camera for what awaits me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainy Day Photography

Last drop

Wet fir tree

Spring bud

Oregon grape

Rain drops

Reflection

Too many springs

Monday was another day of rain. It is spring here in the hills of Pritchard, earlier than usual, but it is spring and rainy days go with spring.

Rain doesn’t bother me much and had I thought about getting my camera and going for a drive up into the hills to see what I could find. However, as I walked through my wife’s garden on my way to the car I noticed all the drops of water hanging from branches and those leaves that made it through winter. The wet and foggy hills would have been interesting, but all those droplets were just waiting to be photographed.

How does one prepare to do photography in the rain? Put on a hat with a brim if, like me, you wear glasses. I also like rubber boots. Bring an old tea towel in your pocket to wipe the rain off your camera, and you are ready. Oh, and remember to keep the camera lens pointed down.

When the garden is dry I would usually put a couple of flashes on light stands, and add umbrellas so I can control the direction and quality of light. But when it is raining I prefer using my ring flash.

A ring flash fits tightly around the front of my 200mm macro lens and is perfect for building reflections on the droplets of water that were clinging to branches and sparse foliage that I wandered around photographing.

I expect many photographers prefer waiting out the rain and the unappetizing low, flat light on rainy days. I can understand that. Rain is such a hassle, and getting wet is uncomfortable. Nevertheless, that flat light, slight breeze, and wet conditions forced me to approach my subjects differently and I like that challenge.

In the low light of a rainy day we don’t think about light in the same way as we do on a sunny day. Everything is usually about colour, and how to deal with the contrast, especially on a bright spring day.

When the light is low one needs to see tonality and shape, and raindrops are a challenging element to add. In this instance there was also a slight, intermittent breeze.

I chose a setting that without a flash everything would be underexposed. That means I would only see my subjects when they were properly exposed and a flash is the best way to do that. Using my camera’s manual mode I selected 1/250th of a second and I kept my aperture at f/11 so I would have as much depth of field as possible when and if a branch shook back and forth in the breeze. I also switched my flash to a manual mode. The flash power would always be the same putting out the same amount of light. I then could control exactly how much light I wanted for each location.

I could have increased my ISO and shutterspeed if I had decided to only use natural light, but then everything would have been flat and it would have been hard to get a sparkle in the raindrops.

I know it can be disappointing to see those gray clouds on your day off when you had made plans to be out shooting. However, keep a positive attitude, remember you don’t have to go far, and with a bit of creative thinking and preparation you’ll be out having fun making photos, even in wet weather.

I always look forward to everyone’s comments. Thanks, John

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

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

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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See my personal website at www.enmanscamera.com