Archive for Sunday, May 2, 1999


May 2, 1999


Have you got the look you like? Take a picture. It will last longer.

Ever changing beauty is coaxed from the garden by the different seasons. Somehow, mid-February nudges bulbs to break through the frozen soil and bravely lead the way toward spring. Warming temperatures and sunlit skies of late spring and early summer easily persuade other plants to flower in short order. For several months gardens bloom in ever-increasing splendor as they bask in the temperate conditions of the Midwest. Even the shortening days of late fall propel the last of the die-hard plants to bloom.

No matter the season, the garden rewards us with picture-perfect scenes.

Capturing the glorious moments of the garden's beauty for the photo album is a click away and doesn't necessarily require special lenses and light meters. You don't need to fuss with the F-stop or set up a tripod. Most gardeners can photograph their gardens armed only with a simple "point and shoot" camera. To find out more about taking great pictures of the garden, I went to the experts -- the Lawrence Journal-World photographers, whose photographs you have seen week after week in the Garden Spot.

I asked Melissa Lacey and Earl Richardson to share some of their secrets for taking photographs of the garden.

"I go for three things," Lacey said. "An overall shot that really shows the landscape or the architecture of the garden, a medium shot -- by that I mean, something in a little bit closer maybe where someone has a circular garden around their mailbox, (and) a detail shot." She described the detail shot as a close-up of a specific plant or bloom. "That's the way to start," she added. "That really gives you more of a variety of pictures."

The close range of detail shots is more limited with an ordinary camera, though. Richardson explained that a person using a 35-mm camera can probably only get as close as 2 or 3 feet and a little closer with a 50-mm lens. For closer detail, a macro lens is needed.

"The key is most people who are amateurs are afraid to fill their frame up," Richardson said. "They're afraid to get too close." So, even though you can only focus to 2 or 3 feet, get in close. "Fill your viewfinder," he advised. He described pictures that are shot from too great a distance as being "just too loose. Your eye doesn't know where to go."

"Probably the best thing to do if you have a garden you want to photograph is just walk around it either early in the morning or late in the evening," Richardson offered. "Then it will give you an idea of what the light is doing to it."

Dawn and dusk

So, when is the best time to photograph the garden?

"The best time of day (is) either early in the morning or late in the afternoon," Richardson said. Yet, sometimes the middle of the day offers the best conditions, provided it is a bright overcast day. "The really vivid colors look really bright in sunlight," he explained. "If you get an overcast day where everything is kind of even, those really bright colors just pop out on an overcast day." Another advantage of shooting on a bright overcast day is, "If you want to put a person in there, you don't risk the other person squinting," he added.

Sometimes, though, the sun can be your ally. Photographers may choose to have the sun at their back (the conventional method), streaming in from the side or in front of them to achieve special effects.

"Japanese blood grass that is front lit is not exciting visually," Richardson noted. "Then you walk around and you see what light does to it." Suddenly, the redness of the plant verily glows against the sunlight. "As long as you're not aiming directly into the sun getting some incredible flare, you should be able to" photograph into the sun, he said.

Lacey agreed, saying that most likely the sun is high enough in the sky and the camera aimed down. "As long as the sun is not in your picture and not in your frame, you'll still get that neat backlighting effect." Both said sun flares in the camera would be quite noticeable.

One more thing about sunlight. "The light is going to change color," Richardson said. "Early in the morning it is probably going to be kind of yellow. Then, at the end of the day the light tends to be red. You can get a nice warm cast to it. As the sun's going down, the light is very warm."

Photographic log

Gardeners like to record the changes that occur during the years in the garden. Perhaps many of you have pages in your photo album depicting the garden's progress from beginning to its present state.

"If you're going to do a chronology, photograph, if possible, from the same spot with the same lens under the same or similar lighting conditions," Richardson advised. "So that when you put (the pictures) down next to each other, the difference you see will be the differences in the plants, not the differences in lighting or that sort of thing."

For special events such as graduations, birthdays and other celebrations, pictures are commonly taken in the garden. (Although for many of us gardeners, we really don't need a special occasion to snap a picture of the garden.) Nonetheless, a few hints about photographing people are in order.

"It's always fun to get people in there to show scale," Lacey said. "Especially if it's a really big garden. You can't tell how big it is unless there's something that everyone can relate to in there." But just putting people in the garden is not enough.

"Lots of times you'll see garden pictures with a beautiful garden and a tiny little person in the background." Richardson said. "If you're going to put a person in the picture, make them large, bring them into the foreground." He advised, "Move them up in the front third of that garden. They get some size, you can see them."

Another tip: Place your subject off to the side rather than centered in the garden. Too many photos with a person in the exact center become monotonous. "A great thing to do with (photographing) kids is to put them between different kinds of plants," Richardson suggested.

OK, we've got the garden, the light, the scale and the people. What else can amateur photographers do to get some great garden snapshots?

Great views

"All you have to do a lot of times to really make something a little more interesting and compositionally different is just try getting up a little higher or get down low," Lacey suggested. "It's the bird's eye view or the worm's eye view. It really can make all the difference if you give it that different perspective."

So, sit down on the stepping stones and take a picture looking down the garden path at knee level or go stand on the neighbor's deck to snap the photo of your garden from a view you may not see too often.

"That's always fun to see things from a different viewpoint, especially on the garden," she added.

It's OK to fudge a little, too. Lacey suggested doing what you need to get the effect you want to photograph.

Arrange the plants in your garden to get the best picture. Move flower containers, crowd plants together for the moment, haul the bench to a different spot.

After all, "This isn't like documentary journalism," Richardson said.

Lacey said occasionally photographers are dissatisfied with the printing of their photographs. Differences in the temperature of printing chemicals may cause faulty results. "If you see that the whole picture has a pink cast to it and it shouldn't, they need to reprint it and it shouldn't cost you anything," she said.

Raring to go or intimidated? Keep in mind that professional photographers have their moments too.

"There are certain pieces of work that (I) take extreme pride in," Richardson said. "Some days I'm just a chimp pushing a button."

Oh, he offered this parting thought. "Don't be afraid to experiment. Sometimes the best pictures are just absolute accidents."

-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at

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