Point of View Photographs

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Photography
Tulipa saxatilis my garden 2.21.09

Tulipa saxatilis or Crocus 'Tricolor' ? (see comments) 2.21.09

What is the point of a photograph ? I ask this question every time I click the shutter. Why am I taking this picture and what am I trying to say ? This is one of the fundamental keys to taking a good garden photograph. The reason to take the picture may be a simple documentation of what the garden looks like on any given day, but more often for me, as a professional garden photographer, I need to have a point of view. I want to communicate an idea, a feeling, or an impression.

Often my point of view in making the picture is inextricably linked to the point of view of the camera.

The diminutive Tulipa saxtilis (Crocus ?) have just bloomed in my garden. They lasted maybe two days and the rains beat them down.  Fragile beauty I was lucky to notice.  The view point of my camera is looking straight into the flower, focused on the stigma. In close up photos of flowers, when there is very little depth of field, I have found it best to focus on the pistil or stamen and let the color go out of focus.

But that photo does not really communicate the scale of the flower, or even that it is in a garden, or much about the season.

holt_903_1329Here we see not only that the flowers are small, we see they are rather isolated in the garden; due, no doubt, to their popularity with the pocket gophers.

Note the point of view of this photograph is looking overtop another clump to add more color and give a sense of depth while showing the smallness of this little bulb. I have left lots of room at the top of the frame that adds to the scale.

What you don’t note in this photo’s point of view is that I am on my belly. As I said in the beginning – my point of view in making the picture is inextricably linked to the point of view of the camera.

holt_903_1330

This next view is also a belly shot, as I inch closer to the flower. This is a harder technique than it sounds. Not just because of the middle age problems of getting up and down off the ground but the problem of finding enough room in a garden to lay flat out, to hold the camera steady, focus, and compose a decent shot.

Note the compositions again, allowing extra room at the top. This sort of framing allows room for type just in case some editor decides to publish this as a cover of a magazine.

As long as I am on the ground I may as well look around for other photos that can be taken from this point of view.

holt_903_1335Here are the little Grecian windflowers (Anemone blanda) poking out from last year’s mulch. Point of view – standing, looking down.

If I want to make a portrait shot of this small flower, I need to get close. But simply stooping down on top of the flower will yield a photo with little depth of field. The flowers are on comparatively long stalks and the foliage would all but disappear on a typical macro shot.

holt_903_1340So let’s go back back to a belly view. Now we really begin to show this pretty little flower. We are so close to it one could image an entire garden groundcover.

Depth of field is very shallow this close, so I am careful to move my point of view (by millimeters) until two flowers are almost side by side so that they both fall into my focal plane.

And now that we are down here studying the miraculous awakening of spring and quiet beauty of these too blue to be true flowers, we see a new flower, curled in the cluster of leaves. See it, out of focus tucked under ?

In this tiny flower about to unfold is a new point of view, a new idea to share. In this delicate and quiet moment, a single flower is about to stand up, join its brethren, and cheer on the season – you will miss it if you don’t look for it.

holt_903_1341

The point of view of the camera and of the subject are now the same.

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.

Saxon Holt

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Joy March 7, 2009, 7:24 am

Fran .. it can relate to that phrase “beauty is in the beholder of the eye” .. view points in our cameras with our individual “take” on the setting can be so different even with the same subject matter : )
Your photos are stunning .. macro is such an amazing shot and yours certainly are !

Joy – thanks for the compliments and while I am sure Fran would be willing to take credit for much of what happens Gardening Gone Wild, she lets each of us take credit for our pictures – Saxon

Jan March 7, 2009, 8:20 am

It sometimes seems that the most effective shots do makes the photographer become a contortionist to get the right angle. I find your belly shots very effective. I have not been photographing very long and appreciate your insights on flower pictures.

Jan
Always Growing

Thanks Jan – These particular shots were done with a hand held camera but I usually use a tripod. That REALLY brings out the contortionist… Saxon

Mr. McGregor's Daughter March 7, 2009, 9:42 am

Thanks for the reminder to consider what each photograph is trying to say. Too often I stop at merely a record keeping. I love the idea of the story told by the opening Windflower. There is another hazard to the belly shot – ruined clothes. I forgot about putting on gardening clothes when I went out to take a photo of my Snowdrops, and in kneeling down to get a better shot, the knees of my pants got muddy and soaked through. I might start bringing my yoga mat out along with the camera.

