garden photography

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!

Student Work: Creative Explorations in Botanical Photography

Photo credits: Merrill Saltzman, Jonathan Harris, Scott Royer, Anne Blumberg, Bill Sargent, Suzie Mullally, Stu Schaffner, Sara Gray, Dianne Roberts, Bill Snyder, Judy Fletcher and Gary Biasucci.

I recently completed teaching the first of two photography workshops this year at Maine Media Workshops. The twelve students in Creative Explorations in Botanical Photography split their time between Maine gardens and the studio, taking a closer look at plants and exploring creative ways to capture their personality. Students came to the workshop with varying degrees of photographic experience. Some have photographed plants for many years; others were just exploring the subject in-depth for the first time. Most were color photographers, but a few shot in black-and-white. They all came wearing different hats: artist, journalist, street photographer, designer, documentarian, gardener and more. It was fascinating and inspiring seeing their work evolve throughout the week. The slideshow above showcases this work, with six images from each student in random order. And yes, the lupines were in bloom!

My second workshop at MMW is Advanced Explorations in Botanical Photography, which will run October 8-14 at what we hope will be peak leaf season (though these things are difficult to predict). It is a continuation of this initial workshop, and will delve more deeply into studio techniques and the development of a personal project. We will spend a bit more time in the studio and visit different gardens and nature preserves. The advanced class is open to anyone who has taken a previous botanical/garden workshop from me or by portfolio review.

For Drama, Move in Close to Your Subject

Agave stricta . ©Lee Anne White.

Agave stricta. ©Lee Anne White.

This striking plant is an Agave stricta, also sometimes called a hedgehog agave. I photographed it at the University of California Botanical Garden at UC/Berkeley. It was really too bright out that day to photograph broad garden scenes effectively (too much contrast, which makes a garden look harsh rather than inviting), so I moved in close and took advantage of the high-contrast lighting. Such situations also often benefit from thinking and shooting in black and white rather than in color. A tripod and small aperture allowed me to capture ample detail and depth of field.

It's a Succulent, Not a Cactus

Agave parryi  var.  huachecensis . ©Lee Anne White.

Agave parryi var. huachecensis. ©Lee Anne White.

I've never met an agave I didn't like, though I've learned the hard way to treat them with respect. Those spines are mean. They not only hurt when you have an accidental encounter with them, they can irritate your skin. Beyond that, I really love agaves (and not just because they are the source of tequila). What compels me about them is the way one leaf imprints upon another. They start life as tight balls and slowly open up, revealing the imprints of adjacent leaves. 

This one is an Agave parryi var. huachucensis (commonly called Parry's agave or mescal agave). It grows in rosette fashion up to 2 1/2 feet in diameter and is considered a good landscape plant in dry climates such as its native home in New Mexico, Arizona and parts of Mexico. This agave, by the way, is not the source of tequilla; that would be Agave tequilana, also known as the blue agave. And for the record, an agave is a succulent, not a cactus. A cactus is a different kind of succulent.

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.

Reflecting on Water

I'm fine-tuning a talk on "Integrating Water in the Garden" for next week's Southern Gardening Symposium at Callaway Gardens. In particular, I'm working on my introductory and closing remarks, trying to set the mood for the presentation. So I'm sitting here at my desk listening to meditative music with the sounds of water: waves gently rolling ashore, gurgling brooks, rain on a tin roof. I'm thinking of my earliest experiences with water: feeding the goldfish in my grandmother's pond, paddling a canoe down the Chestatee River, watching the sun set over Lake Lanier, diving into crashing waves at the beach, listening to the rain fall on the cabin roof at summer camp.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of writing and photographing the Water Garden Idea Book, which was published by Taunton Books. The best part of that project was discovering the ingenious ways designers and gardeners had worked water into their landscapes. Some were as simple as a small, water filled basin tucked into a border. Others dazzled the eye and mind--water stairs, sculptural wall fountains and more. Here are a few that I especially enjoyed.

Design: The Fockele Garden Company. Photo ©2009 Lee Anne White

Design: (left) Clemens & Associates, (right) Steve Martino & Associates. Photo ©2009 Lee Anne White.

Design: Rich Ferraro. Construction: Red Rock Pools & Spas. Homeowner: Dan & Paulette Campbell. Photo ©2009. Lee Anne White.

Design: Robin & Paul Cowley. Photo ©2009 Lee Anne White.

Design: (left) JC Enterprises Inc., (right) Clemens & Associates. Photos ©2009 Lee Anne White.

Design: Jack Chandler. Photo ©2009 Lee Anne White.

Design: Clemens & Associates. Photo ©2009 Lee Anne White.

Design: The Fockele Garden Company. And yes, the one of the left is manmade. Photos ©2009 Lee Anne White.

