Picture This Photo Contest – November 2011

– Posted in: Garden Photography

I’m delighted that Charles Mann, photographer extraordinaire is returning to judge this November’s Picture This contest. Charles, who has been a freelance and stock photographer for over 16 years, specializes in imagery of gardens, horticulture, New Mexico culture, and southwestern scenic landscape. He has photographed four books : Cutting Edge Gardening In The Intermountain West, Secret Gardens of Santa Fe, Viva Guadalupe and Celebrating Guadalupe…..Fran Sorin

Without further ado, here’s Charles!!


Take a shot at your friends and neighbors

I’ve chosen a Contest topic that, I imagine, often strikes fear into the hearts of most photographers and their subjects as well – portraits. As often as we want to see their beautiful gardens, we are curious about the beauty of the gardener as well. It is not only interesting, but fun to include faces as a part of our photo-making repertoire, and it does not have to be as daunting as it seems.

A young man clutches his newly purchased at the annual plant sale held by the Missouri Botanic Garden in St. Louis.


Gardener and designer Sarah Hammond works in the early morning in her garden retreat in Bolinas


I’m no expert, but here are a few of my own guidelines and generalities that have helped me:


Shooting with subject’s back to the sun or turned with the sun coming from their side or over their shoulder does a lot to help set up a better portrait. For one, the subject’s face is relaxed and their eyes are open. The sunlight often produces a very pretty halo around the hair, with pleasing dappled light in the background. Watch out for lens flare !

Charles and Beth Miller created a permaculture demonstratioin garden on their estate in Santa Fe called Sol y Sombra. The home formerly belonged to the famed artist Georgia O'Keefe.e


The” Back to the Sun” rule only works really well when using a flash. Nowadays, I always use a flash when shooting people, even in bright sunlight. When the light is soft and diffuse, you can turn the flash off, but I prefer to use it even then.

Elliot Tsoodle, a Navajo-Kiowa from Albuquerque, prepares to participate in the Native AMerican Costume Contest at the 2009 Santa Fe Indian Market.

Shooting with a flash opens up the shadows, makes the face the brighter element in the overall shot and has the bonus effect of flattening out wrinkles! Most digital cameras work miracles with a flash right out of the box. However, learning to adjust the intensity of the background by using the exposure compensation control and adjusting the intensity of the flash effect by dialing the flash output up or down can bring all the elements into a pleasing balance. Many photographers may not know that the flash exposure is a function of the f-stop and ASA settings alone and is not affected at all by the shutter speed. Special dreamy effects can sometimes be achieved by using a very slow shutter speed with the flash, but this is a hit-or-miss strategy best tried when shooting a situation with bright ambient lights in a dark setting, like the State Fair at dusk. For most situations, keep the shutter speed up to 1/ 125 sec at a minimum. Set the flash to “second curtain sync.”

Susan Blevins of Houston in her garden.

Advanced photographers who want to take flash work to the next level can try the even more satisfying technique of holding the flash away to the side of the camera, or using two flash units to create more complex off- camera lighting effects, but the on-camera flash can do wonders with much less hassle.


Traditionally, dialing up the shutter speed and using the resulting low f-stop ( f/4.0 or f/ 5.6, say ) assures a helpful blurry/ dreamy backdrop and a sharp face focus, even if the subject is moving or the cameraman is moving. I suggest you focus on the eyes. One important lesson I have recently learned is that these super-wide-open apertures can result in softness around some facial features. Using an f-stop of f/8 is a better guarantee that all your subject’s face will be entirely sharp. This still leaves a small enough depth of field to blur most back ground details that are not very close behind. Use the ASA adjustment, increasing it when needed, to keep the f-stop near to f/8 and thus keeping the shutter speed up to at least 1/160- 1/200.

The Renaissance Fair is held each September at the historic museum of El Rancho de Las Golondrinas near Santa Fe and features dancers, kinghts, acrobats and many other performers all celebrating the culture and life style of the Medieval Middle Ages.  Clan Tynker is a family trouple that performs magic, juggling, acrobatics and other crowd pleasing feats.


In almost every circumstance, the backdrop is as important as the subject. The overall image is a figure-background combo. Even when blurry, the color tone and luminescence of the background, not to mention the absence of distracting bright spots or recognizable intruding objects, is an important element in the shot. Don’t blow a good shot with a crummy backdrop!


Remember the outline of his shadow painted on the wall behind his silhouette? When shooting a vertical portrait with an on-camera flash and no bracket, this can l happen if your subject is standing close to a wall or other background. Move them to an open space away from the wall. When shooting verticals, always tilt the camera and flash so as to fill into the shadows. Another handy technique when indoors is to aim the flash at the ceiling and bounce the flash light to fill the image with reflected light.


A jape that I have often repeated at my programs is that the difference between a professional photographer and an amateur is that the amateur only shoots one shot. The advent of digital has freed us from the paranoia of burning lots expensive film. When shooting a portrait, it pays big dividends to shoot a lot of frames, as faces change in many subtle ways, often second by second. Catching a self-conscious subject off guard often results in that special smile, so turn on the charm and blaze away!

