It’s getting chillier every day here and we’ve had some very grey skies during the week, so I thought I’d post a bit of bright colour on the blog today.
Wherever I go, I’m always keen to take the chance to photograph flowers. Sometimes there’s something new, or a plant that would be difficult to grow at home. You never know what plants and flowers you may come across when you’re out and about with a camera. It’s pretty much a matter of luck. (And lots of garden visiting!)
It’s also a matter of luck if you find flowers that are in good condition at the time and that you can photograph without other things being in the way. There’s not a lot you can do about distracting backgrounds but experimenting with different angles and getting as close as you can will help a lot.
The weather can be a matter of luck too. If you’re photographing plants outside or in a glasshouse, you’re better to choose a day that is slightly overcast. This will soften the light and make it more diffused, allowing you to capture the colours and textures of the flowers more easily. (Whereas bright sunlight, especially at the middle of the day will easily burn out highlights and create heavy shadows that obscure details.) Low-angled sunlight near the beginning or end of the day is much gentler and the slanting light picks out details beautifully, so it’s good choice if you can time your visit for it.
The orchids here are ‘Vanda’ orchids. I’ve never tried to grow these (just the similar-looking Phalanopsis or ‘moth’ orchids), so it’s a joy to find some that I can photograph. Their rich colours and the characteristic dotted effect on the petals add to the visual interest of the photos. And wandering around them, camera at the ready, lifts the spirits – of this photographer at any rate!
The wonderful variety of flower shapes makes the orchid family an inspiring subject for flower photographers. I find them hard to resist and will always be on the lookout for these exotic, intriguing blooms. At home I occasionally grow Phalanopsis orchids. They are pretty easy because they seem to thrive on neglect and nowadays they can be bought cheaply at most supermarkets. At the moment I have a couple of orchids just waiting to be photographed. They have a similar white/purple/burgundy colouring but one is a Phalanopsis and I think the other may be an Oncidium, so the flower-shape is very different. (Photographs for a future blog post….)
I hope that these orchids have brightened your day. Do you have different orchids where you live? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
The waterlily is one of the most enchanting plants and it has held a fascination for humans right throughout history.
Sacred in Egypt, India and China from ancient times, the waterlily has become a symbol of many things: renewal of life, immortality, purity, divinity, enlightenment.
So when we look at these beautiful flowers, we’re aware of more than just the waterlily itself. We feel the magic of all the associations that have grown up around it. We get caught, ever so slightly, in its spell…
Before the age of around 20, I had only ever seen waterlilies in photographs or paintings. Never in ‘real life’. (I don’t think I’d even seen a garden pond during my childhood on Scotland’s north coast. The climate there isn’t exactly encouraging to serious gardening.) The first time I saw one in a garden (somewhere much further south), I was entranced. The flower seemed like something foreign and entirely exotic and that impression has stayed with me. Since then, I’ve always been delighted when the chance comes to photograph them.
Photographing flowers in someone else’s garden is always a little tricky. Usually it’s not possible to use a tripod, so close-up work is difficult. You must be so very careful not to stand on any plants or brush against anything that you might damage. But waterlilies are even more awkward. Frequently the flowers are just too far away or they’re sitting at an angle that means you can’t see them properly. It’s wonderful when you find waterlilies growing right by the edge of the pond and when you can get close enough to them without the danger of taking an unintentional nose-dive into the water!
As you might expect then, the idea of being able to photograph waterlilies in my own garden really appeals to me. Currently I am starting to dig out a pond. Actually, it’s only a small hole so far – I’m digging an exploratory trench so that I can work out where pipes run and hopefully avoid them. Today it has been raining for a few hours and I’m really grateful because it will make the hard ground much easier to dig. (Digging is much better left until after we’ve had some rainy weather. Summer here is so hot and dry that the ground bakes as hard as stone.)
