Sharing Your Garden with Photos

This year’s Succulent Extravaganza exceeded its already high marks for learning about succulent plants and buying plants and garden containers. Experts from throughout California presented interesting talks on the practical care and use of succulent plants, and innovative uses of these fascinating plants in the landscape.

This column space isn’t enough for comments on each of the many specialists that Robin Stockwell attracted to Castroville, so I’ll feature just one: the prolific artist of garden photography, Saxon Holt, whose work appears in numerous books.

Photography and gardening have a perfectly complementary relationship: plants live in a constant state of change, while photographs store moments in time.

Gardeners often feel the urge to capture especially pleasing blossoms or landscape vignettes in photos, whether for their own viewing, or for sharing with family and friends. A few garden photographers, like Saxon Holt, can make stunning pictures and publish them for larger audiences to enjoy. For most gardeners, however, their photographs fail to satisfy for one reason or another. Today’s “point and shoot” digital cameras manage focus and exposure automatically, but performing those important functions well does not guarantee satisfactory results.

For that reason, Saxon Holt’s talk at the Succulent Extravaganza was a rare opportunity for gardeners to upgrade their photographic skills. Here are highlights of Holt’s advice.

Know your purpose. A close-up might showcase a plant’s shape or texture of the leaves or petals; a wider shot might demonstrate the interplay of shapes or colors. There are many possible purposes, making it worth the time to explore why you are taking the photo.

Control the light. Direct bright sunlight produces deep shadows and bright highlights that hide important details from the camera. Better results are achieved by photographing in early or late in the date, or by using a translucent panel to diffuse the light. Holt demonstrated the dramatic improvement provided by a collapsible disc designed for the purpose.

Fill the frame. Casual snapshots often include too much of the area surrounding the subject of the photo. The picture will be more effective when the photographer brings the camera close in, so that the subject occupies all the space.

Compose the image. Position the camera for an interesting view of the subject. Well-composed snapshots can become artworks!

A valuable—and really old— guideline for image composition is the Rule of Thirds. When looking through the viewfinder, imagine two lines dividing the scene into thirds vertically, and two more lines dividing the scene into thirds horizontally. Placing important elements of the image along these lines or at their intersections will produce a more dynamic and interesting composition. On the other hand, centering the subject in the frame tends to yield a static image.

The Rule of Thirds guided the composition of this photo of a group of Aloe polyphyllas,  seen at the Succulent Extravaganza. These fascinating plants are endemic to the Kingdom of Lesotho in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa. (Click to enlarge).

Aloe polyphylla

Aloe Polyphylla

Holt emphasized the use of a tripod while composing the image, and recommended bringing the camera down to the level of the plant, rather than looking down on it from a standing position.

Successful photographs can extend the pleasures of gardening. As always when developing other skills, give your best effort to each session of garden photography and then study the results!

More

Several good books on garden photography are available on the Amazon.com website, and might be found in your local library or bookstore.

Visit Saxon Holt’s website to enjoy a selection of his photographs.

His impressive work also is represented in several garden-related books, which can be found by searching amazon.com for “Saxon Holt.”

On Tuesday, November 11th, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the University of California Berkeley Botanical Garden, Holt will present a hands-on workshop, “Composition and Balance,” This class is intended for serious photographers, who should arrive early with camera and tripods to work with Saxon as he tours the Garden. The morning shoot will be followed by a presentation, download of the morning’s work and an afternoon critique. Enrollment fee ($90/$75 for members) includes a copy of the Holt’s e-book, The PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop.

Info: gardenprograms@berkeley.edu, 510-642-7082.

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