Student Images: Maine Media Garden Photography Workshop

We had a talented, enthusiastic and supportive group that gathered in Maine during July to explore botanical and garden photography. This was mostly a field workshop, with lots of time spent in lots of gardens--both public and private. Here are a few images highlighting the work of each student. Enjoy!

The Jaeger Company Recognized for Reynolda Gardens Restoration

The Jaeger Company recently received The Legacy Award from the Georgia Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). This award recognizes "a distinguished landscape architecture project completed 15 years or more ago that retains its original design integrity and contributes significantly to the public realm of the community in which it is located."

Located in Winston-Salem, N.C., Reynolda Gardens is part of the RJ Reynolds Estate, which was developed between 1906 and 1924. It is one of the few estates created in the South during the Country House Era (1890-1940), in which many American industrialists created large estates where their families could enjoy clean air, healthy food and leisure activities. The conservatory and original formal gardens were originally designed by Louis L. Miller in 1913 and later redesigned by landscape architect Thomas W. Sears. The property was managed by Katharine Smith Reynolds, the wife of Richard Joshua Reynolds.

Occupying approximately four acres, the Formal Gardens feature a Lord and Burnham conservatory flanked by three growing houses. A small greenhouse, hotbeds and heated cold frames provided addition space for growing plants, which were both displayed in the gardens and sold to the public. The Sears plan for the Sunken Greenhouse Gardens (1917) included four themed gardens: a pink and white garden, a blue and yellow garden, and two rose gardens. They also featured specimen trees, a central lawn, perennial and shrub borders, two fountains, pergolas and Japanese-style tea houses. The Fruit, Cut Flower and Nicer Vegetable Garden (1921) continued the Japanese-style design theme. This section was divided into a series of beds and borders separated by crushed-gravel paths and post-and-rail fences.

By the early 1990s, the garden plantings had shown considerable decline and the infrastructure had become unsafe. This is when The Jaeger Company, a landscape architecture and historic preservation firm based in Gainesville, Ga., was called in to help with the restoration. The construction and initial planting phase was completed in 1997 and still retains its integrity--which can be seen in these photos taken for the firm in October 2014. 

The garden is currently owned by Wake Forest University and is open to the public for enjoyment. Congratulations to Dale Jaeger and everyone at The Jaeger Company who worked on this project.

The Workshop Experience


At first, we cursed our fogging lenses and worked primarily on strategies to keep our cameras dry. (Shower caps are great for this, by the way.) But once we settled in a bit, the magic started to happen. It wasn't the first time I'd photographed in cold or rain by any means, but it was the day that I truly discoverd the magic of shooting in inclement weather. Or should I say, the magic of sticking with it, despite all of the challenges, to get the shot. By the time we packed our bags and headed back to the classroom to drop off our film, we were all anxious to see the results. Indeed, they were some of the best images taken all week. They were the shots that others don't get, because others usually do sit by the fireplace on cold, drizzly days.

That stick-with-it-attitude we learned that week has come to the rescue for me on countless assignments over the years when--thanks to inclement weather, broken gear, bad timing, travel hassels, or other problems--I really wasn't sure if I'd be able to deliver the job. But rather than give up, I stuck with it--often to the point that I simply gave up approaching things the usual way and just began to play. I've always returned home with publishable work. Indeed, what turned out to be one of my most frustrating magazine assignments ever resulted in a front-cover image. Thanks, at least in part, to Brenda and the Maine Media Workshops.

I'm still a student, and still take workshops from time to time because there is always something new to learn, some new territory to explore, another instructor to inspire me to look at things a new way. As an instructor, this is what I most love to do--get students to look at things in new ways, to break out of their routine, to expand their visual vocabulary, to try something they've never tried before. We work hard and we play hard. We go where we haven't gone before. That's what a workshop should be all about.

I guess my thoughts today are two-fold: Remember that the magic often happens when you push beyond your frustration level. And if you want to experience a week of growth, consider taking a workshop from a photographer or other individual you've always admired. It's a great opportunity for creative growth.


A Moment in the Garden

Like any good gardener, I’ve been keeping my eyes on the weather. Heavy rains headed this way: 2 to 4 inches, flood watch. That’s when it occurs to me I have maybe an hour or so to photograph my spring garden before the rain batters the Lady Banks rose and azaleas. The irises just started blooming yesterday, but they won’t hit their stride until after this storm system passes.

Photo ©2010 Lee Anne White.

My garden is sort of on the wild side. It was designed that way, as I adore meadows and wanted to capture that spirit. And, admittedly, I haven’t kept up with the maintenance quite the way I’d like. The garden is now 10 years old, so the evergreens and shrubs have filled out (some much larger than anticipated) and many of the perennials have come and gone. That’s the natural order of things. In the early years, the perennials shine. As the garden matures, the woody plants take their place as the stars in the garden. The temperamental plants disappear over the course of summer droughts, soggy winters, record lows and late cold snaps. The stubborn, persistent plants spread their roots to fill the gaps. And the garden takes on a life of its own.

In all its wildness and weediness, and despite the puzzled looks of visitors who have never seen a fall foliage garden in the South, I love my garden. I stripped the sod by hand, tucked each and every plant into the soil, and have tended them (more or less, mostly less) over the years. It may not be exactly what I envisioned back in 2000. But then again, maybe it’s more.

All photos ©2010 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved.

Light, Shadow and Form

Sometimes plants are much more interesting in black and white. I stumbled across a mass of these carnivorous plants (Heliamphora minor) in the High Altitude House at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. In color, they were just a sea of green foliage. Interesting plants, but not doing much for me in terms of traditional plant photography. Yet, I was attracted by the plants' unique shape, as well as the strong light and shadow (which is so often a problem in garden photography). It was those very elements that made these plants perfect candidates for black-and-white photography.

