A Photographical Outing

A little while ago, Ms. Country Mouse and I had the great pleasure of participating in a photography class at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. And, as luck could have it, the scheduled instructor had to cancel and Saxon Holt, who we both admire very much, ended up teaching the class.

It was a very small class and we had the best time! So here's a little report of our outing.

We started near the main entrance and stopped fairly soon for our first lesson, which was about seeing shapes and using depth of field properly. Saxon encouraged us to include more than just flowers in our photos of gardens - after all, it's the path, the bench, the wall that say "garden".

He let us play with different angles, moving in close or taking our distance.

Visual interest is created by composing the photo - how often do I just hold up my little point and shoot and hope for the best? This took a little more doing - a bright red poppy in front of a bench.

While we worked in the area, the light was suffused, drifts of fog hiding the bright early afternoon sun. None of my photos were quite perfect - garden photography is not a still life, you can't move the plants and even less the path or the fountain. But I enjoyed playing with the idea of shape. Especially interesting was an exercise where each of us walked along a park and visualized the frame that the camera might catch. I had to hold my viewfinder in front of my eye to see what the camera would catch - but how interesting! Part of the picture that the eye sees is completely gone! -- Well, I knew that, of course, but I also don't know it. So much to learn.

We moved on to the area close by where miniature conifers surround a little lake. Here, Saxon encouraged us to see color blocks as shapes. Bright greens, reds, dark greens, even some white and blue from flowers gave us many opportunities for practice. Unfortunately, the sun had come out and the possibilities for a presentable photo were more limited.

The photo above is nice enough, but the color shapes really don't show. In contrast, this works better. It's also not too far away from the more ideal distribution of 1/3 by 2/3. The eye tends to find photos that are just half and half not very pleasing.

And I like this photo even better.

Here, the red maple in the foreground takes up maybe 1/3, and the background is exciting and layered, with different color blocks of different shades of green. Unfortunately, the light was too strong so the conifer on the right came out too dark.

Moving on, we talked more about foreground and background. The photo above already uses a foreground to show off the background. And many garden photos benefit from showing both.  Our final stop at the succulent garden gave opportunities to combine everything we had learned. Color shapes with foreground.

And playing with light and textures.

We were sorry to say good-bye to Saxon and to our fellow photographers - it had been so much fun to look, and explore, and photograph, to listen and to experiment.

Of course Ms. Country Mouse and I had to swing bye the California Native section before we got back in the car. Saxon had assured us that nothing was blooming, but we found a few little blossoms here and there.

In fact, that part of the garden was swimming in pink clarkias and yellow Oenothera, with butterflies and skippers, beautiful manzanitas (some of the blooming) and the heady fragrance of the salvias.

So we stayed a while, for a few more photos. Here, foreground flowers with a path. 

And a wall with  clarkia in the foreground. 

And a plaza surrounded by a wall, with more clarkia and conifers in the background.

Saxon also generously offered to critique some photos we had made during class. Unfortunately, I had to meet a deadline at work, before my trip to Vancouver. But maybe Ms. Country Mouse has something to share?


Country Mouse said…
Yes indeed it was a fine day and I'll have photos to share - interesting indeed to see the different shots we each took of the same scene! Great tips - and pics - you shared from our day with Saxon Holt!
I'm quite envious, that trip sounds like lots of fun, and your pictures turned out lovely. I'm always trying to improve my photography. You know you've tried to be excessively creative when you look down and discover your knees are covered in mud/grass stains/gravel and it's only 9 AM! ;) Sometimes I think my neighbors are sure I've lost my last remaining marble when they drive by and I'm laying down in the middle of the road, or the garden somewhere. I wish I could photos like Saxon Holt though. Looking forward to more pics from Country Mouse!
ryan said…
Nice to see the different results from both of you walking the garden. You both did a lot better than I did when I wandered that garden with a camera a few years ago. There a few real keepers in your photos. Cheers.