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 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

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Leave a Comment

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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