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Monday, February 25, 2008

The Camera Doesn't Lie (but we can lend a hand)

Take a look through the lens, tell me what you see?

This simple phrase has been the number one, best advice given to me when it comes to photo taking. I am not a photographer. Many of you have left flattering remarks about my photos and I truly appreciate that. Those of you who are professional photographers will realize the truth in my statement, I am not a photographer.

My art is gardening. Photography is a tool for me, a tool that I have grown comfortable with after much use but still a tool. Photographs are ways for me to share the beauty I see in the garden, a photographer would see the the beauty in the photograph itself.

My husband Don is a much better photographer than I will ever be. When I first tried to take photographs in the garden he explained all kinds of things to me. Words I had never heard before and had no interest in retaining minutes after our conversation. One thing stuck though, when he asked me to look into the lens and tell him what I saw.

Of course I saw the pretty flower I was looking at, what else should I see? It took time before I saw more, there was a dead leaf in the corner, the label was half sticking out at the bottom, somebody had forgotten to dead head yesterday's bloom and so on. As I learned to really look into the lens, make my eye follow all four sides and see what else is in the photo, that's when the compliments started to come.

The photo above is one I like very much. Today I can sit here though and point out that if I had seen that weed bucket in the left bottom corner and the silver bird house pole, I could have moved the camera just a nudge to the right or zoomed in just a tiny bit more.

The webmaster for the American Hemerocallis Society, Tim Fehr is an awesome photographer. I was incredibly lucky to sit through one or two of his lectures on garden photography. Better yet, I got to follow along with him on a tour at Planting Fields Arboretum here on Long Island. He too gave me more tips than I wanted to retain, such as using a gray board and bouncing light and... well, that stuff flew right out of my head.

The tip Tim shared with me that stuck for all these years is the rule of thirds (I might have the words wrong but I'm sure of the concept). Split your photo into thirds. Three lines across and three lines down. Instead of always centering your photo right in the middle, try to compose it so your focus falls along one of those third lines. I really like this concept and find those photos much more relaxing, not so "in your face".

Above you can see my idea of the rule of thirds with the incredibly photogenic Iris cristata 'Alba'.

Of course, some plants just scream for that "in your face shot" as this Echinops did for me. I like to call it "Horton, are you in there?" Listen to your plant material if it talks to you.

Here you can see an example again of the rule of thirds. My subject was the delicious daylily 'Jeanne Fitton'. One of my all time favorite perennials, Stachys monieri was glad to help along as a backdrop.

For years I shot all my photos with our trusty Nikon N2020 but it was the Micro Nikkor 55 mm 1:2.8 lens that did the magic. I held out as long as I could but slide film was getting harder to come by and so was the processing. Finally we went digital, our first camera didn't last long and I'm several years into my simple Olympus camedia (chosen for it's powerful zoom).

I have never gotten the same feel from these digital images. Oh yes, there are some benefits. The incredible blues in the above photo of a Columbine were never possible with that slide film.

Besides capturing the blues, I can now crop, edit, blur, clarify and manipulate my photos in ways that were previously unimaginable. (Nepeta siberica above is another favorite perennial here).

Although I'm not a photographer, I do have to thank my camera. It was while looking through that lens that I fell in love with so many things. I was blinded for so many years, only focused on daylilies and yet the photos that captured the feeling I was looking for always seemed to have companion plants mixed in. My heart was trying to tell my head something, it just took a while before I listened. For you folks in warmer climates, the daylily above, 'Kathryn June Woods' is as etheral as daylilies come.

Just to be fair, I'll finish with not one but two tips. First comes the photography tip. If at all possible, don't shoot your photos in full sun. If you have no choice, try to stay away from the hottest hours of the day, 11:00 - 3:00. In fact if it's raining too hard to work in the garden, throw on a slicker, bare your feet and get out there with a big golf umbrella and your camera.

The last tip, is for those northerners looking for rock solid hardy daylilies that are fantastically beautiful too, check out Karol Emmerich's cultivars at Springwood Gardens, located in rural Minnesota, these beauties (like 'Cast Your Net' above) are top notch.

Imagine that, me giving photography lessons. Instead of "photography for dummies" I should have called this post "photography by dummies".


Gina said...

melanie - thanks for the great tips on improving our photos! I always wonder how you guys take such awesome pictures.

GardenJoy4Me said...

Melanie .. my god I laughed at the underwear shot .. how did my laundry get there ???? hahaha!
Good thing I was NOT drinking my coffee here .. you would get a bill for cleaning my hubby's PC ! LOL
Photography .. we have a local icon here that gives courses, I have yet to get my name in soon enough before it closes.
So now .. I think I will follow your example .. that was such good information! I get over enthusiastic and "blurt" my pictures out like I do with my speaking .. too much information bursting out and I can't funnel it correctly .. Big sigh !
Your pictures are amazing .. you really have a gift for pictures and narrative !
Love the post !

Robin's Nesting Place said...

You certainly learn to look at things differently when looking through a photographers eyes. There is so much to learn about photography. I'm like you, a lot of it goes in one ear and out the other, it's way over my head.

I've joined a photography club, and hope to learn more techniques though.

Matron said...

I laughed out loud at your underwear photo! It reminded me of Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones...

Melanie said...

Glad so many of you liked my underwear shot. It's one of my top five all time favorite photographs.

This underwear was hanging on the line in a garden while hundreds of folks were touring there. I knew it was deliberate, the home owner had a wonderful, wacky sense of humor.

Really, when it comes to taking photos, I needed it simplified for me so I thought I'd also share that with others. Somehow I just don't have the patience to go the extra mile but if I just have to spend another second or two looking through the lens, that I can handle.

Marie said...

Beautiful flowers!

Thank you for your kind comment on my blog.

Anna--Flowergardengirl said...

Awesome photos! Thanks for your message today! If I don't quit eating cause of stress--I'm going to be wearing those undies. It was raining today and I had intentions of taking pics at the new house--but when I got there, the painters had made a real mess of the place. It was a good chance in this light--as you point out--to take good photos. Thank you.

Meems said...

melanie: thanks for visiting my blog. I liked this post- all the colorful photos of beautiful flowers I could look at them all night. I just started photographing my garden recently and instinctively I try not to center everything... now I know there is a name for it. I really need to learn/would like to know more technique but for now I am having so much fun looking through the lens to determine "what is it I want to capture?"