It will probably take quite while to get my pond made and to work out what to plant around it. But I do already have a couple of little waterlily plants. They were given to me by a kind friend who was sorting out her own pond. At the moment they’re planted up in a pond basket which is sitting in a huge plastic box. So far they seem quite happy (and they even have a little frog who likes to lurk in the pond basket beside them) but I’ll be glad when I can give them a proper home. And then I’ll have to wait and see what colour (pink or red) they are…
Do any plants enchant you – I’d love to know in the comments!
One of the ways I like to photograph flowers is to light them from behind. It brings out the translucent nature of the petals, allows the colour to glow, and shows up details that you wouldn’t see under normal front-lighting.
In the photograph of the yellow tulip above, I wanted to show the delicate lines of the veins in the petals. Without the back-lighting, they would have been pretty much invisible, but here, with the light coming through the petals, they are much easier to see.
The layering of the petals where they overlap one another creates areas of varying shade and this helps to give emphasis to the petals’ curving shapes. It also creates variations within the yellow of the tulip – more interesting, I think, than the flatter tones I’d have got if I had just lit the flower from the front.
While the yellow tulip was photographed to give a realistic image, the green clematis above has had its colour exaggerated by the lighting and it was then saturated a bit more in Photoshop. If the flower petals are thick enough, the light from behind can make the colour appear richer. However, if you give this technique a try, you’ll find that the results will vary with the strength of the light coming through the petals and how much the petals themselves allow light to pass through. If you use a flower with very thin petals, the colour may become much lighter and you could instead create an image with very soft, delicate colours – a lovely effect.
I can’t remember the name of the clematis below (this one grew in my garden in Scotland), but I hope I’ll find the same one again because these pinky-purply shades are among my favourite colours.
In this photograph, the petals on the left-hand side have the light coming through them from behind but the right-hand petals are lit from the front. That was because I wanted to light the centre of the flower to capture the detail there. As a result, the veins of the petals on the left show up very clearly, but the petals on the right have a much more solid appearance and you can see the slight magenta marking on the petal’s midrib.
A set-up like this is very easy to do if you can find a lightbox of the kind that’s used for viewing slides and negatives. These boxes have a translucent ‘opal’ top surface with daylight-balanced light tubes behind. All you have to do is lay your flowers on top and add some soft light to the front of the flower if you want to show the detail of the stamens etc. (Otherwise they would be likely to be in silhouette.) For the frontal lighting, you need to make sure that it isn’t too strong, otherwise it would drown the effect of the back-lighting. Soft, overcast light from a window would be the easiest thing to try.
If you try this back-lighting technique, remember to check that the light isn’t making your flowers hot and wilting them. You can always take them away from the lights in between shots, even give them a rest in some water for a while.
Comments are always very welcome – please feel free to add yours!
Sometimes I prefer the look of a photograph that has been converted to black and white, rather than the original colour version. And it can be even better if it has had some ‘toning’ added in Photoshop.
So why should that be? For some photographs, it may simply be that the original colours don’t work well together – as with the ‘Spider Lily’ above. The flower was growing in front of our house, which is painted ‘Suffolk Pink’. I didn’t like the pink wall as a background because it distracted from the flower too much.
Converting the picture to plain black and white got rid of the distraction but the result wasn’t terribly exciting, so the colour tones were added to create a bit of extra interest. This has given a look very like a cyanotype print which has been toned in tea. (Does that sound odd? Ordinary tea makes a great toner for cyanotype prints – takes the harshness out of the blue and turns the white paper a soft cream/brown shade.)
Other photographs may benefit from simplification. With the ‘Crown Imperials’ above, I was attracted by the lines of the veins on the petals, and to a lesser extent, by the way the curve of one of the leaves at the top echoes the curve of the petals below it. But in the original, the orange of the flower and the green leaves that contrasted with it competed too much for attention. Here, with the image as a monochrome, your eye can more easily follow the lines along the petals.
