Is it possible for any gardener not to be thrilled to the bone with spring?   It is in the DNA of our marrow to be renewed and hopeful for our Earth when spring rolls around.  The feeling is in our hearts but we know it with all our senses.  How do we see it and how can we photograph it ?

This is a Workshop Tip as part of Lesson 3.3 Weather, Mood, and Seasons in the PhotoBotanic Workshop, but free to all Learning Center members.

Spring flower bud unfolding of Dogwood tree Cornus florida

I picked up my camera last week and went out to capture spring in my own garden.  I just had to get some photos that said spring, that evoke a feeling, that celebrate both the plant and the season.  Normally photographers want the image to speak for itself but this is a workshop not an art gallery, so let’s see if we can use my photo shoot as a teaching tool.  Allow yourself to look at each picture before I explain it.

The opening photo is the dogwood in my front yard, Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Chief’.  How did I choose this view ?

I spent about 30 minutes looking for an angle that illustrates the shape of the flower and bud, shows the relationship of flowers, twigs and branches, and captures the glowing color.  The flowers burst forward from the bud, leaping to the sun, eager to grow.  This angle allows backlight to give the petals some translucency and silhouettes the twig against a distant green blur of a hedge.

I have often said that The Camera Always Lies.  What I mean is the photographer is telling a story with the camera that is only a partial truth.  A photograph is not reality, it reflects the point of view of the photographer.  Whether consciously or not, there is intent to every photograph and careful thought and composition can communicate intent – and maybe evoke a feeling.


Rhododendron ‘Golden Comet’ inspired a December post O the Joy when its leaves turned with fall color and now, here in spring, it shows off its shining name.  But there is nothing in the color itself that says spring; it is in the unfolding of the flowers and the abundant profusion of a single truss that we see spring.  We find spring in the details.  In looking for this photo I wanted a composition that paired two buds together, expressing the innocence of two hands separating after a joyful prayer of thanks; a moment at the heart of the flower.

My weakness for fragrant, specie Rhododendrons is not simply that I melt with quiet ecstasy at their exhilarating fragrance, but they embody spring shrubs for me.   Yet not every bud that forms at the end of every branch is a flower and an explosion of leaves can say even more than a flower about spring’s rebirth and renewal.

Rhododendron nuttallii leaf unfolding

In this photo there is something embryonic about the unformed cluster of leaves emerging from the bud scales of Rhododendron nuttallii, leaves that will become among the biggest of the Rhododendron family, easily 10″ long.  The quiet and tender intimacy of this moment seems somehow embarrassing to reveal – a voyeur at a private, delicate birth flush with virgin color and vulnerability.

I have long since lost the name of this Azalea which is in a pot by my front steps this time of year. How one plant can have so many sudden flowers, after winter’s twiggy dormancy, astounds me every year.

Pink azalea flower bud unfolding in spring gardenHere, I sought a composition that would isolate an unfolding bud held jewel-like in a bract of leaves.  The sweep of the tiny branch and upturned flowers indicate a power and determination to grow, to greet the spring, and to carry on with another cycle of seasons.  I also like a vertical composition that might be salable – a graphically simple shot with dark blurry area at the top in case a publisher wants to add type.  This is me being crass …

The Gingko tree is said to be one of the most primitive and ancient trees and there is certainly something primal about these leaves.


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 being the earth in bloom.

Or maybe you didn’t see all that. :-)

Maybe you didn’t see any of what I saw, but take your camera out into your own garden with some intention and purpose.  The images you capture will forever remind you, if only you, of those fleeting moments.