Thursday, April 7, 2011

Light in the Garden

I recently subscribed to an interesting garden web site, Gardening Gone Wild, where a group of experienced and dedicated garden experts share their passion for garden design, photography, plant selection, and generally, all things garden. GGW sponsors a monthly photography contest with renowned and talented photographers as judges.

It's not purely happenstance that I discovered GGW today. This month's photography contest judge is Rob Cardillo, whose stunning photographs illustrate Nancy Ondra's Perennial Care Manual (see my review of that wonderful book). Mr. Cardillo's latest project is a photographic tour of Chanticleer, a garden that Steve and I hope to visit perhaps as early as this summer.

Mr. Cardillo tasked those of us interested in participating in this month's photography challenge to show "sensitivity" in matching light to a subject. In his description of this month's contest he wrote that, “Photography is all about light and any good garden photographer must hone his or her ability to see and work with the sun in all its shades, colors and moods."  Those words hit home for me. In 2005 I retired my very weary Nikon 35 mm SLR and equally tired Olympus digital point and shoot camera in favor of a Canon Rebel XT SLR. This camera is much more sensitive to light  and especially sunlight than any film camera I've ever worked with. It took me a full year to master the rudiments of setting up pictures and making adjustments for light. (It would have probably only taken half that if I ever bothered to read the camera manual but I learn better by fiddling so....)

As I have downloaded and reviewed the more than 30,000 pictures that I've taken with this camera, some very happy accidents have leaped off the page and startled in me in terms of what I have been able to capture with this sometimes temperamental work horse. There were times when indeed, I was able to recognize the impact of a startling light effect on an otherwise banal image. The benefit of a digital camera is the ability to view the photograph immediately and self-edit by making minor adjustments in angles or camera settings in the moment in order to achieve a much improved or more dramatic picture.

I haven't yet decided which of these pictures I will submit to the contest, but these rank among my recent favorites.  I will be submitting one of them before the deadline later this month. Suggestions anyone? In each of them, light (or the lack of it) plays a pivotal role.

Photograph 1:  This snapshot was taken in the fall (October) near dusk. I love the dramatic way the golden colored reeds capture the light and shine from the water garden.

Photograph 2 (above):  A professional photographer would probably delete this image as flawed but I am struck by the way the  lens manipulated the light and left a prismatic rainbow wash where the light was shining down on the pond. Again, taken at the same time as the above picture, as the sun was setting on what was actually a partly cloudy October evening.

Photograph 3:  Probably not the one I'll submit, but I love the reds. Taken at the same time as Photographs 1 and 2.

 Photographs 4 and 5:  These rank among my favorites, both for the way the light transforms this walking path alongside our house, and the interplay of light in the leaves on the trees and on the ground as well. I took them from slightly different angles and I'm still not certain which I like more, although I think that capturing the tree in the left side of the frame in Photograph 4 gives the image just a little more character and depth.

I was shooting pictures in an area that is shaded by the house, (this is the edge of our all-white shade garden which is situated on the left) and the sun was setting at the time. I was facing into the sun, and although it was blocked from my view by the house, the bright effect in the distance makes it almost appear as if there is nothing there but perhaps a meadow. The branches of the shrubs and especially the tall lilac cast shadows onto the leafy walkway.

This image is currently one of my top two picks for submission.

Photograph 5: The lighting is different and I included this mostly to show how taking one step to the left or the right can change a picture dramatically.


Photograph 6: Taken a week or two after the previous 5 pictures, this image shows the brilliant fall colors in the garden. I love the way the Japanese maple is framed by the variegated willow.

Photographs 7 and 8 were taken on a cloudy day and you can see the koi through the reflection of the clouds on the surface of the pond. My guess is an experienced, professional photographer would consider these photographs to be flawed, but I was fascinated that I was able to capture the reflected clouds.

In Photograph 8, the "flower" resting in the water is striking, don't you think?Actually, it's a leaf with ruffled edges that is partially submerged.

Photograph 9  shows our saucer magnolia in full bloom. I'm not entirely sure of where the sun was positioned, but what I love is the way the petals of the blossoms almost look translucent. This is one of my top three favorites as well.

Photographs 10 and 11 are of the same tree from a very different angle, and with much different lighting. I believe my body was shading the tree but I love the way the detail of the blossoms was captured and the way they stand out from the darker background.

Photographs 12 and 13 were taken in June, at dusk, when the temperature suddenly dropped and foggy mist began to rise in the meadow.You can see the remains of the orange sunset in between the branches of the willow (in the middle of the top photograph, in the far right of the lower photograph).

This is an example of how quickly things can change in nature. Steve and I happened to be weeding in the shade garden which abuts this area. The mist  rose as the sun was setting. I ran into the house to get the camera and for once, I had an empty card and fully charged battery in the camera and could put my hands on it quickly.

As I was struggling to capture the effect, the sun completely disappeared and it rapidly became too dark to get a truly effective photograph. If I'd had time to set up a tripod, I might have been able to capture the somewhat eerie feel of dusk that night.

This phenomenon (the developing mist) occurred because the ground and wetland were heated from several days of above average temperatures for the season and this evening, a cold front moved in, quickly chilling the air.

And last but not least...... another personal favorite.

Picture 14:  Taken while Steve and I were canoeing on the Ipswich River last summer. The water was like glass and the reflection of the trees on the river was breathtaking.

Update 4/24/11:  After agonizing over the decision, I've decided to enter Photograph #4, the walkway, in the competition!  I have to say, as I've been taking pictures in the garden, I've been much more aware of light and the effects of light as I frame shots of both large areas and individual blossoms.


  1. They're all beautiful, Cathy. I have to say 4 and 5 remind me of the Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken," my favorite poem! And 12 and 13...well lets just say I expect Mr. Darcy any minute!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Cathy.... yes, I love that Frost poem as well, and the evening that I took this picture, as I was standing at the top of the hill looking down, I recall thinking that it looked like something right out of a Frost poem. I was totally struck by how the sunlight transformed that area.

    To look at it in that light, you would think you are on a country path through the woods when in fact it is simply a utilitarian walkway to get down to the back gate into the garden. Beyond where the path curves slightly to the right are our propane tanks and garden sheds. But this is definitely one of my favorite photographs!

  3. What lovely photos to choose from! Good luck with the contest--your entry looks like a winner to me!

  4. Thanks so much, but there are some really talented garden photogs out there and with no training, I'm expecting to come in somewhere near the bottom of the pile! I just photo ours for fun - but your vote of confidence made my day!


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