Yellow and Daffodils

What we see and what we capture with the camera are often different; too often if you are not careful to photograph with intent.  What my mind’s eye sees when I enter my garden this time of year are yellow daffodils.

Yellow Daffodil 'February Gold' Narcissus in spring garden

But actually there are only a very few.

entry garden with daffodils

In my mind’s eye I am seeing the thousands of other daffodils furthar on in the garden.  The few by the driveway are just a tiny tease that get me excited to come home hungering to explore the garden for more.  I would not want to reveal this as soon as I come in.  I sorta like to be teased.

This time of year daffodils are the highlight of my garden.  I have every class of Nacissi and every color.  Tazetta do the best for me thank goodness, because their fragrance, along with the Jonquilla, make these my favorites.

The little one here with the swept back petals is a Cyclamineus variety ‘February Gold’ and I set out, with intent, to make a photo that said “yellow”.  There is no getting around that yellow is what we think about with daffodils.  Yes, there are wonderful white, and bi-color narcissus.  There are ones with apricot, orange, and creamy trumpets but yellow is certainly what this daffy nut thinks about when I first visualize them in my mind’s eye.

I gave myself a photography challenge:  make a photograph of my entry bed that said yellow and daffodils.  I knew I was going to have to make the camera lie because, well, you see what it really looks like…

To begin, I knew I would have to use a telephoto lens that would compress the key elements of my composition – the daffodils and the soft yellow primrose that I inherited with this garden; and which persist despite complete neglect.  A wide angle lens reveals too much beyond so I set up my camera on the tripod looking slightly down on the daffodil hoping to fill the frame with primroses beyond.

The angle works; I can see the shape of the flower, its nodding head, its swept back petals.  I have some nice lines – the stems dissect the frame and help aim the eye toward a focal point offset from center.  A promising beginning, but nothing special and it certainly doesn’t say “yellow”.

So I begin to pluck a few primula flowers to fill in the hole.

I find focusing back on the primroses gives me an accurate way to know just where my holes are.  Notice I have already folded back a couple of distracting leaves from the lower left of the first composition.

As I build up the soft yellow color, relocating about 8 primrose flowers, I realize I need another daffodil in the lower left that will give the composition balance, balancing the range of yellows and the shape of daffodil flowers.

I cut one more ‘February Gold’, put it in a frog vase so that I can precisely place it in the frame:

Now when I re-focus forward on the top daffodil, the frame will tighten up and I can evaluate exactly where that third flower should be placed.  I am also playing with my aperture and depth of field so that I get just the right amount of softness when I finish.

Keeping the camera on the tripod and not moving the camera angle during this process is obviously essential to this technique.  I struggled a bit getting that third daffodil exactly where it did the most good.  Rather than moving the camera a bit to tweak the composition, I moved the flower.

As you can see, I even tilted the flower a bit using a camera filter as a shim placed under the frog vase, to give that last flower the same lines as the others.

That last little piece, the soft orangey shape really finished the photo. Look back at the top of the page and notice how that third flower, in the lower left, really completes the composition.

Yes, the camera always lies, but my mind’s eye sees yellow daffodils and primroses when I enter my garden.  Now I have a photo to match.  Photograph with intention.

About Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic, a garden picture resource for photographs, workshops, and garden photography stories. A landscape photographer and award winning photojournalist with more than 20 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California.

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16 Responses to Yellow and Daffodils

  1. Cameron (Defining Your Home) March 7, 2010 at 7:52 am #

    Great tutorial!
    Thanks,
    Cameron

    Glad you liked it Cameron – now go out and make a photo for the Picture This contest – Saxon

  2. Mr. McGregor's Daughter March 7, 2010 at 8:00 am #

    Thanks for sharing another secret of photography. I’m such a ninny about cutting my flowers that I would never think to cut one to improve the composition of a shot. You’ve given me something to think about when my garden finally wakes up.

    It only works when you can nail down a composition in the camera, then add as needed. – Saxon

  3. don March 7, 2010 at 8:03 am #

    Now you really have me impatient for spring! I have over a foot of snow on my deck, and my garden is still under the wite stuff.

    Your photos are beautiful, thanks for sharing and for the good tips!

    Still a foot of snow on your deck !? my sympathies … – Saxon

  4. Salix March 7, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    Again, your post teaches a valuable photo lesson, Thanks.
    Lene

    Lessons learned from my years as a commercial photographer. Make the photo what you want it to be. – Saxon

  5. Jayne March 7, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    Great tutorial. I’m afraid I’m one of the “point and shoot” type of photographers, and I have the photos to prove it! This is good stuff to know – I never would have thought of it.

    Point an shoot photographers can still benefit from careful considering what they see in the frame. And point and shoot cameras can still take great photos if you want to take the time to put them on tripods to build the photo. – Saxon

  6. Town Mouse March 7, 2010 at 10:52 pm #

    Oh, you’re so patient Saxon! I find that’s my main hindrance to great pictures, taking time.