Design: Ben Page, Jr.  Photo ©2009 Lee Anne White.

Design: (left) Red Rock Pools & Spas, (right) Scott Melcher.

Design: Stone Forest, Inc.  Photo ©2009 Lee Anne White.

Design: Robin & Paul Cowley. Photo ©2009 Lee Anne White.

Only a Few Days Left to Register for Callaway Gardens Workshop

As part of the Southern Gardening Symposium at Callaway Gardens, I'll be teaching a half-day Garden Photography Workshop on Friday, January 29. Even in winter, Callaway Gardens is a magical place. In fact, winter is among my favorite times to photograph landscapes and gardens--quiet scenes, compelling texture, interesting seedpods, and the role evergreens play in the garden. We'll spend some time in the Conservatory photographing a variety of dramatic plants as well. Class size is limited and was filling quickly, so register soon if you're interested. I'll also be giving a presentation on Water Gardens on Sunday morning as part of the symposium. Other speakers for the January 29-31 symposium include Erica Glasener, Pam Baggett, Pamela Crawford, William Cureton, George Sanko, Dr. Mark Windham and June Mays.

Photo ©2009. Lee Anne White. All rights reserved.

Not Everyone Loves a Tripod...Why I Do

Granted, I cannot take a photograph without a camera of some kind. But as a landscape photographer, the features on my tripod are actually more important to me than the features on my camera. If I’m shooting in low light (which I often am) and want good depth of field (which I usually do), I’m typically shooting slow exposures. In fact, the majority of the exposures I make in the landscape are 1/15 second to 30 seconds—and handholding any camera at those shutter speeds won’t produce the results I want and have come to expect.

I don’t mind using a simple camera. But I am particular about my tripod. Its purpose is to steady and support my camera, so it has to be sturdy and stable—even in a brisk wind. I’m shooting in the landscape, so it has to be light enough to haul around. The landscape can be rugged and some of the close-ups I shoot are close to the ground, so the legs must be able to adjust independently and go very low (so avoid those horizontal support braces). Because light is constantly changing and I’m photographing a variety of subjects during a shoot, I need both legs and a ball head that are quickly and easily adjusted. Because I move around so much, I need the flexibility of a quick release plate so that I can explore different compositions before setting up the tripod. And because I travel extensively with my tripod, it needs to collapse into a size that easily fits in my suitcase, yet still extends to full height (which, for me, means four leg segments instead of three).

The truth is, there are few things worse than the wrong tripod. If it won’t go low enough, you can’t get the shot. If it’s flimsy, it serves no purpose and puts your camera and lenses at risk. If it doesn’t adjust easily, you simply won’t use it. If it’s too big or too heavy, you won’t pack it for a trip. So if you want tack-sharp landscape images with good depth of field, get a good tripod. It should last for years. I’m rough on my tripod, but have been using the same one for nearly 15 years. It ranks among the best equipment investments I’ve made.

While you’re at it, pick up a cable release. Pressing the shutter with your finger while it is on a tripod defeats the purpose of using a tripod. You can use the self-timer in a pinch, but this can be slow and you will frequently miss your shot.

And just for the record: No, I don’t believe every shot has to be taken on a tripod. In fact, tripods would hinder you for many types of photography. And even in landscape and garden photography, there are times I shoot handheld—usually for extreme close-ups with minimum depth of field. But for those tack-sharp garden photos with great depth of field, you’ll be amazed at the difference a sturdy tripod can make.

The Hand of the Gardener

I often speak of showing "the hand of the gardener" in photographs. What I usually mean by this is conveying a sense of the gardener in the photograph, whether by including a garden element that helps reveal the gardener's personality or perhaps something "left behind" like a trowel, basket or coffee cup. In this case, the meaning is more literal, as I actually show the hands of the gardener. Dr. David Bradshaw, a horticulture professor at Clemson University, shows us some dried velvet beans (not edible) along with the foliage of a growing velvet bean plant in the University's heirloom vegetable garden.

Velvet beans, which were introduced in the late 1800s and once covered nearly a million acres of the South, were useful as a source of nitrogen, as feed for cattle and for erosion control. More recently, they have been recognized as valuable for nematode control.

 Photo ©2007 Lee Anne White. Photographed at Clemson University.

Fill the Frame

Closer isn't always better, but it's usually worth checking out. It forces you to look not only at the subject, but also its shape and how it works within the camera frame. In other words, it encourages you to think as a visual designer, not just as a gardener or horticulturist. By moving in close, we get to experience the intimate details of this lotus (Nelumbo 'Mrs. Perry D. Slocum'). And graphically, the image benefits as much from the negative space (the green, leafy areas surrounding the petals) as it does from the flower filling the frame and "bleeding" off all four sides.

Photo ©2008 Lee Anne White. Photographed at Longwood Gardens.