Depths of Perception

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Miscellaneous

My perceptions are changing every time I walk into my garden these days.  My detached retina is almost a toy to be played with, a marvel, a new way of seeing.

tropical garden tapestry, meyes detached retina

When I walked into my garden to document the first rain, I allowed these new experiences to flood over me.  I posted here 2 years ago about my annual walk into the wilds with the a first winter rains but this year I wobble too comically to wander far from home.  Nor did I need to, for every half step is a new delight.  The joy of California’s first rain and the spontaneity of breaking all my camera rules was making me giddy.

If you have been following my posts here you know the first photos I began to make, when I realized that I could, were about the blurriness of my vision.  Now, I am  finding that my incredibly altered depth perception is allowing me to combine garden elements as I have never seen them.  I started taking those first photos when I ran into a Camellia flower that I could not see and used the camera to try and capture some sense of that blur.

Now I am allowing myself to brush into everything in the garden; not with intent of photographing the blurs, but oh-so-keenly aware of the flattened perspective of only one eye.  Our two eyes working together do not allow us to see in only two dimensions, we pass by potential photos because we see them in three dimensions.  The camera captures it this way to be sure, once we stop and compose, but only after the photographer has found a 3D scene that s/he can compress into 2D.

Brushing by the Miscanthus foliage detached retina, meyes

Brushing By the Miscanthus Foliage

I am a walking camera now, seeing new photos I would have never considered.  I have spent a career honing my eyes to find scenes that will make a good two dimensional photographs, now I need to slow down.  My blurry eye demands it, my good eye, alert like a cat, won’t let me miss a thing.

In the opening photo here (top of page), my subject is the raindrops on the leaves of the Miscanthus junceus.   Too bad that blog formats do not allow you to see the glistening drops very well but a rainshower had just run its course and no wind had shaken off the drops.  As I was looking for photos I kept brushing into everything because I simply was not accustomed to using only one eye, but every time this happened I began to realize I was being given an opportunity to create and then compress layers of perception.  I let the Cordyline be “too close” to the camera in a normal three dimensional perspective for that wide of a view.

I am learning a new way to see and breaking the rules of photography that are predicated on finding a three dimensional scene that will make an effective two dimensional image.  I am also breaking some rules about not pointing my camera at the sky.  I guess it is is not exactly a rule, but I would have never considered, or even seen this shot with two good eyes.

leaves of Cotinus 'Grace' against clearing blue sky

Leaves of Cotinus 'Grace' Against a Clearing Blue Sky

I am also learning how to use this Canon G11 camera which has a wide angle macro.  I can photograph the raindrops on the backside of leaves very close to my blurry eye, but also get tremendous depth of field due to its optics.  Two eyes seeing two different things – but one photo.  What fun.

Even looking out for the classic macro shot takes on a new perspective.  My two eyes together would not allow me to see this composition.

rain water drops on leaves of Cotinus 'Grace'

First Rain Drops on Leaves of Cotinus 'Grace'

But one blurry eye and one good one are redefining what I see.  My eyesight continues to change, and I continue to take all sorts of new pictures.  I will be talking more about the individual photos on my own blog,  Mental Seeds.  Now up and running.

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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Christopher Tidrick December 9, 2010, 11:57 am

Absolutely fascinating. As an avid photographer, to be able to see the “flatness” of a 2D photo seems appealing, although I’m not sure I’d go so far as to detach my retina to do it. Great post!

Who knows? When the eye gets better and I am seeing 3D again I may take up 3D photography… – Saxon

Germi December 9, 2010, 1:53 pm

Amazing. This is an INCREDIBLE adventure – I love your journey. To take what some might see as a limitation and turn it into an exploration of new was of composing and seeing? Bravo! I have been newly inspired, and as someone who is trying her best to learn how to take interesting pictures of plants but is a huge rebel, I find your insights very meaningful and useful.
Thank you for sharing this valuable journey with us!
Ivette Soler

Thanks Ivette. When learning anything I think it wise to be a bit of a rebel, break some “rules”, and thus the learning becomes one’s own. – Saxon

Mark Turner December 9, 2010, 4:07 pm

It’s wonderful that you’re able to make very tasty lemonade from the lemon of your detached retina. Finding new ways to see, especially after a long time in the business, is always a challenge. I especially like your Cotinus against the sky. Maybe tall photographers don’t put the sky in the frame as much as we short shooters. Find a pair of kneepads.

Thanks Mark. I especially appreciate your pointing to the one you like the best. Coming form a fellow garden photographer that means a lot. – Saxon

Alice Joyce December 9, 2010, 4:13 pm

I’m cheering you on in your recovery , and look forward to checking out Mental Seeds!
Cotinus ‘Grace’ graces many a garden, and with her many attributes, that’s a good thing: Love the photo,

Thanks Alice. I have come so close to taking ‘Grace’ out of my garden because she grows so much every year, even when cut really hard. But this year she has earned a reprieve. Wait until you see some more photos to be posted inthe coming weeks – – – — Saxon

Mr. McGregor's Daughter December 9, 2010, 6:33 pm

Congratulations on the new blog! I can’t wait until next spring to walk around my garden with a hand over one eye, to learn this new way of seeing. Of course, I’ll be continuously reminded of Monty Python’s Mt. Kilimanjaro Expedition sketch.

and I think at my future workshops I’m gonna hand out eye patches – Saxon

Melody December 15, 2010, 4:44 pm

I love this pic!: Leaves of Cotinus ‘Grace’ Against a Clearing Blue Sky

Thanks Melody; I appreciate noting a specific photo. – Saxon

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