Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Filling the Frame - October GGW Photography Contest

This month's "Picture This" photography contest at Gardening Gone Wild  features a detailed explanation of the concept of "filling the frame" when setting up photographs in the garden.

Presented by acclaimed photographer Saxon Holt, the challenge he put to us this month was to use the the entire canvas - the full expanse of the photograph - to create a well constructed composition of elements or to feature and isolate an element that drew our eye.

I have to be honest, this month's contest has been the most challenging one for me so far.

I love the textures surrounding the pansies.
I've never taken even a basic photography course and I make this next confession with a fair amount of chagrin:  I have never completely read the manual that came with the camera I've been using for the past 7 years either.

Having participated in several GGW contests over the past several months, what I have come to understand is that the more I learn, the more I am able to appreciate just how little I know.  At the very least, I see some books on garden photography in my future!

This was a tiny splotch of color in the original photo.
Earlier this year, Nancy Ondra published a blog post that addressed point of view and staging when photographing garden subjects.

She gave some wonderful pointers and examples and I made a conscious effort to really look at what I was photographing.

I probably could have cropped the top a bit more.
Okay, I know that sounds a bit crazy, but what I mean is that I really looked at not just capturing the status of the garden beds and individual plants in pictures, but also capturing what she describes as "wow moments".  I took her suggestions very much to heart and the end result was that I took double and sometimes even triple or more the number of pictures I've taken in years past.

In trying to improve my garden photography skills, I am thankful for two things: we are in the digital, not film, age of photography, and I have no reticence in relegating poor shots to the Recycle Bin.

I admit that it took me a while but now I have no trouble deleting duplicates, poorly constructed, and otherwise unnecessary photographs.  (I know my computer appreciates it...  I was rapidly filling up the memory on my hard drive with blurry pictures of flying insects.)

Given that I had been photographing our gardens, dogs, insects, fruits and vegetables, and weeds daily (yes, an average of almost 200 photographs or more each day, 4-5 days a week), I was certain that my biggest dilemma would be deciding which one of the potentially dozens of perfectly framed photographs I was certain I'd taken over the summer would be the best one to enter into the contest.

This is an example of a photograph that I struggled with.  I captured a scene and cropped what I felt was the "story". But should I have focused on an element, and if so, which one? And should I have cropped more, and if so, how? I felt that the walkway on the right was integral to showing that the tea table was set in a garden along a walk.
After wading through more than three thousand photographs, I have to confess, as I tried to choose photographs to work with for this challenge, I was more confused than ever.

This was one of my top three picks for a contest entry but I felt it was too "flat."  I tried to include the koi in the picture but no matter how I tried to position myself to shoot the frame, the abundant foliage of the water lily created too much green space between the lily and the koi.  I tried unsuccessfully to reposition the the bloom and the leaves for a better shot.

I read through Saxon Holt's tutorial several times and even though I thought I understood the basic concepts involved,  I have struggled to apply them in practical terms to my own photographs.

UPDATE:  Ultimately, I submitted this photo....
His explanations are concise and cogent and I can see exactly what he means in the examples he gives.  But where I fall short is in translating the concepts to my own pictures... I can't always find the "story" they are supposed to be telling me.

Although I am someone who learns best by reading, the absence of objective feedback makes it hard for me to know if I've really "gotten it" or if I'm just deluding myself into thinking I have. (I am guessing that in addition to several books, there is going to be a photography course in my future as well, LOL.)

Fortunately, he published another blog post yesterday in which he reviewed the fundamentals of  creating a composition that "fills the frame" and included several more examples.  I'm still not certain that I've been able to effectively translate the lesson to my photographs but as they say in New England, it's time to fish or cut bait.

I still struggle with the concept of "negative space" vs. "wasted" space. I also have difficulty determining if the "scene" should take center stage on my "canvas" (like his waterfall image does) or whether a more effective use of my canvas would be to isolate an element from that scene as he did with the image of the feather grass and Phormium.

From the perspective of negative space, this is probably a better photograph than the one below, but I was concerned that the hummingbird clearwing moth was not in perfect focus.  My vision is impaired and I often can't tell if a photograph is in perfect or not. Thank heaven for the auto-focus function but it's not perfect and I am concerned it keyed on the bloom and not the moth.

As you can see from the photographs peppered throughout this post, I tried to apply the concepts of this challenge to photographs that I've taken over the summer.  Deciding which photograph to submit for the contest was hard, not because I thought that they were all excellent examples of the technique, but rather, I am concerned that none of them demonstrate the concept all that well.

One of my top two contenders is this next photograph of a hummingbird clearwing moth.  I love the way the out of focus blooms, twigs and leaves melt into the background yet form a frame around this amazing creature.  I would have painted it exactly this way if I were dabbling in watercolors.  My guess, however, is that the photograph posted above is a better use of the entire canvas.  I suspect that an expert critiquing this image would note that what I view as attractive negative space is actually wasted space.