Both of the photographs below worked well in colour but the blue and brown duotone of the agapanthus and the warm pinky-brown monochrome of the astrantia give the images a new life. They have become something entirely different from the photographs I started with. (You can see the original colour photograph of the astrantia here. )
I think that the toned versions of the photographs work because their subjects no longer look as they do in nature. Without their normal colouring, the flowers are somehow unfamiliar. Because of this, they are able to be seen in a different way. Now there is a possibility that you may notice new details or simply react with feelings that the original colour versions wouldn’t have inspired.
It’s very satisfying to experiment with photographs in this way. There can be a restfulness, even an elegance, to the restricted colours in the final image.
If you fancy trying this on your own photographs, you’ll find that it’s not hard to do if you have an image-editing program. Photoshop, for instance, allows you to convert the photograph to black and white. You can then alter the colour in any way you like, using the ‘Colour Balance’ adjustment on the shadows, midtones and highlights or you can try the more complex controls available in the ‘Curves’ commands. (I should think that there are other possibilities with newer versions of Photoshop than mine.) And, of course, there are many other monochrome effects out there that you can try. You could have hours of fun with these!
I’m lucky that East Anglia has some great gardens to visit. Last weekend there was the chance to get over to the Fullers Mill Garden near Bury St Edmunds, before it closes for the season. (It’s open from the start of April until the end of September every year.)
The garden is entered by a narrow lane that passes through the edge of the ‘Kings Forest’, Forestry Commission woodland at West Stow. So as soon as you arrive, you are surrounded by the sound of the wind rushing in the trees. This changes when you get right into the garden and arrive at Fullers Mill Cottage – now the sound you will hear is the River Lark forcing itself through a narrow weir before it spreads out again and becomes calmer on its journey through the garden.
As you continue into the garden, the sounds from the forest and the weir recede and you’re surrounded by a feeling of tranquility and calm. Even when the garden is full of visitors, you can find a quiet spot just for yourself. (And if you’re lucky, it might just happen to have one of the benches that are dotted around the garden.)
The original garden at Fullers Mill was small when the creator of the garden, Bernard Tickner and his wife Bess bought the cottage in 1958. Over a period of more than 50 years, Bernard was able to gradually buy land from the Forestry Commission and turn it from rough ground into a garden filled with a vast collection of plants, many of them uncommon and unusual.
The first area to be developed was the ‘Low Garden’ (Photographs above and below). The terraces here are full of flowering bulbs in spring, and in summer there are the beautiful flowers of the giant lily, Cardiocrinum giganteum.
Bernard said that his ‘gardening heroine’ was Beth Chatto and reckoned that there was a similarity in the way both gardens grew and developed over time. The gardens now cover seven acres and offer a wide variety of planting conditions. While the Low Garden has a mix of shady and sunny areas that suit woodland plants and lilies, the Top Garden has poor soil and dry conditions, so is much better suited to Mediterranean plants. Moisture loving plants are happy around the mill pond and along the river and stream banks. (The garden has both the River Lark and the Culford Stream running through it.) There are open areas too, so sun-loving plants can also be found a suitable home.
One of the great things about having such a wide range of growing conditions is the sheer variety of plants that can be grown. I was amazed by the huge number of different trees, shrubs and perennials growing here. It made me wish that I had a better knowledge of plants and could recognise more of what I saw. I suspect that even then, I’d still find that there were a lot of rare or unusual cultivars here that I didn’t know.
For me, the wonderful collection of plants was an opportunity to take lots (and lots!) of photographs. I could easily spend days in this garden and still find that I wanted even more time for photographing the plants. (My husband did have some difficulty in getting me to leave the garden. Next time, maybe he’ll just leave me there!)
Despite the fact that there are large collections of plants (around 70 or more euphorbias and the same number of lilies and snowdrops are just a few of these), the garden is designed to be in sympathy with the character of its site. The river and stream areas are allowed to keep a fairly natural, informal look and the planting in the woodland areas feels very appropriate – somehow very ‘comfortable’ there. This is the sort of garden that I love. (I’m much less keen on formal gardens and have never come to like topiary or parterres – or even box edging.) Overall, the feel of the garden is unfussy and relaxed, and extremely welcoming.
