– Posted in: Garden Adventures

Yellow pot on balcony

When I run across something visually engaging in a garden, I take a photo of it, even though I’m there to see or shoot other things. Intriguing shadows are among my favorite finds. I love the way a camera preserves something so transitory. Sometimes shadows transform an ordinary object or scene into something magical.

Buena Creek shoppers

Normally shadows are best early in the morning or late in the afternoon, but I got this great shot with the sun directly overhead thanks to an immense pepper tree’s dappled shade. This was taken at Buena Creek Gardens nursery in Vista, CA.

Desert door copy

The day I visited The Living Desert botanical garden in Palm Desert, CA, the temperature was around 105 degrees and the sun was brutal. Yet despite being a bit contrasty, this composition works, thanks to tree-limb shadows that curve toward the garden gate.

Cohen Sedum nus

I thought the shadow did such a good job of emphasizing the shape of the plant’s  leaves, I included it in this portrait of Sedum nussbaumerianum.

Cactus pads

This prickly pear cactus was poking through a fence alongside a downtown San Diego sidewalk. I walked about 15 feet past it and then turned back. Using my cell phone, I took a quick snap not of the cactus but rather of bristly shadows cast by immature pads.

Cactus field

This scene consists of vertical shadows surrounded by white spines illuminated by the late afternoon sun. This is the growing grounds of Desert Theater nursery, near my home in Escondido, CA.

Agave cropped

I’ve photographed this artichoke-like agave in my garden numerous times, usually looking down at its marvelous symmetry or from the side. But I like this photo best.

White daisies copy

You don’t need cactus or agaves for wonderful garden shadows. A few daisies will do.

Water drops

Shadows cast by splashing water onto handpainted Mexican tiles remind me of overlapping petals. The fountain is at Rancho La Puerta, Baja California.

Anderson mobile copy

My friend Patrick Anderson hung a whimsical sculpture from an eve of his home, where it casts an arresting shadow. Aren’t the eyeballs marvelous?

Walkway & view

This clifftop walkway in Laguna Beach, CA, has enough going for it without great shadows. But don’t you love the way the arc of the fence’s shadow echoes the coastline’s curve?


This Portland, OR garden was a bit too parklike for my taste, so I entertained myself by looking for unexpected beauty. My motto is, “If it’s beautiful, shoot it.”  I’ve never been disappointed.

If this has inspired you to look for shadowplay in your own garden (and beyond) please let us know what you find!

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified. 

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
7 comments… add one

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Jenny November 9, 2009, 6:56 am

Every one of those photos is a great composition. Shadows are certainly an important part of the garden picture and we probably take them for granted most of the time. After months of shadows I don’t think there will be one to find today in Texas.

Hi, Jenny — You take wonderful photos. Your shots of the San Antonio botanical garden are completely captivating. I gave a presentation in a meeting hall across the parking lot from it earlier this year, and hoped I’d be able to tour it, but sadly we got there too late in the day. Darn! Debra

Blackswampgirl Kim November 9, 2009, 3:18 pm

Gorgeous photos! I particularly enjoy the one of the sedum–with it being so similar in color to the wall behind it, the shadow does an amazing job of setting it off.

Thanks for pointing that out, Kim—I hadn’t realized it until you mentioned it! Debra

huni November 9, 2009, 6:49 pm

Love your photos, my favorite is the first one mostly beacause of it’s simplicity. It is amazing how a simplest theme can be transformed to a stunning photograph by adding a focal element to the composition, in this case the yellow pottery, which makes all the difference. Capturing the shadow play has always fascinated me, here is one of my trials: Another one that is quite far from my garden, on a beach in Montenegro, but still having the shadow as it’s main theme is this:

Huni, what terrific photos! I looked at the first for a second until I realized it showed overlapping leaves…and then had a delightful “ah-ha!” moment. The beach shot is wonderful, too. Thanks so much for sending the links. Btw, I’m thrilled to hear from a GGW visitor from Montenegro…a first for me! Debra

Town Mouse November 9, 2009, 11:21 pm

Great post! I’ve gotten so afraid of shadows, seems like most garden photos have been taken under light cloud cover. This proves that there are so many ways to make amazing photos…

Yes, I’m the same way. Shadows usually indicate that there’s no point in taking landscape shots because you’ll get black holes and white-outs. But I have another motto you might find helpful: “When the light’s not right, shoot tight.” Even in lousy light you can get some decent close-ups. Debra

Jacki November 10, 2009, 12:08 pm

Boy, that certainly makes me want to get out there and snap some shots, shadows or not…good thing it’s a sunny day today!

Usually I wait until shadows disappear due to a cloud covering the sun, because my shots are too contrasty otherwise (unless it’s very early in the morning or late in the day). Debra

healingmagichands November 12, 2009, 8:36 am

Hi, Debra. I have mostly been frustrated by shadow photographs just because of that contrast thing. But I have a few I’d like to share.

Ellie, I am blown away by how you took the concept I introduced on GGW and interpreted it with your own brand of loveliness. How marvelous that you live a world away from me and your garden is entirely different, yet there are shadows that inspire you. I am over the moon about the moon flower shot, and am swooning over the clematis against the pattern of lattice. You have a good eye, you write beautifully, you sound like someone I’d like to know personally (a kindred spirit) and you take gorgeous photos! I look forward to seeing what you come up with next. (Will post this same comment on your blogsite and link from my FB page.) Debra

Linda/CTG November 12, 2009, 9:22 pm

I love this! Your pictures are magical, and indeed, the shadows offer a new dimension. You capture them so well.

Contrast is always tough, and in Texas, where we barely get a cloudy day these days, you remind us to find exceptional beauty in the sunlight. Thank you for the inspiration.

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