Telling Stories

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Photography, Miscellaneous

Art, sculpture of children playing leapfrog in California meadow gardenIt is easy to get overwhelmed when trying to find a photo in a beautiful garden.  We garden photographers want to capture everything before the moment passes.   We know garden beauty is ephemeral and changes at the drop of a leaf or shifting of the light.

But to make a “good” garden photo, slow down, think about what inspires you.  Tell a story, tell your story the way you see it.

It helps when you already have a story to tell, an idea before you ever enter a garden, such as the sculpture of those kids jumping through meadow grasses.  There, I was photographing my book on meadows and was tired of hearing lawn apologists saying kids need lawns for play.  Nonsense, kids can play anywhere.  That’s the story.

Much of The PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop, the e-book that has been unfolding here on Gardening Gone Wild, contains lessons and exercises to help you learn seeing techniques.  If you follow along on these lessons, you have themes to see and to work on, assignments –  like The American Meadow Garden.

For instance, here in an earlier lesson on Composition, we worked on balance and the rule of thirds.

rule of thirds grid on fall tapestry photo

You can use any of the lessons in the book to help you work on what you have to say, but ultimately you will be on your own and these lessons become tools to shape your own story.  Always be thinking of what story is in front of you and what you have to tell.  This is Lesson 1.6.

Many you you know an underlying story of what I am working on these days is light in the garden.  I have written a lot about it, searched at dawn for glorious light, experimented with exposure and composition, and went looking for it after my accident last year when I first tried to write lesson 1.6 as “How Does that Make You Feel ?

How Does That Make You Feel ?

And just recently, I went to New York to study light in the arts, to MOMA, and the Guggenheim to see the phenomenal James Turrell exhibit on light, where he makes light become alive, a physical presence.

James Turrell "Afrum 1 (White)"

James Turrell “Afrum 1 (White)”

So light was on my mind when I went to The High Line in Manhatten’s West Side, the great urban garden walkway elevated on an old rail line.

Heleniums in autumn along The High Line, New York City elevated park.

Given I was there as a tourist, in the middle of a September day, with only my G11 camera and no tripod, I was not expecting exquisite calendar photos.  Nor did I expect to have so much fun exploring the light.

New York City view from the High Line park

High Line Art – “Broken Bridge II” by El Anatsui, mirrors and recycled tin

High Line tree shadows on cement stairs.

High Line tree shadows on cement stairs.

Perhaps these are not typical garden photos, but photographers in gardens can find all sorts of stories.  And I am looking for light. Even the gardens of Central Park:

Sunny view of Manhatten framed through trees of Central Park

Sunny day light in downtown New York as seen from Central Park

The rest of this lesson on Telling Stories will be found in the ebook where we will look at pictures and discuss the stories behind them.  Look at these following stories.  What do they say ? How do they make you feel ?

Morning light on woodland patio

Morning light on woodland patio


Employee parking - Lynmar Winery

Employee parking – Lynmar Winery

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 and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

Latest posts by Saxon Holt (see all)

8 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Jan LeCocq September 25, 2013, 7:07 am

Nice post! I look forward to you ebook!

Thanks Jan – You will be hearing more pretty soon now. – Saxon

Lily September 25, 2013, 8:17 am

I was so interested in the ‘Heleniums in autumn along The High Line, New York City elevated park’, thinking about how many people just walked right past these in their visit to the garden thinking they were ‘done’ but you were able to make it beautiful. Very inspiring!

I knew I had to add a ‘real’ garden picture to that series :-), but yes heleniums are almost as great when they start to fade, holding those great autumnal color. – Saxon

Linda Lehmusvirta September 25, 2013, 12:45 pm

Lovely, powerful, inspiring: as always! I am so looking forward to your new book.

Thanks Linda, and I am looking forward to coming to Texas to promote it. You will know… – Saxon

Susan September 25, 2013, 6:11 pm

May you find the shadows as interesting as the light.

Words of wisdom to any photographer. – Saxon

Donna September 25, 2013, 6:28 pm

The book will be wonderful, Saxon. Glad to hear it will be soon.

Thanks Donna. Soon is a relative term considering it has been well more than a year since I announced it. You will be notified personally. – Saxon

Carole September 25, 2013, 9:50 pm

I’m ready to be an employee at the Winery, lush.

Lush ? I’ld say bon vivant. – Saxon

ks September 25, 2013, 10:25 pm

Thank you for reinforcing the lesson to tell a story. I am enrolled in a 3 day photo workshop in Yosemite at the end of Oct and I have that mantra installed in my mind. I’m sure I will come home with a plethora of pointless photos. I’ll be ok with 10 good ones !

I walked the Highline in June at a crappy mid-day time, and am resolved to go back ..7am on a Sunday morning seems just about right. Of course what ever time of day, I’m pretty sure the place is full of Yankee fans.
Please do a Highline calendar..I promise to buy two, one for my house and one for the office. It is splendid, Yankee fans and all.

Kathy – Yosemite challenges teh best photographers to tell their story. Ansel Adams invented the zone system there when he was trying to make the afternoon moon pop out of a blue sky behind the hulking Half Dome. “Moon and Half Dome” was achieved with a red filter and darkroom magic.
As to The High Line, IMHO the story is the people, the city, the sky, and architecture. It might be fun to have it to yourself some quiet morning but I bet it would seem lifeless. – Saxon

grace September 29, 2013, 9:54 am

Enjoyed your comment..”.kids can play anywhere”. My two boys grew up playing in the bay salt marshes by the great Atlantic. Were happy as clams.!

Have been a photographer for years as a hobby and love this website & your photos. Plus, all the hints you share. I too love to shoot with the changing light in my garden. Thank goodness I don’t have to buy film anymore with all the shots I take. Look forward to your next posting.


[shareaholic app=”recommendations” id=”13070491″]