In 2013 Fullers Mill Garden was gifted to Perennial, The Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society to ensure its future and keep it open for visitors to enjoy. Bernard remained involved with his garden right throughout his later years. (He died last year, at the age of 93.) In a radio interview when he was almost 90, Bernard said that he didn’t believe a garden was ever finished. ‘I’m still buying plants, much to Annie, the head gardener’s distress, because then she’s got to find a spot for them. And I say, ”You can find somewhere Annie, to fit those in”. And she does eventually…it may take a little while.’
You can hear the radio interview with Bernard Tickner here. It’s easy to hear, from listening to him talk, how much he loved the garden at Fullers Mill and how how happy it (and gardening) made him. That happiness is something that the visitors to the garden can’t help but share. It’s a delight to stroll around the peaceful grounds along the banks of the river and stream, to walk under the trees and to discover all the wonderful plants tucked into every corner of the garden.
Fullers Mill Garden is now looked after by head gardener, Annie Dellbridge and her team of gardeners and volunteers. They tend the garden with obvious loving care and make visitors very welcome. (The garden is open from the start of April to the end of September, on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You can find full details on their website here.)
I fell in love with this garden and I know I’ll be back for several visits next year. And I even managed to bring a little bit of it home with me by buying a couple of white Japanese anemones and an aster, ‘Les Moutiers’.
Bernard Tickner said he liked the idea of buying a plant raised in a garden as a memento of it. But then, he was a man thoroughly in love with plants. I’ll give him the last word here, because it’s something I feel too (and I do hope he’s right!): ‘I love plants. Once you’ve got the ”disease”, you’ve got it for life. It doesn’t ever desert you.’
One of the good things about photographing flowers is that it’s fairly easy to come up with different images of your subject. (Much easier than having to hike miles around a landscape to find a different viewpoint.)
Variations of the image can be created while photographing or afterwards in the computer, using an image-editing program.
The top image (a version of the photograph below) has had textures added to it in Photoshop to give a softer, more romantic feel.
These ‘textures’ are simply photographs of a textured surface, usually with just one all-over colour but perhaps with a darkened edge and corners to give a vignette effect.
Photoshop makes it possible to stack the textured images above the original photograph and then to alter the opacity of the textured images. (Imagine looking through a stack of images printed on clear plastic – that gives some idea of how it works.) Controlling the opacity of the layers means that you can decide exactly how much of the textured layers show in your final image.
In this case, the textures I used were an image of a canvas weave and another of a lightly scratched surface. The opacity of the scratched surface was set very low, so that it hardly showed, while the canvas texture was set higher and made more visible.
If you decide to try out this ‘textures’ technique, there is another Photoshop tool that you’ll want to use – ‘Blend Modes’.
Blend Modes give control over how the different layers interact with each other. This tool can produce very subtle effects but it can also create something decidedly weird. Trying out the different settings is the best way to find out what they do. (And time can all too easily disappear as you play with all the possibilities…)
To prevent the details of the main flower from being obscured, I kept the textures off this area. This also removed the colour of the textures from the flower, so I added a plain pale yellow layer to unify the flower with the rest of the image.
(It would probably be simpler to just blur the textured area over the flower. This would remove the detail of the textures but allow the colour of the textured area to remain.)
After taking the first photograph, I decided to try something a bit bolder. This time I chose a very dark green background. Because very little light was hitting the background, it looks almost black and creates a strong contrast with the flowers.
For the second photograph, I changed the lighting to add to the contrast. (Both were lit with studio flash.)
The first photograph had been taken with a soft, well-diffused light (a softbox brought close to the flowers and a large reflector to the side). The result was to give a very even light with the reflector bouncing light back into the areas that would otherwise have been in shadow. This allowed the details in the petals to show and helped to give a gentle, delicate feel to the photograph.
To create the more contrasty lighting for the second photograph, I simply moved the light further away (and, of course, turned up the light output to make up for the increased distance). Moving a studio light further away creates a ‘harder’ light with stronger highlights and shadows. (Just think of how the sun creates such harsh shadows – it’s a very distant light source.)
