Quotes from My Library

Hello. This is the first in a series of posts that will feature quotations from books in my library, accompanied by a few photographs. Today’s selections have something to say about photography and gardening: as creative processes and as ways of seeing and interacting with the world.


From the introduction to The Writer in the Garden by Jane Garvey:

“It’s amazing how much time one can spend in a garden doing nothing at all. I sometimes think, in fact, that the nicest part of gardening is walking around in a daze …  wondering where on earth to squeeze in yet another impulse buy…. Of course, gardening is time-consuming, repetitive, and, at times, quite discouraging. But precisely because making a garden means constantly making choices, it offers almost limitless possibilities for surprise and satisfaction.”

“Since nothing ever really gets finished in a garden and everything is always in a state of flux, it is usually the process itself that fascinates.”

From the introduction to Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers by Alan L. Detrick:

“For anyone who loves nature, whether admiring the flowers in a garden, watching a butterfly, or examining nature’s patterns, the desire to capture these images is as natural as taking the next breath. Macro photography is the visual portal to a world most people walk by without a glance. Plants, animals, and parts of plants and animals never before imagined enter the camera’s viewfinder. Best of all, close-up photography does not require trips to Alaska, Africa, or any other exotic locale to capture visually compelling natural images. A walk in the backyard garden or a neighborhood park can provide a wealth of material to photograph close up.”

From On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“No one would dispute that photography gave a tremendous boost to the cognitive claims of sight, because — through close-up and remote sensing — it so greatly enlarged the realm of the visible.”

Quoted in On Photography by Susan Sontag:

“I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” — Garry Winogrand

“Photography is a tool for dealing with things everybody knows about but isn’t attending to. My photographs are intended to represent something you don’t see.” — Emmet Gowin


Here are three views of an ostrich fern, from my garden — views that you wouldn’t necessarily see by casual observation, but only if you took a closer look:

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Stalking the Baja Daylily

Sounds exotic, no? This is where the elusive Baja Daylily lives, in its own pot in front of my Chapel Hill Yellow Lantana.

I took several sets of similar photos over a period of three hours yesterday, to see (and capture) the variations in morning sun on the lily’s flower, and to learn how the shutter speed and aperture could be changed based on the intensity of the light. Lighting is optimal at the center of my courtyard from about 8:00 AM until 11:00 AM this time of year: it brightens the area without creating harsh shadows or causing blowout of detail surrounding the subject where something in the background catches too much light (which can be difficult to adjust out of the image).  The light also helped, I hope, with focus: one trick I use when taking closeup or macro photos is to set the camera’s shutter to continuous advance, to increase the chances that I’ll end out with a sharp image — since camera shake or a little breeze can easily throw a close subject out of focus. When doing this, I usually end out with four or five nearly identical images each time I take a shot and have reasonable success of being satisfied with one or two. I could use a tripod, but I have fears of knocking it over, and it’s harder to flower-stalk while having to reposition a tripod.

Since I was taking these at home, I headed back inside after each set and imported the photos into Lightroom. I reviewed these sets at least twice. First time through, I deleted any that struck me as out of focus or had some other problem (like my dog’s tail in the frame, lol). I tried not to dwell on any of them during the first cut, but just reacted to an immediate impression of the focus quality. On subsequent passes, I took a closer look at those remaining and threw out a few more based on their lack of clarity or sharpness. Since I wear eyeglasses with progressive lenses I have to be careful to look at the photos on screen at the correct angle, otherwise I end out convincing myself that an image is clear when my glasses are causing an illusion of sharpness that isn’t there. Out of four trips into the back yard and about 200 shots, I ended out with 75 photos to mess around with in Lightroom. That’s surely one of the big advantages of digital photography, how you can just keep trying and learning, trying and learning … and the only thing it costs (well, except for the gear and the software) is your time. For me, it ends out becoming a workflow or process not unlike creating the draft of a piece of writing: you start by letting your ideas flow, capture them as best you can, then begin iterations of reworking and improving based on the skills and tools you have.

