The One

– Posted in: Garden Photography

A few weeks ago in my post  Wending and Wind, we finished our wandering at the urn focal point at the rear of the garden designed by Robyn Sherrill.

This may have been the end of the tour of the garden, but it did not end my work.  Often, the most fun work of the post production from any photo shoot is finding The One, the one shot that makes you sing.

I thought it was going to be the lovely windy impressionism of trees next to the solid gate, the photo featured in the Wending post, and that is indeed a special shot.  But as I studied the ‘Bunny Tails’ grasses by the wonderful urn, I found a shot to print and put on my walls.  The One. Here’s my process:

I took this very wide shot from on a ladder which I always bring to local photo shoots.  It is an especially effective tool with wide angle lenses and gives a nice perspective on the garden.  Then I recognized what a strong composition the designer, Robyn Sherrill, had made by putting the dark foliage of Cotinus ‘Grace’ behind the urn.

A classic horizontal composition, framing just the key elements really draws attention to the urn as the focal point. I also worked the scene by capturing the vertical shot that ended the previous post and opened this one.

But I kept working the scene, studying what I was seeing and feeling there was more.  Notice the urn is at the end of a small path and the grasses lean into the space.  There is an opportunity to frame that against the fine terra cotta, which by no accident, is directly beyond.

OK, now we are getting somewhere.  I am getting excited by what I hope is going to happen.  I think I see it. Graphic and simple, yet with movement, simple shapes that complement each other. Come in even tighter.  Use the design elements of the green patches of grass.  Brighten and saturate the colors . . .

The One.  Balanced yet interconnected.  Blocks of color with lines zipping through.  I love it.

The reason I did not see it sooner, before I did my wending post, is because the raw image had no zip and was quite plain.  I complain about how much time it takes to process the digital images, but the joy is when you can bring out the beauty.  This is how I first saw it.

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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Kathy in Napa July 25, 2010, 11:55 am

Thanks you once again Saxon for sharing the process..I am now entirely guilt-free about post-shoot photo manipulation, although so far I seem to use ‘straighten’ and ‘crop’ the most, the former because so many of my pics list to the right (no tripod, my fault) and am thinking seriously about upgrading from my free Picassa photo editing to Photoshop Elements. I love this photo and love what you did with it !

Thanks Kathy. Whether the post production work is obvious or subtle, there should be no guilt about what “the photographer” wants it to look like. – Saxon

healingmagichands July 25, 2010, 12:37 pm

Well, I can certainly see why this makes you sing. I hear some sort of angel chorus in the background myself when I look at that shot. The image that you worked on does not scream “photoshopped” and “weird false colors” either. I do like the first shot with the whole urn and the cotinus too, though. It has a whole rhythm to it. The closer in shot is much more intimate with the grass.

It is very generous of you to share your process with us. It is interesting that you can put it into words; many artists become inarticulate when they start trying to describe what it is that they do and see.

Thanks Ellie. When the outcome is more or less what I pre-visualized it is not too difficult to explain it. I often “work the scene” very methodically. The ones that don’t work at all … you will never see. – Saxon

Heather's Garden July 25, 2010, 4:46 pm

Wow, that’s quite a difference from the raw image, though I could see the bones are there. Another great peek inside your mind, thanks for sharing it with us.

Sometimes I wish I did not shoot raw because if I don’t do the post production soon after the shoot I can forget the intensity of the shoot and the emotions of the moment. – Saxon

shirl July 25, 2010, 6:58 pm

Thanks Saxon, I loved reading through your process. I completely hear you on the one. It certainly sings for me! When I have time, I love to explore the processes too 😀

Thanks Shirl. “When I have the time …” Oh, how I understand that comment (g) – Saxon

Melody July 26, 2010, 12:53 am

Thanks so much for taking the time to write these posts that explain “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say. It is wonderful to see the process that you use, so that I can know what to be looking for in my own potential photos. Your posts are very educational, readable, and entertaining. Thank you so much!

Much of the process can be boiled down to intention. As you study scene that you know has potential, keep working it with an intention to capture what you feel. – Saxon

Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings July 26, 2010, 8:26 pm

Thank you for showing us the process. It is so difficult sometimes to truly “see” isn’t it? I love the urn and the bunny tail grasses. They make me smile.~~Dee

Thanks for dropping by Dee. Sometimes the difficulty in not so much in the seeing, that can be an innate feeling; the harder part it is figuring out how to capture it with the camera. – Saxon

Elephant's Eye July 27, 2010, 3:03 pm

Oh yes! I know what I see, but am not enough of a photographer to get the camera to see it too. Fiddling with the pictures afterwards will sometimes get me what I want. But the art and craft of being a true photographer comes thru in your post. Sigh of envy … and enjoyment 😉

Such a fine compliment, especially knowing you enjoy the photo. Thanks – Saxon

ALP July 27, 2010, 3:52 pm

Fabulous post – I love reading about the process of “working” photographs once they are shot. In fact, I was just mucking about with an image of one of my Fairy rose bushes…but haven’t yet found that “one” shot that will be the jumping off point for a blog post about my complicated feelings about roses….

Thanks for sharing.

Part of the “working” is getting back to the emotional response that first caused the excitement. I don’t mean to imply working the photo to create something new and different – which can be enjoyable too… Saxon

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