In answering the question I've asked myself about each photograph - What is the story this picture tells? - to me, the presence of the somewhat ethereal background evokes the idea of a faerie glen, not just your ordinary butterfly bush in a garden. (Okay, so I have a vivid imagination as well.)  I also liked the way the dark foliage in the upper right corner brought out (at least to my untrained eye) the dark coloration on the clearwing.

The other top contender is this last photograph of one of my favorite roses, Bella Roma. A hybrid tea with a wonderful fragrance, I was struck by the way the cane and leaves "frame" the rose.  I also love how a spray of the shrub rose Passionate Kisses that is blurred and out of focus forms a lovely backdrop for the single Bella Roma blossom.  It reminds me of a botanical print.

My only regret is that I didn't groom the shrub before I photographed it to remove the dried bloom near the bottom of the frame. I considered cropping the bottom but felt that the leaf spray on the bottom was an essential part of the "frame" that I was trying to capture.

Bella Roma taking center stage in one of my favorite photographs

Other than cropping, I did not edit any of these photographs at all.  As far as which photograph will ultimately be submitted to the contest before tonight's midnight deadline, perhaps you can help me decide. I vacillate between the two, but right now,  I'm leaning toward the hummingbird clearwing moth, although I'm open to suggestions and feedback!

UPDATE:  Well, the decision is in.... Steve was really taken with the photograph of the hummingbird clearwing and the common buckeye sharing a wand of buddleia blossoms and so that is the one I submitted.


  1. LOL! I'm having the same thoughts and have been struggling too... for eg. to understand the differences between negative space and wasted space. I've cropped and selected a few photos and just decided not to go with any of them.

    My favorite is the image of the sky. I really think it is gorgeous. Although there are lots of space in that photo, it is the rays shining through the space that makes the photo attractive.

  2. That's a difficult choice, as they're all lovely, and have their own merits. I do really like the hummingbird moth, but the one that made me say 'ooohhhh' at first glance was actually the pansies. The color of the flowers draws the eye in toward a prominent focal point, but the surrounding texture is then a visual feast. That said, although I've gotten better, I still struggle with the recycle bin, so please don't hold me to that choice, it could change again in a few minutes! ;)

  3. I think you understood the requirements very well. Your photos are beautiful! Good luck!

  4. Hi... what a fantastic post and I really appreciated your links to the work of other bloggers. I have subscribed to their posts as I am anxious to learn more about photography. I, too, take a couple hundred photos in the gardens frequently during the summer months. I love all the photos you've shared here... thanks so much! Larry

  5. Lovely photos and you should be quite proud. Wish I had the time to do the same, but I'd need a better camera too. Good luck.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  6. I agree this is the bmost challenging to date. I'm sure GGW appreciates how much time you've invested in thinking through your selection.

  7. I have to say your pics are so beautiful so you are certainly taking in so much info about taking pics. I have never read the whole manual for my point and click either. I love many of them but I really love the moth with the white flowers...either one...I think having the moth slightly out of focus on the edges makes the picture even better...of course the one you choose is intriguing too...good luck!!

  8. What an interesting post! I LOVE the sky picture! Love how your yarrows contrast! All of your clearwing photos are great!

  9. You clearly put a lot of thought and attention into this entry and it shows. It's a beautiful capture! Best of luck in the contest.

  10. I especially the photo of the sky because it make me look again and ponder over it. But I think the photo you selected is also very good because you have captured a rare moment of a butterfly and moth attracted to the same flower. Actually you have many shots good enough for the contest, so I understand your dilemma.

  11. What beautiful photo's. You did a great job capturing the bee's. You have great talent in photography, and I wish you all the luck in the contest.

  12. I thought I left a comment here because I stopped in a couple of times to see your pretty images. I too like the soft look on the hummingbird moth, but your double capture is really unique in the photo you submitted. Hope you have much luck and Saxon smiles when he sees your buckeye and hummer.

  13. Good luck in the competition! I like the way you've analysed what works and maybe doesn't work in all your images. And the one you chose is not just a great photo, but also an unusual garden moment.

  14. Ah, the moth that resembles a hummingbird, I have heard of it, this is the first picture I have seen of it, fabulous! My photography is a few stages further back than yours. I agree, thank goodness we are now digital,although I wouldn't be surprised if one day the UK government decides to tax us on the use which we make of our computers.

  15. Very informative post on photo taking... thanks very much for sharing... and Happy Shooting...

  16. And by the way, each time I read your post, I feel like listening to that song 'M' by the Bee Gees again... what a wonderful, wonderful song...

  17. Great advice. I love the idea of asking yourself "What is the story this picture is telling?" I'm going to apply that to my photos from now on. Keep shooting- your photos are really good.

  18. Hi
    Thanks for the comment on my blog. Sorry to see it's a while since you've posted, although I do remember those long, hard Massachusetts winters, and sympathise if the snow and the cold are deterring you from blogging - and from gardening of course...


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