Elizabeth Berry ( Sebastian) at her garden in Gaillina Canyon near Abiquiu in northern New Mexico.

We learn a lesson from every photograph taken, however fabulous or abysmal. Shooting a lot of photos is the best teacher. If this notion exhausts you, then perhaps photography is not your true passion!


Learning to command some basic skills in Photoshop can guarantee that any competent capture has a chance to become a good, and possibly a great photo. Competent capture means a sharply focused subject and a file that is not overexposed in any part. Keep the capture histogram curve away from the right hand margin!



John Evans lives inthe Matanuska Valley near Anchorage and grows giant vegetables like this Guinness world record carrot that weighed 19 pounds.

As I mentioned, we learn something from every photo we take. I’ve included here a selection of my own past and present efforts. Some were more successful than others, but for me, each was a step on a journey.

Of course, good portraits and pictures are not defined by clinical perfection. They need soul, heart, enthusiasm and inspiration. Get there by shooting photos of the things and people you truly love!”


1.  You must have an active blog in order to participate. To be eligible for judging, you need to leave us TWO LINKS – a direct link to the image, and a link to your blog post that includes the image (and that says you are entering the Gardening Gone Wild Picture This Photo Contest )– in a comment on this post. Your links need to be correct in order for your photo to be entered into the contest. If need be, check out previous Picture This contests to see how others have done it.

2. You are allowed one entry per contest; your photo must be able to be copied from your site. That makes it possible for us to collect all the entries in one place for easier judging.

3. The long side of the image should be around 800 pixels. If your photo is much larger than that, please re-size

4. Because of the enormous amount of responses we receive, you can’t change your mind once you enter a photo into the contest.

5. The deadline for entries is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Tuesday, November 23,  2011. There are no exceptions.


All entries will be posted in the Gallery within 48 hours after receiving them.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
16 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Donna November 5, 2011, 7:34 am

Are candid shots allowed or is that not considered a portrait? Just wondering if photos of people in public parks would be acceptable or if we need to acquire a release.

Good question Donna.
I don’t know the answer to that.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not to use it. Fran

Carol at OhWhatABeautifulGarden-Chicagoland November 7, 2011, 7:38 am

Hi – a few questions please
1) Is it ok for the picture to be of a relative instead of friend/neighbor?
2) Can I submit pictures that two different people took, for two different postings that I write on my blog?

I love all of the advice. This is so much more than just a contest – its a great learning experience.

Hi Carol…
Yes, it’s fine that the subject be a friend or neighbor.
Sorry….entries are limited to one per person regardless of number of postings or blogs.
Looking forward to your entry. Fran

Lynn November 8, 2011, 6:54 am

Is it a portrait we’re looking for or a portrait within a garden? I’m assuming it’s within a garden being that it’s a gardening site but just wanted to be sure. We’ve already had several hard frosts. There’s not really any gardens that aren’t brown and destroyed. This is going to be a tough one!

It’s a portrait within a garden or nature. If you look at one of the photos, it has golden grasses behind it. Is that helpful? Fran

Carol Cichorski November 8, 2011, 8:38 pm

Someone has to set the bar, and its gonna be me. Drum roll please for the first entry for November.

I present to you Miss Alexandria Penczak at http://www.ohwhatabeautifulgarden-chicagoland.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Alexandria-Penczak-in-her-P-coat-and-hat-web.jpg

From my posting ‘Norman Rockwell Moments at Morton Arboretum’ http://www.ohwhatabeautifulgarden-chicagoland.com/?p=5987

Carol Cichorski November 17, 2011, 10:33 am

Go Tina! I was beginning to think I’d win the contest by default as the only entrant. And you are certainly in the right place with your little guy. Morton is beautiful for us and the children’s garden/play area is one of my favorite places there.

Lily November 17, 2011, 9:32 pm
Lily November 17, 2011, 9:46 pm

Sorry the link to my dughter’s portrait did not work. Here it is.


Carolyn November 18, 2011, 11:33 pm

This choice may be a long shot, but it’s hands down one of my favorite grandkids pics… one of those once in a thousand taken when the lighting was just perfect.


Post: http://www.thisgrandmothersgarden.com/2011/11/daily-blessingsnovember-17th.html

Greggo November 21, 2011, 6:07 pm

I seem to be having a little difficulty getting my entry in. Here goes again.
Thanks for the photography lesson, Mr Mann.

Here’s my link to the photo:
And here’s my blog link:

Lets hope this works…..

Greggo November 21, 2011, 9:17 pm

Sorry the blog link above its incorrect, this is the correct one:

Hoover Boo November 22, 2011, 7:02 pm

Uh…what do you do if you don’t have grandkids? Here’s a little lady visitor, just for fun.


and the photo

I’m not able to link onto your photo. Can you re-send and make sure that it’s the right link? Thanks. Fran

Malinda November 26, 2011, 12:15 pm

Hi Fran – Did I miss the deadline? – Malinda

No, you’re in Malinda….sorry for the delay….

Hoover Boo November 27, 2011, 12:25 am
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