In my ‘bag of tricks’ when I am working on location I keep a couple strap-on knee pads, the kinds carpenters use, so that I save both knees and clothing. But I don’t do many belly shots. In my own garden I wear the grubbiest clothes anyway. The temptation with the belly shots then, is to take a nap down so close to the earth – Saxon

Alison March 7, 2009, 10:52 am

This amateur photographer thanks you for this post! I tend to find myself locked into one point of view when I’m composing a picture, and so it was a useful reminder to see such disparate ways of framing a single subject.

Alison – glad you picked up some pointers. Whenever you change your point of view, even just bending down or taking a knee, the new angel helps get the creative juices flowing – Saxon

Craig @ Ellis Hollow March 7, 2009, 3:31 pm

Our ground is just thawing. It rained today. My first eranthis is flowering. I guess I’m going to have a muddy belly tomorrow.

At least when I was on my belly, the ground was fairly warm and moist, not wet. Good luck and have a cup of tea ready when you come in – Saxon

Frances March 7, 2009, 8:08 pm

Hi Saxon, the little anemone is precious, and I mean that in the best possible way. Always looking for new techniques to help with the garden photos, besides belly shots, the knee pads sound good. I too am always in grubby clothes in the garden, but like to stay dry. Waterproof ski pants are the best. There is no room for full length laying down on the job with plants emerging all over so elbows, knees and very low crouching are the only way. Does that crouch position have some benefit, like thighs of steel or something? It would make it more worthwhile to think so.
Frances

Frances – The only way I could lay out on my belly for those photos was because I was on a path, where I can actually see the little bulbs. Even so, it was hard to negotiate as so many things are beginning to emerge. The crouching is usually done when I am using the tripod, which then becomes a brace for me and the camera. – Saxon

Genevieve March 7, 2009, 8:18 pm

Saxon, are you positive that’s a tulip? It looks rather more crocus-y to me. Look at the foliage. There’s a common variety of crocus that looks just like that. I may be entirely wrong, though! I couldn’t enlarge the photos to see better.

WoW !! Genevieve wins the prize. I wish this had been some sort of contest so I could award something – and be able to explain my error. I did not intentionally plant any crocus in this spot, where years ago I planted the T. saxatilis, but these crocus must have been in the mix somehow; and better explains why I no longer see the tulips in this part of the garden.
Genevieve has given me a great topic for another post – why and how photographers mis-identify plants.
Genuine thanks for pointing this out – Saxon

Genevieve March 7, 2009, 8:23 pm

PS. I often like to kneel down with my kneepads on and then sort of topple over, leaning on one forearm, to get those ground shots. Then I can see in my viewfinder what’s going on without having to get my front dirty (and stick my feet out behind me where I might crush a perennial).

Us landscapers gotta try to stay clean any way we can, so the inevitable trip to the grocery store after work doesn’t garner us all kinds of funny looks. It’s bad enough we carry the smell of manure around.

Love your photos and perspective, as always Saxon. You’re easily my favorite photographer in any genre.

Thanks for the additional comments. You’re now my favorite plant ID person. I guess for those manure moving days, you will have to stick to the farmer’s markets after work – Saxon

Catherine March 7, 2009, 8:29 pm

I love the pictures! Great advice. I find I’m more likely to get down on the ground in the backyard where the passing cars don’t see me :)

Or where, maybe, you can take a nap ? I confess on more than one occasion when I get down on the ground in a garden, I have closed my eyes to let it all soak in. Secret pleasure …. Saxon

gail March 7, 2009, 9:32 pm

Let me recommend a yoga mat…especially on a driveway or stone path! Where I often lay down to capture a shot of edging plants! I also use knee pads…Thank you for the point of view pointers; I need to carry a list into the garden when I am photographing! Gail

When I am in my own garden, and if I have the room, I will also use one of those cushions that come off the outdoor lounge chairs. But this advice may lead to real napping … Saxon

Kathy in Napa March 8, 2009, 3:05 pm

What a timely posting this is, as I have just purchased my first DSLR , and am commited to improving the photos I take of my garden. Your comments on depth of field were much appreciated, as I tend to stand over the plants and shoot and could never figure out why I wasn’t happy with the result. Although I enjoy ‘chronicle’ type pics,before and afters, seasonal changes etc, I have come to find taking pictures for thier merit as a composition to be really compelling and rewarding.

