Photos in the Garden

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Photography, Garden Plants

Wisteria on my entry gate April 2, 2013

Want a tip on how to take good garden pictures ?  Pick up your camera and go out into a garden.  You can’t get good pictures if you don’t take any pictures.  Put yourself in a position to make something happen.

April 2 was a day to take photos in my own garden.  It was overcast and still – a gift for a garden photographer.  A day to ignore computer deadlines and take pictures.  There have been too many times I regretted missing this sort of opportunity, and spring was calling.

Since the wind was so calm, this was a day to make silhouettes, an ongoing project I call photobotanics.   I am a big fan of botanic illustrations and am working  on a series of prints that I make in the garden, as opposed to those made in the studio.  Gardening Gone Wild readers might remember a photobotanic series I did on November 19, 2011, a series of leaves in my garden that one day that I posted as Leaf Quiz:

 So on this spring day, April 2,  I set out to find nine flowers.  I find it really useful to have a purpose, a theme, or a story to tell when I venture out with my camera, and made this day an excuse to hunt for flowers – with photobotanics in mind. Would the wind stay calm ?

I found myself studying the dogwood ‘Cherokee Chief’ trying to find an angle where a branch with flowers could be outlined.  (As an aside, note the blue in the background is the wisteria at my entry gate.  Can you see the little specs of pink in that first shot?)


To make the photobotanic silhouette I use a masking filter in PhotoShop called Topaz Remask3.   It can be a tedious process to get razor clean edges but well worth the effort.


This post is not going to be a tutorial on the technique, but a lesson on finding images that will work.  The story is finding the images that meet the criteria.  And besides, the process is so labor intensive, it will be months before I do more than the dogwood,

Knowing what I was looking for forced me to see things in two dimensions, as graphics that would become illustrations.  I needs a very “dull” angle, one that wants uniform sharpness across the plane left to right, not depth front to back.  The less sharp the distance, the easier it will be to mask it out the background later.

Onward for photos.  My Camellia japonicas have started to bloom (just as the C. sasanquas quit).  This small branch with a single blossom and a couple of small leaves will make a fine silhouette.


For all these studies, it is important to find an angle that will include some of the stem or branch; and hopefully a leaf or two. But key is to come straight onto the subject and make it parallel to the camera to accent the graphic shape.

Ever since my first garden book, “All About Rhododendrons, Camellias, and Azaleas” for Ortho Books in 1986 I have had a weakness for Rhododendrons.  It was then I worked with the legendary John Evans and he gave me the fragrant R. taronense ‘Evans’ he collected in Asia.  It was blooming April 2. It’s gotta be a photobotanic:


There are 5 other species Rhododendron blooming this day, all are white, so I picked the only one that is not fragrant, R. calendulaceum ‘Flame’ native to the U.S. South East:


Moving quickly now.  Worried that the wind will pick up. I begin to see the cloudy day get brighter.  I must get a California native to represent this  day.  The Ribes are almost done but Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ is glorious.


I love the Asian Pear when it blooms.  The flower anthers are purple and the emerging leaves are brassy.  Worthy of a botanic illustration.  I already see this silhouette, similar to the ‘Cherokee Chief’ dogwood.


Finally, as the sun comes out the Lilac.  These blooms are still in shade so the sunny background makes it easy to see the silhouette potential.


OK; that was April 2 in my garden.  Can’t wait to make the silhouettes.  What is your excuse to go make some photos ?  (Stay tuned for more lessons from the e-book; and excuses to go make photos in the garden.)


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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10 Comments… add one

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Jayme B April 11, 2013, 7:32 am

Always inspiring – thanks Steve!

Susan April 11, 2013, 8:42 am

I’m on vacation and so enjoyed reading your post. One of the things I like most about all your posts Saxon is that they teach me new ways of seeing. I’ll be interested in seeing your finished work later in the year. Thank you!

Thanks Susan – I love that you are able to see things anew. This is what teaching is supposed to be about. – Saxon

Donna April 11, 2013, 8:45 am

I so love your photobotanic studies and so many of your images (are now and) will be stunning against the stark white. I loved your leaf series and look forward to your Rhododendrons, Camellias and lilacs. I like your tips on what makes a good one too. Very helpful.