Taking the reflector away also increased the contrast by removing the light that it would have bounced into the shadows. I think the end result is probably as far as I could push the contrast before I started to lose too much detail in the petals.
As with the first photograph, I decided to play around with textured layers to see what the effect would be. The result is much softer than the original photo and goes to show how different the image can become once you start experimenting with the different possibilities. I think there’s plenty to keep me busy for quite a while!
There’s some – we have a winter-flowering jasmine and following that there are the spring bulbs. (A few crocuses, lots more daffodils and some bright yellow tulips that have probably been in the garden for many years.)
Later, as different flowers open, the garden turns largely lilac, pink, and blue. There are also lots of deep reds, bronzes and browns. These darker shades could seem a bit sombre, so a touch of yellow in summer enlivens the whole garden.
The richest and most intense of the yellows in the garden here is the rudbekia. It’s a plant that I’ve lost in the past because it prefers a moist soil and our rainfall in this part of the UK (Suffolk) is very low. During the drought this year, I’m having to keep it well-watered. Fingers crossed that this one will survive!
Easier yellows have included a potentilla and the little daisy flowers of Anthemis tinctoria ‘E. C. Buxton’, both of which have produced a mass of flowers over a long period. Easier still is the evening primrose, because it self-seeds generously and just pops up wherever it feels like it. It’s a delight to come across the unexpected pale gleam of its flowers as night begins to fall.
Another easy way to add some yellow is to simply buy a few plants in pots. I’ve done this when I’ve spotted something I want to photograph. (Oh, that happens a lot!)
The daisy flowers of chrysanthemums and the elegant flowers of calla lilies are inviting subjects to photograph. And the yellow of the flowers here makes a change from the pinks, blues and purples that I more often have available for my photography.
For the future, there’s a yellow flower that I’d like to grow here that will be the cause of a lot more work than any of the others. A waterlily. (Of course, I like to photograph waterlilies in other colours too.)
First, I’m going to have to build a pond….but that’s a project for the autumn and early winter because the ground is now rock hard. (We haven’t had a drop of rain in many weeks and there’s none forecast for the next couple of weeks either.)
I think the work will be well worth it, though. (But my back will probably disagree!) For I do love pond plants, especially waterlilies.
One of the pleasures of summertime is spending a lazy afternoon wandering around someone else’s garden.
Garden-visiting is a source of inspiration for me. It gives me ideas for how I can improve my own garden. (Seeing new plant combinations, and even just the size that mature plants can get to, is tremendously helpful.) And – in many ways more important for me – it allows me to see plants that I would like to have growing in my own garden so that I can photograph them.
My hubby and I had the chance to spend a couple of days staying at Huntingdon (in Cambridgeshire) this week, so we took the chance to pay a visit to the garden at The Manor in Hemingford Grey.
The Manor at Hemingford Grey is said to be one of England’s oldest continuously-inhabited houses. Building was begun by the Normans in the 1130s. (You can see the evidence of this on one side of the house where the windows have the typical Norman building-style that you can see on old churches. Look out for the round-headed window with it’s zig-zag ornamentation in stone above. Lower down on the same wall you can also see a narrow slit of a window…just like you might find on an old castle wall.)
We entered the garden from the path along the River Ouse, crossing a lawn by walking along a path bordered with topiary yews to reach the house itself. Around the house, the garden looked, to me, like a cottage garden on a big scale. It felt relaxed and welcoming in its informality – just the place to put visitors at their ease.
Visiting in mid-July meant that the roses that the garden is well-known for were over and the flower borders were taking on a late-summer feel. Some areas were bright with the reds and yellows of crocosmias and rudbekias, while other areas were more delicate, with plants such as hydrangeas and daucus carota (wild carrot) adding a more romantic feel.
I enjoyed meandering around the garden with camera in hand. Photographing flowers in a garden that you’re visiting is more difficult than it would be in your own garden. You can’t use a tripod, so a macro lens isn’t ideal, nor do you have any control over lighting or the placing of the plant. So for me, the camera is more of a notebook-tool when I’m garden-visiting. It lets me see what plants appeal to me as future subjects and what their possibilities may be. (And it fuels my plant-buying too!)