And then … and then….

After lunch, I started picking through the 75 remaining photos, with the general idea that I wanted some for this blog post viewed from straight-on, left side, right side, then zooming closer and closer into the center of the flower. I ended out eliminating two-thirds of my photography work from earlier in the day. The remaining photos required some spot removal, a bit of cropping and straightening, minor adjustments to exposure or color, and sharpness adjustments to guide your eye to the focal point of the image. This is only the second time I’ve taken a set of RAW photos instead of JPEGs and I could definitely see the advantages for shots like these, especially when I intentionally under-exposed some photos to get a longer depth of field and when I cropped some with negligible loss of detail.

That was fun! Thanks for reading and enjoy a slideshow by clicking on any of the images below.

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Lantana Bonanza!

Earlier this spring, I added some Chapel Hill Yellow Lantana to a large pot in the center of my courtyard garden. It didn’t grow much at first, but as the daily rains we were getting in Georgia subsided, the plants started getting more sun and the blooms are now popping. My garden is mostly a shade garden with lots of ferns and hostas — in the ground and in pots — but I’ve learned over the years how to take advantage of those areas where the sun does get through for a few hours each day. I’ve experimented quite a bit with flowering plants like lantana, some sun-loving vines (and even a couple of grapevines) that may not flower but grow well anyway, hydrangeas placed to catch early morning or late day sun, and a mix of sun annuals that make it through the summer pretty well.

The Chapel Hill Yellow Lantana, I learned, is a cross between Miss Huff and New Gold lantana varieties, all popular in southern gardens for their hardiness and persistent flowering throughout late summer and even into autumn. The floral symmetry of lantana flowers fascinates me; I learned that this type of flower shape is called an umbel — evocative of umbrella given that it’s overall shape is supported from a single point by “umbrella like” ribs. As the flowers first emerge, they look to me like tiny pillows arranged in concentric circles, changing from pale to brighter yellow as they grow, then developing into a rich yellow with a dark orange center. Using a macro lens and some cropping, I’ve tried to show that transition in the images below, as there were suddenly plenty of flowers at different stages of growth to show the early buds, mixtures of buds and emerging flowers, and some clusters that were fully in bloom.

Select any of the pictures below to see larger sizes in a slideshow … and thanks for reading and taking a look!

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Bluebird Hydrangeas from my garden

A couple of years ago, I planted three small Bluebird Hydrangeas in an area of my courtyard garden that gets filtered sun in the early mornings and an hour or so if low-angled, more direct sunlight in the afternoons. I always liked the lacecap blooms, and the three small plants have easily tripled in size since I planted them. Below are a few pictures I culled from dozens I took over the weekend; the flower petals are just beginning to open and it was a good time to get a look at the structure of the emerging blooms.

Taking closeup and macro photos of blooms like this can be challenging, especially getting the blooms and the unopened cluster of flowers in reasonably good focus. I didn’t use a tripod for any of these, but I think I will when I take another round of pictures as the buds continue to open — to allow for greater depth of field in these low-light conditions. The bud clusters have both purple and blue scattered throughout them in real life; the color mix tricks the eye (and the camera) and sometimes it’s hard to decide whether the original colors were blue, purple, or a variation of both. With more sunlight, the blue became more purple (or did the purple become more blue?), and it was fun to play around with white balance and shift between the two colors. Many of the leaves and blossoms were also dotted with spring pollen; it was also fun to pick out and remove little pollen spots from the leaves, wherever they seemed distracting when the camera caught them as little circles of white light scattered throughout the photos.

You can start a slideshow by clicking on any of the images below. You can read more about Bluebird Hydrangeas at Gardenia.net and the Royal Horticultural Society. And for a historical perspective, take a look at this article about hydrangeas from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica (one of my favorite research resources).

Bye for now!

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“This is my message to you …”

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Six Portraits of Two Baby Birds

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