Kangaroo Paws

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Photography

As soon as I stepped out the back door of  Christina’s house I knew her garden was going to provide all sorts of photo opportunities.Kangaroo Paws and Canna in flower garden

Oakland, California garden designer Sherry Merciari had referred me to Christina when I asked about gardens with no lawn, but I didn’t know what to expect.  When I saw the island bed in the middle of her back yard, with gravel pathways and pockets of color still bright in the late summer . . .  I scheduled a shoot immediately.

Five days later I am back.  Got the front yard done and now before the light gets too hard, I rush into the back.  This first photo is literally right at her back door with orange Canna and red Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos ‘Big Red’) growing at the back of a border and hiding the stairs of the small stoop coming out the back door.  I set my camera as close to the wall as possible to get a wide view, an establishing shot to set the scene, and studied the possibilities.

Color is what was exciting me, lots more than I expected and especially the rich butter yellow of the Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthos ‘Harmony’)  at the back of the island planting.  I imagined I could really accent that color by going up close to it and shooting back toward the house and the yellow Rudbeckias.

Sight lines, angle of view for garden photoNotice the sight line that would use the urn as an element of hardscape and stack up both of the yellow color blocks.

Kangaroo Paw - Anigozanthos 'Harmony' and urn in garden

This is a fine and useful photo for my garden photography business.  It shows lots of color, a focal point, and especially the house which can really help gardeners get a sense of scale.  (Notice the back door in the upper left, which is where I first set up the camera behind the red Kangaroo Paw.)  This is a fine photo but not a great one.  There are several ways to make it better.

Let’s go back to that first photo and notice the small statue which is just below the back steps.  Also notice there are two clumps of the ‘Harmony’ Kangaroo Paws back by the urn.

sight lines with secondary focal point for garden photo

The first photo looking back toward the house did not incorporate either of those two elements and is a little boring because of it.  So I slowly shifted my angle of view.  Of course I wanted to keep the yellow theme but needed to improve it.  I pulled back from the scene and moved to my right so as to incorporate the second Kangaroo Paw.  As I did the little statue suddenly appeared in a notch above the urn.

Urn fountain as focal point in perennial garden with yellow Kangaroo paw

This final composition is made studying the elements through the viewfinder, changing the lens, and making very subtle adjustments to the camera by lowering the tripod.  The urn and statue need just the right relationship; the Kangaroo Paw in the upper right needs just the right balance; I want to crop out some of the house.  Sweet.

As I am squatting on the path behind the island bed finishing that composition, I am scanning for more photos.  Kangaroo Paws are clawing at my brain. Let’s finish this motif.  One never knows how an editor will select photos and having only one sweet one will not do; especially not in this garden with so many opportunities.

Notice the dark area in the upper right of the photo ?  A perfect background for tight shot of the Anigozanthos.  So let’s quickly switch to a telephoto lens, back off from the Kangaroo Paw closest to me, and frame the striking flower stalks against the out of focus background.

Kangaroo Paw - Anigozanthos 'Harmony' in drought tolerant California garden

Pretty nice that the blue Salvia drifted into the composition.  But there are other colors in this garden and I now notice the maroon Bougainvillea vine on the wall of the garden, a superb complement to the maroon stems of the yellow Kangaroo Paw.

maroon red stems, Kangaroo Paw - Anigozanthos 'Harmony'

This photo works well because of the way the yellow block of color divides the photo into three triangular sections, but it doesn’t really get to the essence of the Bougainvillea / Anigozanthos interaction.  So, back to my telephoto lens to isolate the only two elements that matter, the yellow Kangaroo Paws and the soft maroon background:

 Kangaroo Paw - Anigozanthos 'Harmony' vertical

A classic composition.  Ready made for a cover photo:

Cover with text Kangaroo Paw - Anigozanthos 'Harmony'

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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12 Comments… add one

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healingmagichands September 25, 2010, 7:23 am

I like seeing how your photos evolve. My immediate gut reaction is total envy of people who live in a climate where they can have things like kangaroo paws. . . but zone 5 is good too. Goodness knows we have plenty of yellow going on right now.

Thanks Ellie. While I do know many folks envy our climate, the same can be said for almost everywhere that gardeners use appropriate plant material for their gardens. I guess your yellows are late season rudbeckias and goldenrods ? – Saxon

professorroush September 25, 2010, 8:35 am

Oh my Gosh! That first picture alone knocked my socks off. All the bloom here in Kansas is winding down so those pictures are a promise of next year for me!