One of the plants that really caught my eye was the wild carrot (Daucus carota). It is a wonderful shape for photographing and would repay the effort of using a proper macro lens and a good hefty tripod. I have already sown a few plants, which are still tiny and won’t flower until next year. So it was interesting to see the full-grown plant here and to see just how lovely the structure and textures of the plant are. (I think they were probably growing the same variety as I have sown – ‘Dara’, which produces flowers in pink, burgundy-red and white and gives a beautifully delicate effect.)
It’s lovely to visit a garden and see plants through someone else’s eyes, to see their vision for the space within their garden, and to see their own ways of combining plants. This is a garden that I’ll make the effort to come back to again – hopefully timing a visit so that I can see their wonderful collection of irises and then again so that I can see their roses.
We could have visited the house as well as the garden and will do next time. (Visits to the house need to be booked beforehand.) Many people come to see the house because it is the setting for the series of children’s books about ‘Green Knowe’ by Lucy Boston. Her daughter-in-law, Diana Boston, gives a tour of the house that sounds both charming and highly entertaining and would be an essential for fans of the Green Knowe books.
As both a photographer and a gardener, obviously I tend to choose plants that I think will make a good photograph. The flowers I choose are often fairly large with a complex structure or interesting markings – something to hold the interest of the viewer.
It probably won’t take you long to spot my favourites on this blog. Passionflowers, hellebores, clematis, tulips and alliums are just a few of the flowers that give me the urge to grab my camera. (And, um, a strong urge to visit garden centres too!)
Buying plants to photograph means that I’ll have plenty of subjects for pictures. But buying one each of these plants won’t add up to good garden design. Instead, if I don’t restrain my plant-hunting, I’ll end up with a very bitty-looking garden.
Of course, the remedy is simple. We’re told to plant in groups of three or five, or in drifts if we’re lucky enough to have the space. Yeah, fine! That just gets a bit expensive at the garden centre….
Luckily, lots of the plants I’ve chosen are easy to propagate or else like to spread or seed themselves about. These plants are gradually becoming the backbone of my garden and they make it look a bit more cohesive.
There’s a snag here though. (There would be!) Some plants are getting just a bit too enthusiastic. Tall red scabious are getting absolutely everywhere, the geraniums are ruthlessly trying to smother the young astrantia plants nearby, and Japanese anemones are doing their best to take over the entire garden.
It appears that this photographer’s garden is going to be a constant balancing act. (And some of the more thuggish plants will have to be forced to mind their manners. That may take quite a bit of effort on my part.)
I hope you have the chance to enjoy a garden in this wonderful weather.
I’ve always loved gardens. Early morning in summer is the best time in mine. It’s still peaceful then, and the demands of the day can be ignored for a little while.
Part of what makes it feel so special to me is the quality of the light at that time of day. It hasn’t yet got the bright glare that it will have later on. Instead, the light slants into the garden, picking out the textures of soft, feathery grass heads and glowing through the translucent petals of flowers. It brings a feeling of joy.
I’m certainly not an expert gardener, so it feels like a small miracle when plants grow well. (Especially if they haven’t had the care they should!) Self-seeded ”babies” are an excitement and sometimes a mystery…
There are failures too, and there are always plenty of weeds, but somehow the garden always feels like a place of hope.
From childhood, I’ve been attracted by the look of plants. Not just for their colours, but for their textures and their structures too. (Think of the velvety petals of a petunia or of almost metallic-looking Allium christophii flowers.)
As I’ve grown older, my interest has widened to include the history of plants, the folklore, the stories told about them. (In general the relationship between man and plants. Probably because, for me, it represents the link between ourselves and nature. Because we are a part of nature too.)
There you have it – I’m a plant nut! (And always will be.) And yes, you may have found me out – photographing plants makes an excellent excuse for buying more!