    Very enjoyable composition, and so much fun to see how you got there.

    I think maybe my patience is built out of impatience. I want a great photo and get mad (impatient) it is not right in front of me – so I need to to go make it. – Saxon

  7. Nell Jean March 8, 2010 at 9:19 am #

    I always wondered why daffodils in photos ‘grew’ so much more perfectly than mine.

    It’s fortunate that I don’t have to impress anyone but myself. My daffodil pics are a record of what bloomed where and when. Any resemblance to photography is purely coincidental.

    Of course you don’t see all my other ones, munched by snails, broken under strong rains, or faded before I got around to getting out the camera …. – Saxon

  8. Katie March 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    Now I wish I had remembered to plant my bulbs! Found ‘em yesterday, buried under a pile of stuff in the garage. Darn!

    Lovely pic!

    Don’t know where you are but if your garage was cold and dark you may still be able to plant them – Saxon

  9. Debra Lee Baldwin March 8, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    Saxon, reading your posts is like having a magician reveal his secrets. I was totally taken in by the primroses, assuming they were daffodils in the background. And now, when I look at the finished photo, I DO see the primroses. Clever trick!

    Thanks for your kind words Debra Lee. And yes, the idea was to make the photo yellow, and the primroses were part of what the mind’s eye sees. abra cadabra – Saxon

  10. Helen at Toronto Gardens March 9, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    Wow. We forget that “real” photographers treat their subjects as models that they can pose and accessorize, even when the subject is flowers. The art and craft of a good photograph is no accident. Thanks for taking us with you on that photoshoot.

    Fortunately most flowers need no make-up, nor do the complain about standing around for long periods. – Saxon

  11. Pomona Belvedere March 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

    I like your idea of creating a photo that gives the essence of what’s going on in the garden, not necessarily the facts. And I learned a lot of things about composition. Enough to inspire me to get a tripod?

    Katie, I agree with Saxon, daffodil bulbs are tough. Actually, all bulbs are tough. If there’s any substance left to them, sling ‘em in, what have you got to lose? They’ll probably come up blind either this year or the next, but in the long run you’re likely to have more flowers.

    It would be very hard to build a photograph like this without the tripod locked into place, but any tripod in general, allows one to think about the photo before one simply clicks away. – Saxon

  12. bloominrs March 10, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Fascinating as always. What I worry about is that I don’t realize what I’m missing or what the composition needs. I probably would have said “got it” after the beginning pretty photo there. But your final photo does say yellow, in a way that the beginning one does not.

    I’ll have to stew on this some more. Perhaps I’m not spending enough time asking myself what my intent is.

    Anyway, I really enjoy your tutorials. I’ll be practicing.

    The first photo wasn’t bad but I knew it could be more yellow and the composition just didn’t seem complete. Sometimes you can fool with a photo and it gets worse. Keep practicing, learn by doing. – Saxon

  13. rebecca sweet March 10, 2010 at 5:20 pm #

    I absolutely LOVE posts that actually TEACH us something! I just got a new Nikkon D3000 for Christmas and have been having fun playing with it….and can’t wait to try some of your techniques. Beautiful job!

    Thanks Rebecca -a new camera is always a good excuse to go out and play . . . and learn. Send us something for the Picture This contest – Saxon

  14. Jean at Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog March 11, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    Such great tips. Thank you Saxon. Now about the yellow color… your February Gold color in the first photo is so much deeper than what I captured in a photo of Feb. Golds a couple of posts back. Did you do something with the color as well?

    Jean – Now I am being called upon to interpret color as I see it. Cameras rarely capture color perfectly – and what is perfect color anyway? Who is the decider on this ?
    When I do my post production on my digital image I ALWAYS bring the color to what *I* think is natural, and am rarely satisfied by what the camera captures.
    And any garden photographer will tell you every flower grows differently in different regions and different soils and the color fluctuates with the time of day and the age of the flower itself.
    Do I see the world through rose colored glasses, and portray unnatural color. I don’t think so, but maybe ??? – Saxon

  15. Susan March 11, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    What great narrative!
    I laughed out loud on the last picture with the wood block and tupperware. love it.

    You should see the behind the scenes at big fashion shoots to appreciate how much staging goes on – Saxon

  16. Jenny March 13, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    How kind of you to share photography tips. I have so much to learn and now I know one of the ‘tricks of the trade’. I’m an impatient gardener so I am also an impatient photographer. Snap, snap- that’s me , and then I wonder why I don’t take great photographs. However, garden photography is something new to me; only introduced by blogging about my garden. Next time I go out there I will be sure to take your tips with me.

    — and send in a photo for our Picture This contest – - – Saxon