Garden Photography

We photograph our gardens for many reasons: remembering and sharing our successes, documenting the history of the landscape or particular plants, or artistic expression. For any of these objectives, digital cameras enable us to take pictures that are in focus and well exposed, even when we work with little preparation.

Still, our photographs often fail to satisfy. Many of my pictures, to be quite frank, stink.

A few have turned out well, but I don’t always know why, or how to produce good pictures consistently.

Help is on the way!

The best garden photographer I know, Saxon Holt, has published his work in some 21 high-quality books on gardening. He is often listed as the author or co-author, always recognized for his photographic contributions, and frequently given awards for his work.

Holt also teaches garden photography, sharing his expertise through public talks and workshops, websites, social media, and now electronic publication. He has begun publishing ebooks in a series titled PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop, and has released the first ebook in the series, “Good Garden Photography.” I wasted no time in buying a copy and learning from it.

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The book has six lessons:

  • Composition 101: Fill the Frame;
  • Composition and Balance;
  • Finding the Light;
  • Garden Appreciation;
  • Provocation and Intrigue; and
  • Telling Stories.

Holt presents these lessons informally, without technical jargon. His love of gardening comes through clearly, as does his deep knowledge of photography and enthusiasm for helping gardeners to succeed in their photographic adventures.

He takes advantage of digital publication by including links to his related essays on the Internet, to expand upon the lessons of the ebook. He illustrates his lessons with selections of his photographs that are in the ebook and the linked essays.

To gain maximum benefit from Good Garden Photography, your computer should have a color display and a connection to the Internet. Holt recommends taking a break after completing each of the six lessons; that would create good opportunities to reflect on the lesson’s content, and take your camera into the garden to apply what you have learned.

In his lessons, Holt emphasizes that “the photo should suggest an underlying story, which might involve no more than an illustration of a good garden technique or the celebration of a spectacular plant. Or it might tell us something of the garden’s creator or the site’s history. Make sure you have something to say before you click the shutter.”

I agree fully with the sense of this core concept, which can elevate a photograph from a forgettable snapshot to a communication with artistic quality. I will quibble, however, with his call that each photo should have a “story.” To me, a story is a narrative with a beginning, middle and end, which would be difficult to present with a single still photograph. My word choice preference for Holt’s concept would be that for each photograph the photographer should have in mind the picture’s “message.” That would be a sufficient challenge.

The forthcoming books in the PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop are as follows:

  • Think Like a Camera (due February 1 2015)
  • Think Like a Gardener (due March 1, 2015)
  • The Camera and The Computer (April 1, 2015)

Useful Links

Saxon Holt Photography Includes an enjoyable and inspiring gallery of Holt’s photographs.

The Garden Library of Saxon Holt includes Holt’s Learning Center, store for books and prints, and photo gallery.

Celebrate Plants in Summer-Dry Gardens: About plants and landscapes for climates like that of the Monterey Bay area.

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The classic question: “How does one get to Carnegie Hall?” Answer: “Practice, practice, practice.” The same is true for any art form, including garden photography. Read Good Garden Photography and then reach for your camera!

The Garden Writers Association has recognized Saxon Holt’s Good Garden Photography with the 2015 Silver Award of Achievement for
“E-Book—Overall” in the category, Electronic Media – Online. This book will be considered for a Gold Award. to be announced in September 2015, during the GWA’s annual convention. For more about this award, see Holt’s own announcement.

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