Harvesting Lavender

– Posted in: Garden Photography

I have finished working on my second herb book in two years and can reflect a bit on how I set up and find the photos.  Sometimes ya’ just get lucky – like this one.

Lavender harvest in basket

Lavender is an iconic herb.  There are entire books on the subject, but for my book there would only be space for a few – those pesky writers expect to see words on a page.  I wanted to leave nothing to chance.  So I planned an afternoon shoot with my friend Mimi at her farm just to get one decent shot.

Mimi is one of my favorite people and we have collaborated on several projects and scheme to do more. Any excuse to visit her at the Farm is a good one, and we were going to make a photo.

She pulled out some baskets, put on color-coordinated blue-lavender clothes, dusted off the ol’ watering can, scrounged around for snips that weren’t too beat up, and generally outperformed any Big City photo stylist that would have charged me more than I make myself, just to make a scene look country casual.  Mimi IS county casual, ’cause, well, she works a farm….

cutting english lavender

The shoot started slow.  A “safe” photo that shows all you ever need to know about harvesting lavender – just cut it off and put it into a basket.  Pretty boring.

basket of fresh cut lavender

So I begin to work different angles.  Get real close to the basket with a wide angle lens so I can still see the harvesting.  OK.  “Hold that pose Mimi !” I adjust my reflectors and scrim, move the basket a little this way, a little that way … “Hands lower, please !” Photo is getting better.

Let’s try a tight shot of putting the lavender into the basket.  We don’t really need to literally see the cutting to convey the idea of harvest, so I have Mimi put the basket in the crook of her arm and twist a bit toward camera so I can still see a bit of the crop in the background.

putting fresh harvested lavender into basket

I always try to compose in camera, filling the frame, leaving no wasted space.  Working in tight composition the slightest change can make a big difference so I have Mimi lift the basket toward camera … “put the lavender in slowly please . . . again, please” so I can see what the best composition will be.  I don’t want to simply get the camera motor whirring and shoot every possibility – I want to think about what I am doing.  Mimi is patient. “Hold that pose…”

But Mimi is also actually getting tired of holding these poses.  It is a hot sunny California day and I’m still pushing to get “the shot”, fearing if we stop, the light will fade.  The sun is going down but I had forgotten Mimi was being a contortionist for me.

“Can I put the basket down on the chair for a moment while I stretch ?”  Oh.  You mean that beautiful rustic, light blue Adirondack chair in the sun ?  The setting sun which is back-lighting the Mexican feather grass? OK.  Put it down by all means, take a break.

Brilliant.  An accident waiting to happen.  “And could you just put the snips at the end of the arm rest ?”

Lavender harvest in basket in afternoon sun

It’s a wrap.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic.com, 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 www.photobotanic.com. https://photobotanic.com
Saxon Holt

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Melody September 14, 2010, 4:15 pm

I love it! Such pretty pics. I’m looking forward to the book. 🙂

Thanks Melody. “Homegrown Herbs” by Tammi Hartung from Storey Publishing will be out next spring. – Saxon

Donna September 15, 2010, 9:14 pm

Really good photo. The lighting is perfect. I try to pick up tips from all your photos. But I have to admit, this last post, I did some photoshopping. I never have any time to make ‘improvements ‘, not to mention it is not good photography, but I was not happy with my photos not having any punch and pop. So a little retouch, here and there. Would love to get photos right from the Nikon as good as yours.

Well sometimes ya just get lucky – like the photo. I was in the right place at the right time when Mimi put down the basket for a moment. It did come right from the camera just like that – but it didn’t come from the camera just like that.

Huh, you say ? Since I shoot in Raw format, the photo looks like crap when it I first see it. I adjust in my computer post production to make it look like what I remembered it to be – what I think it should look like – what my emotional memory wants it to look like.

The Camera Always Lies – Saxon

Bonnie September 16, 2010, 9:39 am

I just love these photos. Gorgeous!

Thanks Bonnie. I hope you like the first one bestest of all …. – Saxon

Philip Alldrit September 16, 2010, 10:13 am

Serendipitous things do happen, and when they do it’s great. It’s interesting how photographers think alike; massaging the shot till it feels right is a process used by most commercial shooters. This method of working was my experience working in a studio environment for many years; then, that same discipline followed my shooting outdoors.

After your happy accident with the basket on the chair and recording the moment, were you tempted to explore this new situation further? I know I would have.

I pass by Gardening Gone Wild quite often and always look for your post. I enjoy your excellent photography, and find your style of writing warm and friendly; and sharing of experiences admirable.

Respectfully, Philip Alldrit, photographer

Thank you Phillip. Much appreciated coming from another pro. I certainly did “work the scene” when I stumbled onto that light. Mostly though, it was a frantic few minutes til the light faded. I shot loose, tight, verticals, adjusted snips – each composition waiting for the wind to co-operate. I have about 6 keepers. – Saxon

Eszter September 16, 2010, 11:16 am

Hi! The colors are beautiful! Don’t you think that accident was rather a test 🙂 And you recognized the moment!

It was Louis Pasteur who said “Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind.”. Still, I got lucky – Saxon

Pam/Digging September 22, 2010, 6:40 pm

That sunlit photo is lovely indeed, but I also really like the next-to-last one, with all those skinny lines of the basket and the lavender stems playing off each other.

Man, I bet it smelled good out there.

Pam – Thanks for stopping by; and indeed, we smelled of lavender all afternoon. – Saxon

Alan September 25, 2010, 12:28 am

Very nice capture. I would be curious to see how the image worked with the basket a bit less prominate. The background really has such a nice quality of light.


Interesting observation Alan. Certainly it is the light that makes the scene. Like many times when I am working on a specific assignment I get tunnel vision on the task at hand. Here, making sure I got every possible lavender shot that I could while I had that wonderful light. – Saxon

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