Photographing Roses

– Posted in: Garden Photography

Vintage roses in my studioRoses are on my brain.  Not only did Gardening Gone Wild’s own Fran Sorin just explain the process of selecting one of my rose photos for her new edition of Digging Deep, I just made a new lecture on roses for the ARS, American Rose Society, District meeting.

Sometimes these blog posts just fall together.  Not only was Fran’s selection process, of my rose from all the other possible covers she considered, quite a story, the creation of the rose photo itself is quite a story.

A year and a half ago I started working with the Friends of Vintage Roses who seek to preserve the one-of-a-kind collection of rare old roses collected by Gregg Lowry and Phillip Robinson at Vintage Roses in Sebastopol, California.  Vintage Gardens has closed and the collection of more than 5000 cultivars needs a home.


I photographed a series of the roses to make botanic illustrations for a fundraising project and included one of my own roses, Mme. Isaac Pereire in the shoot.  She became the cover of Fran’s book.

To make the tack sharp, deep focus photos I  worked with a stacking process whereby I take a series of photos at different focus points and then use the computer to blend the multiple frames.


Photo stacks for the rose silhouettes

After the stack is completed and all the edges are blended and retouched, I dropped the background out to float the rose on white background.


I loaded it to my Archive where Fran found it, and used it for her book.  I too am delighted.

Digging Deep Cover Design, 10th Anniversary Edition

Digging Deep Cover Design, 10th Anniversary Edition

The other half of roses on my brain was the new presentation to ARS.  It gave me an opportunity to review and scan some of my favorite images from the 8 rose books I photographed before the digital age.  I have hundreds of thousands of slides in my library and only scan those specific ones I may need for new publishing projects.  A very few publishers will still accept film but there has been no reason for me to scan most of my old rose photos.

I had so much fun creating the “Photographing Roses” lecture, I can now see my own publishing project and have added it to the e-books wish list.  I will include a number of before and after photos, such as this one that illustrates the advantages of soft light.


Softening the light to photograph rose ‘Golden Celebration’

But the most fun in putting together this project was going through old assignments and books.  I was reminded of photo shoots of old, where I worked with stylists, often shooting several versions of a scene.  I have so many great photos that were never used for anything.  Here are two versions of the same bouquet of Pascali roses in the same window.


Here are two versions of rose Constance Spry by a garden bench.


So, dear readers, while I hope you like those photos, for a book to be called Photographing Roses, would you expect a book that was heavy on technique (lighting, lenses, composition) or a book that told how a special photo was created ?  I am sure I will include some of both, but the slant needs to be one or the other – and needs to be one that will sell.

At the ARS symposium there was a photo show, as is common to all ARS District meetings.  Most of the judged categories are individual rose photos and I have a suspicion there would be plenty of sales of a simple e-book for beginners who want to improve their photography.  That may be the practical approach, but I am looking for any excuse to use some of these photos.


And one of my favorite photos, lost for 10 years because I never scanned it and never had an excuse to go look for it.  A May Fair queen so happy to be a model and so happy to add some extra ‘Magic Carousel ” roses to her garland.


Ah, I do love roses.

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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Patrick October 12, 2014, 10:15 pm

I think the traditional how to techniques guide is really a small kindle. But one that teaches via case studies allows for instruction through inspiration. It’s like listening to a phenomenal professor sucking you in with passion and personality as opposed to ready the crib notes of the same subject. I’m a quadriplegic so I’m not your target audience but I do know people and think you should go full steam ahead with the second option. Best of luck, Patrick

Thanks Patrick – Perhaps you are saying what I want to hear, but it seems even folks who do not intend to go out and take photos might be potential buyer of the second option. – Saxon

judy Nauseef October 13, 2014, 6:35 am

My photos of roses are terrible and I need the technical advice, but after seeing your photos, particularly the combination photos, I think that would be the book that I bought.

Thanks Judy – I wish I had the book already for sale. You would be customer #1. – Saxon

commonweeder October 13, 2014, 7:23 am

This is an inspiring post – and I loved the new cover on Fran’s book. I have a lot of roses, hardy and old roses and I would love instruction on how to photograph them better, but I do not have sophisticated equipment, so I’d like it if there were some instructions for amateurs like me. I’d like to improve my technique, but there is little possibility that my equipment will change greatly.

Cameras, even smart phones are so sophisticated these days, good photos are possible with any camera – if you try to stay out of bad, contrasty light and fill your frame with your subject. – Saxon

Cathy October 13, 2014, 9:47 pm

I would expect you to need to touch on some of the basics (in a chapter or two) but I am another one who has been a rabid follower of your lessons here and would dearly love to learn some of the more innovative and advanced ways that you have created magic with your photos.

Those lovely yellow roses… so many of mine show the deep contrast. I would really to be able to turn them into what you show on the right in the before and after pair.

that said, whatever you choose, I will be standing in line to get it!

Hi Cathy – The first of the 4 PhotoBotanic Workshop ebooks will out next month. They are finally all done and will be released every 2 months as the lesson sequence progresses. I am itching to get those behind me so I can do all the others I want to do – like the roses. – Saxon

Carol October 14, 2014, 9:06 am

I met you at the succulent extravaganza and learned so much in just half an hour. I would definitely buy your book. I have not seen many books where they show you mediocre shots and then shots that are improved. usually the books I have seen just have all fantastic shots, and I need to learn how to improve my own. do you have classes in the bay area?

Professorroush October 14, 2014, 11:17 am

Saxon, I’m sure I’ll buy it either way, but I think weighting it on the examples and how they were done would be most interesting to me. I think the basic techniques could be a large appendix or a couple of chapters, but the beauty will be in the examples.

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