Workshop Tips – Finding Photos

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Visits

For my recent garden photography workshop at the Denver Botanic Garden I used the theme Finding Photos.  By “finding photos” I ask students to consider the full frame of the camera to create composition within an overall scene that tells their story.

Finding photos at Denver Botanic Garden

It is all too common for any garden photographer, flush with excitement in a beautiful garden, to point the camera at a picture and come away with … meh.

Take your time, work the scene, find the photo, make a careful composition, camera on a tripod to slow you down, and then fill the view finder so that every shape, line, color and texture works together like a jigsaw puzzle.  Read on:

Garden photography workshop, Denver Botanic Garden

I had a fantastic group of students for the workshop, and in the early morning, before the Garden was filled with visitors, we had quiet light while working in the stunning double mixed borders.

As soon as I set them loose I saw them gathered around this Calico Aster, ‘Lady in Black’ (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum). Yes, I required them to bring tripods.

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum ‘Lady in Black’ Calico Aster in flowering autumn mixed border at Denver Botanic Garden

As so often happens in a workshop, the students inspire me. I had not noticed this Calico beauty when I scouted the location, but quickly felt that rush of adrenaline when in the midst of extraordinary plants, with camera, and when the light is right.

What a remarkable combination of plants in this autumn perennial border.  It is late September, in Denver, and in glorious flower!

The ‘Lady in Black’ inspires my rapture ? Then look more closely and not simply take the wide view the border.  Work the scene, find the special photo.

‘Lady in Black’ Calico Aster flowering in autumn mixed border at Denver Botanic Garden

I am always drawn to shapes and color combinations when I make pictures.  The key to using shapes effectively is to enclose them within the frame of the composition. Note here that the Calico Aster uses about two thirds of the composition, with triangles of blue and purple New England asters in opposite corners, and a streak of Red Bistort (Persicaria amplexicaulis) helping to frame the ‘Lady in Black’.

Having the camera fixed on the tripod allowed this careful composition as I studied the scene through the camera view finder while finding the photo.  Using a medium zoom telephoto lens I could compress shapes and very deliberately zoom in and out for a precise framing.

As long as I am working the scene, I tried another composition which really plays off the white of the Aster and the red of the Bistort, while still leaving a bit of a blue triangle in the corner.

‘Lady in Black’ Calico Aster flowering in autumn mixed border in front of ‘Firetail’ Red Bistort

The clever color combinations in this part of the border create an opportunity for some close-up flower photography.  As I have said it many times when discussing macro work, the background is just as important as the main subject.

Remember that magenta flowered New England aster underneath the ‘Lady in Black’?

Asters in autumn mixed border at Denver Botanic Garden

Looking closely at her flowers I noticed the centers were purple, so by coming overtop I could place the purple asters behind the white one and echo the colors just as the gardener surely intended.

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum ‘Lady in Black’ Calico Aster flowering at Denver Botanic Garden

Then if I want to come in really close, I can compose to take full advantage of the shapes created within the frame around the white flowers.

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum 'Lady in Black' Calico Aster (aka Aster lateriflorus Michaelmas Daisy) flowering at Denver Botanic Garden

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum ‘Lady in Black’ Calico Aster

Whenever you find a good situation when shooting the garden, be sure to walk around it and look back the other way.  Very often good combinations look good from many angles.

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum 'Lady in Black' Calico Aster (aka Aster lateriflorus Michaelmas Daisy) flowering in autumn mixed border at Denver Botanic Garden

Autumn mixed border at Denver Botanic Garden

See any photos looking back this way?  Want some more tips?

More examples on finding photos from this view are found on the companion blog post on PhotoBotanic: Denver Workshop – Find the Photo

And for more ideas and lessons on Finding Photos check out the ebook “Think Like A Camera”  the second in the PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop series.


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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Adam October 14, 2017, 11:56 am

Beautiful flowers. Nice combination of plants. Do they require a lot of care, are they resistant to sunlight?

Saxon Holt October 14, 2017, 12:19 pm

Thanks Adam. This border at Denver Botanic is in the sun, the hot son of an arid Steppe climate. To any gardener one look at these borders indicate careful planning and care but they are all very tough plants

Marie November 10, 2017, 7:38 pm

What A stunning garden..I really love to see your photos of beautiful flowers, anyway thank you for the tips!

Saxon Holt November 28, 2017, 4:41 pm

Thanks – I hope you can actually use the Tips

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