I recently posted on a website that does this exclusively for plants and insects from around the world and each piece is art, just like you have shown. They isolate a subject from its environment to place emphasis on the subject and focus the viewer directly to the subject. It is a great educational tool too.

You are very right, April is the month for doing, getting out their with your camera. Here it is a time when new replaces old, and both stand side to side. Your area has much more in color and is far more photogenic, but it is still a great month for picking up the camera as you say. Here, no calm winds though and finally some rain. Oh, did we need it.

I love your Photobotanics. The roses I saw on your website really inspire me, looking forward to more.

Thanks Donna – Those roses were all shot with studio lights, for two books I shot for Smith & Hawken. If you look very closely at them you will see they are all pieced together from as many as a dozen stems, leaves, buds, and flowers. It was the only way to make the roses face the camera and leaves to splay. I constructed them on a white formica surface looking through the viewfinder. I kept a series of Redouté images at my side…. – Saxon

Karen Chapman April 11, 2013, 10:00 am

Love it. Haven’t got the patience for the silhouetting but so glad that you do!

… and I’m glad you enjoy them. Thanks Karen. – Saxon

Gareth April 11, 2013, 11:38 am

Wisteria and Camellia are amongst my favourite flowers, not to mention the fantastic scent from wisteria!!

Wisteria is my youngest daughter’s favorite flower and I planted it for her. Many years ago, she was maybe 5 years old and out of the blue, she declared that everybody in the family had their favorite flower in the garden except her. She had figured out, without anyone saying it, what our favorites were. Mine she determined (and startled me to recognize) were daffodils. When she said her favorite was a wisteria I had to get one for her. – Saxon

pete veilleux April 11, 2013, 2:37 pm

i get happy each time i see a new Gardening Gone Wild entry in my email! this one really cracked me up – ‘Pick up your camera and go out into the garden’ – what could be more obvious, but excellent advice nonetheless!

i’ve been using this old Microsoft Digital Image Pro software for editing my photos and it’s been discontinued and beginning to give me problems. I guess it’s finally time to learn Photoshop – a task i dread. Can you recommend a relatively painless, but fast course, class, or online tutorial for learning it?

thanks for another great post! You’ve inspired me to use a Cherokee Chief Dogwood near a Ceanothus – Julia Phelps, Wheeler Canyon or Darkstar in my next design.

Thanks Pete. The Cherokee Chief will look great with the blues of Ceanothus and as you now know, they bloom at the same time. Only potential problem is the dogwood will want more water than the Ceanothus and will like shade from our CA summer sun.

You can get Photoshop Elements for around $99 and it has most all the editing tools you need. Many photographers I know use only Lightroom for editing and cataloguing. You are a good photographer and should not get any software you dread. Get one you like. I love PhotoShop even though I have only barely scratched the surface. Truly. I am not being modest. It is a Masserati while all I need is a 67 VW bug. But oh so fun to test drive….
I really like the tutorials on They are $25 per month as needed. – Saxon

Gareth April 12, 2013, 12:23 am

Your daughter has good judgement in wisteria being her favorite. My daughter has and apple tree and my son has a monkey tree, both are apt as Savannah is quite dainty like and apple blossom and Freddie is a right little monkey with a spikey temper!

Always nice to honor the kids. – Saxon

Kirbs April 12, 2013, 2:06 am

Love those photography of flowers! You were able to capture the beauty in each and every flower. 🙂 Great post, btw! I really enjoy reading your blog. 🙂

… and I really enjoy reading compliments. Thanks ! – Saxon

Cassidy April 15, 2013, 6:57 pm

Wisteria is one of my favorites! Such lovely photos. It’s a good thing you didn’t miss this opportunity!

joannah April 16, 2013, 7:09 pm

So beautiful to see colours!! Here in Toronto, Ontario everything is still muddy and grey. Hope to see some greenery by April 23-just a guess!!

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