Garden Photography

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.

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.

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.

Bare Branches

On my morning walk, I noticed that the week's rain had knocked most of the remaining leaves off the trees. Even the white oaks, which tend to stubbornly hang on to their leaves until January, were looking surprisingly bare. I was reminded that as much as I love the fall leaf color, winter is actually my favorite time for observing and photographing trees. Who can argue with the beauty of this Europeaan beech in winter?

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.

Bamboo Shoot

One of the little-known features on Brenau University's campus is its Bamboo Forest. Rediscovered a few years ago by biology teacher Louise Bauck, the overgrown forest was likely part of Dr. H.J. Pearce's Japanese garden. It is believed to have been planted in the 1920s when landscape architect Shogo Joseph Myaida designed several Japanese features on the Gainesville, Georgia, campus. The Bamboo Forest, which features timber bamboo exceeding a half foot in diameter and growing 50 feet tall, is located adjacent to what was once Lake Takeda--the focal point of Camp Takeda, a summer camp for girls.

I spent a bit of time exploring the forest this morning before rain set in. Thought I'd share a few of my shots.


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

Maine Media Workshops Experience

Over the years, I have both taken and taught week-long workshops at The Maine Media Workshops (formerly the Maine Photographic Workshops). It is an amazing experience to be immersed in photography (or filmmaking) for a full week, learning from some of the best in their fields, hanging out with a diverse group of people who share your passion, without the usual day-to-day distractions. Although the setting is relaxed, the pace is intense--simply because everyone there manages to get in their "creative zone" and stay there for an extended period of time. It is a transformational experience, and it's amazing just how much can be accomplished in a single week.

Want to know more about the workshop experience? Click on The Workshop Experience Video on the Maine Media Workshops home page for a great video that shows the Maine setting, the campus and classes as well as interviews with staff, instructors and students.

I will be teaching a garden photography workshop from July 19-25, and would love for you to join our group. If garden photography is not your interest, check out the other workshops. There are more than 200 workshops in still photography, filmmaking and bookmaking to choose from. Hope to see you in Maine this summer!

Photo ©2000 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved. View from "inside" a mature thread-leaf Japance maple.

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.

Choose a Dramatic Angle

It's a natural tendency to photograph a garden from eye level. But the most interesting images are often taken from other angles. In the case of these sunflowers, I set the camera up low and shot toward the sky--which, fortunately, was very blue this day. This helped emphasize the height of the plant and convey its habit of reaching skyward.

These are cutleaf coneflowers (Rudbeckia laciniata 'Herbstsonne') photographed at Longwood Gardens. Easy-to-grow perennials, they reach 4 to 7 feet tall and bloom June through August. Give them plenty of sun or they'll need staking.

Photo ©2008 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved.

Move in Close

My favorite shots are often the simplest shots. Those where I can move in very close to my subject and just focus on the details that give it character. That was the case with this hedgehog plant (Agave stricta). Aptly named, I was first drawn to this plant not for the planting combination, flower, or shape of the plant, but for the spike-like foliage that does, truly, remind me of a hedgehog.

Photo ©2008 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved. Photographed at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Don't Overlook the Details

Whether you're setting an outdoor table or photographing it, don't overlook the details. As for setting the table, think layers--placemats, chargers, plates, something on the plates (whether napkins or a bundle of fresh herbs) glasses and something to give the setting some height.

And when it comes to photographing an outdoor dining area, shoot more than the table or outdoor room. Move in close and capture some of the details that give the setting personality.


Photos ©2008 Lee Anne White. Design: Frances Dixon.

Reflections and Recycled Glass

I'm not sure which I like better: recycled glass tiles or their reflection in water. Recycled glass tiles are a durable, beautiful and sustainable building material made from silica sand and up to roughly 85% recycled glass. It is an excellent material for bathrooms, kitchens, pools and spas. Here it is used in a swimming pool by the designers at Da Vida Pools in Austin, TX.

A tip for those interested in photographing reflections: Use a polarizing filter. While we often think of using a polarizer to knock the reflection or glare off of metal, glass or water, it can also be used to enhance reflections and saturate colors. The beauty of a circular polarizing filter is that what you see is what you get. It is a double-glass filter, and you simply turn the outer ring until you get the results you like.

Photo ©2008. Lee Anne White. All rights reserved. Design: Da Vida Pools.

Use White Wisely

The whitest or brightest spot in any photograph will always command the most attention. It's where your eye will always settle. When it is a stray flower, litter, a plastic chair or other insignificant object, it can ruin an otherwise stunning photograph. So use white wisely--intentially making it the focal point of your photograph or allowing it to help direct the eye around the image or toward a focal point.

This carefully tended English-style garden surrounds a pool in Connecticut. White coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan') are the stars of the garden.

Photo ©2008 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.

Cool Pool

I spent much of last summer photographing pools and spas. This one, designed by Jamie Scott of Groupworks, Inc., is located near Fishkill, NY. Very contemporary with clean lines, it features an infinity (vanishing) edge; a raised, stained-concrete spa with a 360-degree overflow and runnel; underwater benches and a pavilion.




Photos ©2008 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved. Design: Groupworks, Inc.

Colorful Spring Combo

I love photographing great plant combinations. Those that I find most appealing feature harmonious color schemes or contrasting foliage textures. This spring planting by Atlanta gardener Ann Sheldon works on both counts, though it's clearly the color that catches your eye initially.

Planted in what is sometimes referred to as the "hell strip" between the sidewalk and street, where it could be enjoyed by neighbors out on their daily walks, this cheerful combination features Tulipa 'Menton', Phlox divaricata, Ornithogatum umbellatum, Papaver somiferum (foliage only) and Hosta.

Photo ©2007 Lee Anne White. All rights reserved. Design: Anne Sheldon.