It is such fun to enter a botanic garden with no expectations, not knowing what, or if, there will be anything to photograph.
I was in New Mexico recently, among other things photographing the Domenici Courthouse, a Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES™) project. SITES™, the landscape equivalent of LEED, now has projects becoming certified and I am delighted to begin photographing them.
On my last day in Albuquerque I went to the Rio Grande Botanic Garden hoping to find some perennial color and sustainable garden ideas for the Southwest. To be honest, I had not heard good things about the Botanic Garden and was suspect of any garden with such a huge lawn component, like their Festival Green.
It is a funny thing that we see what we want to see sometimes, and see only one side of a story. I had heard from sustainability friends that the Botanic Garden was misguided and had too many gardens that used too much water.
That is very true with the big Festival Green lawn and the Sasebo Japanese Garden but this botanic garden is meant to be an oasis in the arid West, a place locals can go to enjoy the outdoors, play, stroll, and relax. Sometimes the public good is well served by a bit of extravagance.
And I DID find the Xeric Garden, the Pollinator Garden, the Arroyo, the Sand Hills, and the Desert Mountain gardens. A map of the garden is found at the end of the post.
Wonderful Achillea was covering the Xeric garden, a meadow in all its glory, making a wonderful contrast to the Festival Green lawn.
I felt like I had fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole. Everything was out of scale.
As I walked past an outsized flower pot and under a huge flower “growing” out of it, I noticed a bee.
A hidden speaker suddenly erupted, and was startled by intense buzzing .
What fun! As a parent I worried that kids would by now be crying. As a big kid I was grinning ear to ear.
I went through the maze and truly got lost, making many wrong turns, finally entering a series of tunnels – mole tunnels.
Light came through a series of holes open to the sky as if I were a rodent looking up.
While I delighted in being underground, taking photos was a huge challenge. It’s dark in those tunnels; and the sky is bright. A great time to use a Photoshop technique of merging different exposures, expanding the dynamic range of the camera sensor. Many cameras now have built-in HDR (high dynamic range) settings that will automatically use multiple settings.
I do HDR merge in my post production where a single tool in Bridge will merge the frames I select. The key to making it work is to use a tripod for tack sharp (and unchanging) focus and thus NO change in composition when the multiple images merge; and being sure to adjust the exposures by means of shutter speed, not the aperture setting which subtly changes focal depth of field.
Often these merged images initially look ghostly and flat but that is easily corrected with other tools.
This is New Mexico ? It could be anywhere a Botanic Garden chooses to be creative.
However one more quick photo tip takes advantage of the truly New Mexico feature of the garden. There is a Heritage Farm section in the garden with an old Southwest style farmhouse. A ready made photo opp with red peppers drying on the porch.
This is a charming Old West home but the peppers are what make it so special. If that is the story I want you to see, I’ve got to get a lot closer, find a good photo angle, and make that the story.
Not that is New Mexico.
Rio Grande Botanical Garden map