P.S. I’m excited about next month’s photo contest and put a link to this blog in my own blog entry today talking about Scanner Photograhy. http://kansasgardenmusings.blogspot.com/2010/09/idiot-proof-scanner-photography.html

Thanks professor. We like as many entries as we can get. – Saxon

Heather's Garden September 25, 2010, 10:51 am

I always wonder what I would see if I were trying to compose a photo in the same location as you highlight. I’m not sure how I would deal with that riot of color, but I love what you found!

All that color can be overwhelming for sure. So the photo becomes about the color. – Saxon

Kathy in Napa September 25, 2010, 5:19 pm

Another lesson learned , great photos and what a terrific garden ! I am seriously bummed that I was unable to take your upcoming series of classes at SFBG -alas the schedule did’nt quite work..hoping there will be future opportunities.

Kathy – Thanks for stopping by. Yesterday’s workshop worked really well. If you can get in to SF on a Monday morning in October, we have mini workshops 8-12 – Saxon

Hoover Boo September 26, 2010, 3:14 am

The Anigozanthos are so very photogenic–the yellow most of all. Backgrounds to beautiful flowers are always difficult to find–I appreciate gardens with big dark green hedges much more than I used to.

Great observation Hoover. Hedges of all sorts allow for a bit of quiet in gardens and great backgrounds. – Saxon

Maria September 26, 2010, 6:54 pm

Beautiful pictures and a great lesson for those of us who want to get more out of our cameras. Thanks! But more than the images what I like best from your posts is how we can learn to see beyond images, today “triangles” got my full attention since I will be soon gardening with urban school children and often wonder how I can help them see the myriad of possibilities gardening offers. And yes, here in the East yellow (and red) abound at this time of the year! Beautiful. Thanks again!

Thanks Maria. Some of the “seeing” tricks I use are lost on most school children. The aesthetic triangle is not a physical one; it might help if you were teaching an art class but not in gardening. I don’t know what age level you will be working with but certainly for elementary kids what really works are looking for simple physical patterns of patterns that work into basic math and geometry curriculum; and biology and botany are the obvious tie in.

If you are hoping to use the garden as a way to see the possibility of seeing art in the garden, have them look for physical features rather than abstract ones. “how many different red colors do we see?”, “how many ovals?” … – Saxon

Donna September 26, 2010, 7:04 pm

Great lesson today. I always learn from your work. I loved how you framed the final images and the magazine cover was a nice touch. A good way to think about a photo, seeing mocked up for print. Nice.

Thanks Donna . I almost always look for opportunities to make a vertical composition that has “too much” extra space in the composition for just this reason. – Saxon

Dirty Girl Gardening September 26, 2010, 10:12 pm

Cool paws!!

Cool beans back atcha’, dirty girl – Saxon

Town Mouse September 26, 2010, 10:31 pm

Amazing! You make it sounds so easy. Interesting, the comment about the house. And of course I’m just in love with those kangaroo paws!

Thanks Town Mouse – It is easy to get overwhelmed by the obvious excitement in such a garden. Then, whether or not we shooting for an assignment or for ourselves, photographers must think about what it is we are actually seeing and how to communicate it. – Saxon

Evelyn Hadden September 27, 2010, 12:34 am

Wow, it is truly amazing the process you went through and the photos you “found” during the shoot. Thank you so much for sharing.

I wonder (sort of like what Heather was asking), if you put several top-notch photographers into a garden like this, what are the chances they would come up with similar shots? Do you think their end results would all be different, or are there some shots they would all “see”?

Good question and one my friend and fantabulous photographer David Perry and I are looking forward to exploring together some day. The reality in a small garden like this, is that you would never be in it at the same time as another photographer because you would get into each other’s way, and could not help but glance over your shoulder to wonder what the other is doing – a huge mental distraction to both.

In theory though, I sure like to think our strongest photos we would be very different. There would be common themes and “obvious” angles, but the more time you spend honing your craft, the more unique it becomes to you. – Saxon

Jeannette September 30, 2010, 10:20 pm

Oh my gosh! What can I say!? This is an amazing garden. I crave color, but this is beyond anything I have been able to create. I wonder if this is its peak season, or if it is this gorgeous all the time? And your lessons in photography are so helpful, thankyou!

I really love this website. I am new to blogging and to visiting garden blogs, but this is one of my very favorites!

Jeanette – Glad you found us (and sorry for my slow acknowledgment). Kangaroo Paws have a long season, late summer into autumn but do not do well in all parts of the country as they do not like cold and need good drainage. – Saxon

Ruby October 1, 2010, 6:00 pm

Oh my this is a beautiful garden! You have done a lovely job of sharing and capturing the calming splendor of Christina’s garden.

Ruby L. McNamara

Ruby – Glad you liked it but rather than calming, I find her garden rather exciting ! – Saxon

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