Dogwood – Finding the Photo

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Photography, Trees and Shrubs


It’s Spring !  At least here in California.  Since many friends across the country are still thawing out, how about we go looking for a photo in my garden?  My pink dogwood tree, Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Chief’, is putting on quite a show.

‘Finding the Photo’ is a classic lesson from my Workshop series.  I ask my students to look at the garden and go beyond the snapshot.  Find that photo that tells a story, that narrows down the viewer’s attention to exactly what you want them to see.

It’s easy to grab the first thing you see.


But then what is special ?  What do YOU really see ?  Find a way to show that.

As I contemplated the dogwood I noticed that, for the first time, it has reached out and greeted its neighbor, the Japanese maple.  I planted both these trees 14 years ago. They have finally touched.


I imagined they would grow up together but never quite visualized them in the same photo.  But now that I see them mingling I have an idea for a book – Plant Marriages.  Not a groundbreaking idea perhaps, but an idea.  Hmmm – will there one day be a companion, Plant Divorces, for combinations that were never meant for each other and need to go their separate ways ?

But for the dogwood photo, what I was hoping to find was a new photo for my photobotanic series – an isolated branch that I could silhouette as an illustration.  I walked around and around the tree visualizing branch and flower patterns.

I finally found a very complex pattern that I isolated with my telephoto lens.


It will take a day’s worth of Photoshop to extract the branch from the background to make this one work as an illustration, and I still wanted a branch all by itself.  I spied this small branch down close to the ground, reaching out to the blue Ajuga that appeared out of nowhere in my meadow lawn.


Ahhh.  So I have found the photo.  Now I put my telephoto lens back on and come in tight.

Crop it square and isolate the branch.


Now in the computer post production, after isolating the branch in a Photoshop layer, I fade the background behind it.  Since I wanted the branch to leap off the page, I then create a mat to go behind the flower bracts, eliminating all the actual garden in that frame area, and then substitute an off white color.


A PhotoBotanic illustration.  Prints for sale here. More detail will follow in “The Camera and Computer”, book 4 of the PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop.

Pretty much fun for a day when I had not planned to shoot.  But the tree called out, and I knew there must be a photo to be found.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist with more than 20 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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Lawn Sprinkler Systems April 10, 2014, 8:17 am

It’s finally spring here in Illinois too! Finally.

Jan LeCocq May 2, 2014, 6:29 am

Enjoyed the post. Nice work! Did you try removing that blur in the lower right foreground?

Lenore May 2, 2014, 11:40 am

Your photography is fantastic and inspirational.

Saxon Holt May 2, 2014, 4:51 pm

Thanks Lenore. I have fun with it and glad it inspires

Saxon Holt May 2, 2014, 5:01 pm

Someone else wondered the same thing when I put the photo on Facebook, and I can see how it is a distraction. For me, a key element in this series is knowing the original came from a garden photo. That blur is another flower, way forward that is out of focus, that became more of a blur when I used the telephoto. Its pretty unavoidable and nearly impossible to remove cleanly since it is so blurry. Perhaps now looking back I might have clipped the flower before I took the photo but for now it’s just part of the photo.

Surreal Landscapes January 3, 2016, 9:53 pm

Taking good quality pictures of flowers can seem intimidating, but congratulations, you did a great job! You captured the natural beauty of the flowers.

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