Photographing my winter garden.   

I hadn’t photographed my garden yet this winter. So when my yard got a good dump of snow this past week I decided it was time to grab my camera and see what there was of interest in the five-inch deep snow.

I have three Nikon macro lenses. Yes, I know readers are immediately thinking, “Why the heck does anyone need three lenses that all do the same thing?”

Well, I have a 60mm macro that is short, light weight and easy to use on a sunny day. But when the snow is deep it means getting knees, elbows, and even my face wet trying to get close enough.

I have a 70-180mm. It is very versatile because unlike other zoom lenses, it’s a true macro at all focal lengths. Sometimes it’s the perfect lens to take on a short trip when I expect a variety of subjects.

However, my favourite is an old 200mm manual focus macro lens from the 1970s that I have been using for about 30 years. It’s great as a 200mm telephoto and also as a close-up focusing macro lens.

It’s always fun to set all three on the table and try each out as I decide which will be the one to use.

Actually the 60mm and the 70-180 lenses get used more for portraits than close-up photos. Both are very sharp and the 70-180mm is light to carry around for outdoor portraiture, while the 60mm is a great lens when in limited space.

I mounted the 200mm on my camera, attached my ring flash to the lens and headed out into the afternoon light.

It was cold enough that the snow still clung to the plants and the sunny sky had clouded over so I didn’t have to struggle with the contrast between reflective snow and deep shadows. My timing was perfect.

It was trying to snow. I hoped for more, but all I got was scattered flakes.

I never know what to photograph as I wander around and around intrigued by everything. I had to keep reminding myself to pay attention to the background. A busy background runs the simplicity I prefer when shooting close-up.

I want my subjects to be “graphic” and to stand out with nothing interfering. The ring light flash helps.

I under expose the ambient light a bit so the flash becomes the most important light on my subject. A ring light is on the same axis as my lens and very directional. Someone that has never used one might think it would be overpowering. But placing a light close to my lens and being aware of its output power at different distances is more flattering for close subjects than a TTL flash sitting on top of the camera.

I could have used a couple flashes mounted on stands for even more creativity, but the deep snow would have been a struggle to move the stands through so I decided on the versatility of the ring flash so I could easily change camera position. (Winter work coveralls are also helpful when lying in the snow)

I like the garden in the winter. It forces creativity. Even a dull, lifeless subject becomes interesting in the snow.

Photographing the Winter Garden

Outdoor lighting kit  Clematis

Erigron  Erigron b

Winter blown bullrush

Step Ladder

 

Sunday was one of those “let’s see how many small jobs I can do” days. One would think there is no chance of being bored on a day like that, but I finally decided it was time to relax and sat down with a glass of wine, and enjoyed lunch with my wife and listened to some jazz.

As I made my way from one chore to another I kept looking at the snow in the garden and wondering if there was an opportunity waiting to make a photo or two, but I pushed along thinking “maybe later”.   However, as I started on my second glass of wine I complained that the outside light was gray and flat and that maybe I should just forget it. Could that have been the wine talking, or that I am just lazy?

Ever one to keep me on my toes, my wife, Linda, reminded me of a lecture we once attended by Canadian photographer, and author, Sherman Hines. (I recommend readers check him out) As she remembered Hines had said something like; “there is always something to photograph when the weather is poor, look for the small stuff”. There was the challenge. I left the room to get my camera.

The snow was getting wet on the plus 1 degree C afternoon so I decide to leave my tripod behind and mounted my wife’s 70-180mm AF macro on my camera. That unique, fun to use lens is the only true zoom Micro (macro) lens ever made by Nikon. And I get to borrow it anytime, well, almost anytime.

I got my camera and put together my lighting for what would be an excursion to search out the intimate features poking through the snow in my wife’s garden.

I attached a flash on a stand and chose a shoot-through umbrella. I could have connected a wireless sender and receiver, but I decided to use a TTL camera-to-flash cord that would allow the camera’s computer to direct the flash to provide the correct exposure for the close-up kind of subjects I would be photographing.

Although I had complained about the limited light on the heavy overcast day, I knew it would be perfect for my sojourn through the garden. I could easily meter the ambient light, then under expose slightly so the flash would become the main light instead of the hazy sun. The modified light from a shoot-through umbrella is even across the image with a gradual transition from highlights to midtones to shadows, or a soft light.

I stuck the stand through the snow and easily positioned the flash. And unlike a snowless landscape, the snow kept the stand steady no matter the angle. All I had to do was choose an angle and release the shutter. That particular zoom lens allows for a constant macro at every focal length. It was pretty neat and easy.

I choose to photograph that garden in every season. I know there are many photographers that only take pictures of plants when they are in bloom and prefer colourful representations. However, spring, summer, fall, winter, snow, rain, sunny, or overcast, I find that our garden is filled with ever changing subjects that always offer something new and I expect that Sherman Hines surely would approve. My advise to photographers that think they must wait for inspiring weather before their next garden safari, is to take Mr. Hines’ advice, because there is always something to photograph when the weather is poor, just get up close and look for the small stuff.

I enjoy everyone’s comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com