Kathy
Thanks for dropping in Kathy – My biggest, first piece of advice I always give photographers with a new camera is to take lots of photos, break the “rules”, and see what works. Try to have a reason or point of view to take the photos and give yourself your own honest advice as to what works. , And, since you are shooting in Napa, beware of the CA sun, It gets bright very quickly. Shoot in soft light. – Saxon

jodi (bloomingwriter) March 8, 2009, 10:57 pm

Saxon, I’m a writer who takes photos rather than a photographer, but yesterday this is exactly what I was teaching my writing students about taking photos: what a difference a change in perspective can make, and how getting down and dirty (literally) can make for great photos. I learned that from you and other professionals somewhere along the way!

…. and perhaps from the natural instinct of a gardener to get down and dirty [g] .. Saxon

Jean March 9, 2009, 2:25 pm

Saxon, great post. I also have the same problem getting on my belly. It’s hard to find a good space and then it’s hard to get up! Sometimes I try to squat but then I can’t see because of my bifocals. Such a dilemna! So obviously I need to just suck it up and lay out flat. Plus getting a macro lens would be nice. :-) Thanks for the tips!

Jean – another tip I don’t normally give out since it shows my age- I don’t wear my bifocals when working. Just my regular ol’ ones. Bi-focals definitely mess up the way I see with a camera – Saxon

Debra Lee Baldwin March 9, 2009, 4:04 pm

Hi, Saxon — What a treat to glean tips on taking effective photos from the consummate pro! I’m slapping my forehead, wishing I had thought to take more photos that allow for type across the top. It would have been so easy at the time. Well, from now on…

Hey Debra ….. and if you really want to anticipate what an editor might use, shoot some horizontals where one side is way out of focus for double page spreads with type … Saxon

David in VT March 9, 2009, 4:27 pm

Excellent post. I like the way you illustrated your points with the photos. I’ll take all of this good advice with me the next time I head out into the garden.

David …. hmmmmm . . . in Vermont . . . . well it may be a while before you “head out into the garden” with warm enough weather to take those belly shots. . ..sorry couldn’t resist [bg] – Saxon

NWG March 10, 2009, 9:25 am

Great tips for taking photos of those pretty spring flowers. I have an advantage taking my pics as I can be inside, kneeling and leaning against things like the sofa – the joy of window boxes!

Nice thing about window boxes, like raised beds and even many container grown flowers is being able to get down to their level more easily. – Saxon

Shady Gardener March 10, 2009, 11:53 pm

A valuable perspective that I many times overlook. The point of the photo often renders a much more artistic view, I think. Thank you for this post. :-)

Thanks for commenting and don’t forget it is not just an artistic point of view, it is an informative one . . . at least, that is my point of view on this [g] – Saxon

Hazel White March 12, 2009, 12:04 am

Hi, Saxon, I never knew you lay among the flowers! Has a garden owner ever surprised you in that position? But what I wanted to say was: As I tracked your arrival at that shy, unfolding blue anemone (and noted how your language soared), I thought of a line of Simone Weil’s: “Joy is the overflowing consciousness of reality.” Is this the point you are eager we don’t miss?

What a great treat it is for us at GGW to have the poet Hazel White stop by ! What an even greater treat for me personally, is to have her recognize, indeed the whole point of my post, that looking for a point of view with the camera is inextricably linked to having a point of view, and intention, to begin with.

What is wonderful fun for the curious photographer is to allow that conscious intention to lead, with eyes wide open, to new points of view. I started my post, as I started that day in the garden, looking to interpret one point of view – the diminutive crocus. I ended up seeing the unfolding of spring in the quiet detail of the anemone.

My physical point of view with the camera was technically the same. But my emotional point of view changed, thanks to the garden, the flowers, to spring, and no doubt to being down on the earth absorbing, absorbing. – Saxon