Photo ©2009 Lee Anne White. All rights reseved. Photographed at Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Snow Days

We don't get much snow in Georgia. When we do, it's usually mixed with sleet or ice, and it rarely lasts long enough to take photographs. But every few years, we'll have a beautiful snow, like we did last night. And I can slip out into my garden just long enough to grab a few shots before the clumps of snow begin to melt and fall off the trees.



All photos ©2010 Lee Anne White.

Winter...A Time for Rest

I'm teaching at the Southern Gardening Symposium at Callaway Gardens this weekend. Yesterday, I was out scouting potential shooting locations. It was a peaceful day in the garden--overcast, quiet, still. Thanks to the hard freezes we've had recently, there weren't any vegetables growing in Mr. Cason's Vegetable Garden, but I enjoyed my visit in that part of the garden anyhow. It felt more like a working farm, and the way a farm should feel in winter. And that suited me just fine.

Mr. Cason's Vegetable Garden in Winter, Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, GA. Photos ©2010 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved.

Capture the Gesture of Plants

Like people, plants convey a sense of gesture. For instance, these dogwood blossoms looked to me as if they were "dancing" in the wind. So I moved in close with a macro lens to fill the frame with petals facing different directions--but not so close as to crop out that sense of direction or movement. Giving them a little breathing space or "face room" was important as well.

Photo ©2007 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved. Cornus florida 'Decker' photographed at Yew Dell Gardens, Kentucky.

Zinnia 'Zowie! Yellow Flame'

This striking annual adds a bright splash of color to the garden. A 2006 All-America Selection winner, Zinnia 'Zowie! Yellow Flame' features multiple layers of yellow-tipped reddish petals surrounding a central red and yellow cone. The petals are pinkish-magenta when they open, but gradually turn to a strong red.

The plants are 30-36 inches tall and 24-27 inches wide and are among the easiest annuals to grow from seed. Cut the flowers frequently, as they make excellent cut flowers for arrangements, and cutting them back will quickly produce new buds.

Photo ©2008 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved. Photographed at Park Seed Company.

10 Tips for Taking Garden Photographs

Anyone can take a photograph of a beautiful garden. But taking a beautiful photograph of a garden requires a different thought process. You have to “see” the garden in a different way—to know what compels you, how to compose it so that it works visually within the camera’s frame, and how the camera translates the light falling on that subject. Here are a few tips to help along the way:

1. Seek out well-designed gardens. Although it’s quite possible to take lovely photographs (particularly details) in any garden, in a well-designed and carefully tended garden you can take cues from the design itself when composing your images. In a well-designed garden, there are fewer distractions and more subjects to choose from.

2. Simplify your composition.
Gardens, by their very nature, are extremely busy. Just look at all those leaves, flowers and branches! Also, gardeners tend to accessorize their gardens. As a general rule, you get the best shots when you move in a little closer and edit out everything that isn’t essential to the image.

3. Shoot in soft light.
That usually means shooting in the early morning light, evening light and on lightly overcast days. Sunrise is my favorite time in the garden, but long days with thin overhead clouds are a blessing to the working garden photographer. Without cloud cover, mid-day light is too harsh and flat for most garden photography.

4. Start with broad overviews to set the stage and to give a sense of perspective. Then move in closer to capture vignettes—the focal points, passageways and destinations in the garden. Showcase the design in the garden—the colors, patterns, form, repetition and texture. And finally, seek out the details that give the garden character—the plant combinations or collections, unique materials, and construction details.

5. Avoid bright spots.
Whether it’s a stray white flower, a white chair, a reflection or a washed-out sky, bright spots can ruin an otherwise wonderful photograph because the brightest spot in a photograph is where the eye will settle.

6. Explore your subject from all angles.
Too often, we shoot from eye level because we’re simply standing there enthralled with a garden. But get down low; look for a balcony or deck you might shoot from; walk around your subject and see what the other side looks like. Also try looking at your subject through different lenses. A plant combination looks very different when shot with wide angle and telephoto lenses.

7. Use a tripod.
If you want to shoot in soft, low light or have tack-sharp images with good depth-of-field, a tripod will greatly improve your success rate. Using a tripod also forces you to slow down and contemplate your composition. (That said, it could also stifle your creativity if you can’t easily remove the camera to look at your subject from different positions, so make sure you have a quick-release plate.)

8. Look around the edges of your viewfinder.
This is a good practice no matter what you photograph. Often, we are so focused on what we see in the center of the frame that we miss a distracting limb or leaf that is creeping in from the side.

9. Watch your depth of field closely.
I frequently “shoot the extremes” in the garden—either a wide view at f16-22 or zoomed in close at f2-4.5—but a depth-of-field preview button is invaluable when photographing plants. It allows you to adjust the depth-of-field so that the flowers or other important elements are sharp and the background is thrown out of focus so as not to be distracting.

10. Use a polarizing filter to knock out reflections and saturate colors.
I don’t shoot with the polarizer unless I need it, but it is extremely helpful for knocking the glare off glossy-leaved plants, saturating colors on lightly overcast days, and eliminating reflections on water, glass and metal. If you have blue skies with puffy white clouds in your photograph, it will help those clouds “pop” in your image and saturate the sky.

For more information or instruction on garden photography, click here for workshop information.

Photos ©2008 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved. Designer Credits (top to bottom): Container garden at Atlanta Botanical Garden, Robinson Garden by Ben Page, Jr., Colocasia 'Illustris' in border by Pam Baggett, grasses at Chicago Botanic Garden by Oehme van Sweden Landscape Architects.