The season—its weather and mood—is, often unconsciously, part of every story and in every photograph. In this lesson, I urge you to allow whatever mood the season presents to be a part of your photography. Think like a gardener.
When we are within a garden, excited by what we see, it’s easy to forget that mood is a multi-sensory experience. Sounds, fragrance, light, and the weather all contribute to the physical experience, to how we absorb the garden, and how we feel.
It is a challenge to capture in a photograph what cannot actually be seen, but, by working with the season, we can challenge ourselves to tell better stories.
When I saw this pattern of frosty leaves, I was cold and the ground was crunchy. I let the photos stay bluish and tried to capture a bit of the brittleness of the grass. This is winter (in USDA Zone 9).
In telling a garden’s story, I have talked about the space it occupies, the hardscape that defines that space, and now something less tangible: mood, and how the season and weather create mood. More often than we realize, the season of the garden influences how we see it.
To a gardener, it may seem obvious that daffodils suggest spring, roses peak in summer, apples mean autumn, and bare trees represent winter. This may be obvious to you but perhaps not to your viewer. And it may be so obvious to you that you overlook the seasonal potential for garden photography.
When you begin to think like a gardener, the ideas for photos expand. In spring, for instance, you might look for signs of rebirth. There is energy in the air and in the mood of the garden.
Looking for spring one day, I found this lily bursting out of the ground, something not quickly seen, but only seen in the spring. Once the eye is attuned to the mood, it begins to see other possibilities.
So, for this lesson for the PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop, try capturing the mood and season in a garden, letting your photograph show how those aspects of a garden make you feel—and why.
A garden exists in time; it changes every day, all day. You know this, as a gardener, so think like a gardener with your camera. Think about what is special in the moment in the garden in front of you—now, in this moment.
As the sun rises in a morning shoot, there will be moments when the light kisses what it sees.
How is what is happening in the garden related to time and season? Remember that taking a picture is capturing a moment, a slice of time. That slice exists in the season.
It’s difficult to completely capture a seasonal moment in a photograph, but simply being aware that your visual images are affected by all the sensory input that abounds in the garden will help you see more fully. When you compose your pictures, you will be more mindful of the larger story.
In the summer, the light is bright; and that can be the story.
A client once asked me to show his garden overlooking San Francisco Bay in bright light, so I made a bright photo that was a bit washed out, like an old postcard. It captured the mood of that moment in the bright light.
I then took the mood a step further with some special PhotoShop filters. The original photo in harsh midday sun became an expression of the season.
Before and After Slider
The moment of clicking the shutter is transitory—unique—and it exists in a moment. For this exercise, acknowledge that the season is affecting the mood in the garden. Allow yourself to see the moments in the context of a larger story.
There is no real “how-to” that I can teach about this concept, no rules or techniques, but take it as an assignment. Give yourself the challenge of making photos while conscious of the mood and season. Be aware of your own mood. What is the gardener in you saying?
When I first published the emerging gingko leaves in “Capture the Spring”, the mood suggested by the exploding pubescent energy was exhilaration. I can almost imagine the leaf petioles drawn down through the bud, linked by delicate synapses through the branch into the tree’s trunk and down into the roots—sucked into, connected to the earth itself, their expression of birth representing the earth in bloom. Spring made it possible to tell that story, to see that picture.
In California, autumn brings rain. I went out one rainy day to take some pictures, to capture the mood.
The raindrops on the grape vine reveal the weather; the red leaf reminds us of the season.
Fog is often a blessing for a garden photographer, but I remember thinking to myself, on this morning of pea-soup fog, “beware of what you ask for.”
But, by letting the fog become the story rather than fighting it, I was able to capture the mood of that garden in that moment.
Wind can also create problems for garden photography, but sometimes we can take advantage of the affects of the wind. In the next garden photo, I used the wind in context of the solid garden gate, the slightly blurred foliage revealing the wind, showing the weather.
Wind was the story (“Wending and Wind“) and I was forced to think about how I was going to tell it.
Usually the weather does not force us to see it. The season simply permeates the senses while the eyes see the beauty. But the story of a garden’s beauty is inextricably a part of the season.
Summer is a languid time, of long days and outdoor living—or, as in this next photo, of taking a break from the long days.
This is an “only in summer” photo. It seems obvious, but I found the photo only after feeling the mood and fully seeing what was going on in the garden. Being in the season allowed me see it.
As you go out to take photos, and put into practice the lessons here, put yourself in a frame of mind to accept the season, to look for those photos that the gardener in you knows could only be taken that day. Whether it is summer, fall, winter, or spring; whether rainy, crisp, or foggy…there will be something unique about the garden that day.
On this day at Filoli, the trees are still bare, still obviously immersed in winter. But there is the faintest blush of green on some of the trees, and a faint blush of pink blossom on some of the cherry trees. The seasons are changing. That is the mood. That is the story the garden presented me in that moment.