Recently, the folks at the new Light cameras,  promoting how camera technology has changed, asked photographers how their work has changed;  and it got me to thinking how much my work has changed – a lot, especially in response to learning to read the light in gardens.

Seed heads of Purple Fountain Grass Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' (back-lit) in grass garden
Seed heads of  Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (back-lit) in grass garden

I have been a garden photographer for more than 30 years, it feels odd when someone compliments me and says how much they like my work. What work have they seen !?

Of course I say “Thank You” and mean it genuinely, happy to be noticed, but secretly hope they are not thinking of something from years ago, in a style I have outgrown. I know most artists much prefer creating new work to looking back on the old, and I like to think my admirers know my new work. The work has changed quite a bit as I better understand gardens, develop my own style and voice, and most especially – learn how to use the light.

In my very, very first days as a garden photographer I didn’t understand light at all, and approached the craft simply as a photojournalist looking for news.  In this picture of the daffodil meadow at the grand gardens of Filoli, I recognized the beauty of the bare trees and the bulbs underneath, but the light was horrible – and I didn’t realize it.

Filoli daffodil meadow in spring bright light
Filoli daffodil meadow in spring bright light

very quickly learned, after showing my first few assignments to editors, that I must look avoid a “pretty sunny day” and that gardens almost always look better in soft light.

Here is the same meadow, shot in soft light years later.   I consciously avoided showing any of the sky, which would be too bright, with blown out the highlights in a photo exposed for the garden.

Spring flowering fruit trees in the Daffodil Meadow at Filoli Garden
Spring flowering fruit trees in the Daffodil Meadow at Filoli Garden

Since going digital I’ve learned a lot more about how to use the light. I take pictures now I would never have previously never attempted, because camera sensors have a lot more range than transparency film ever did, and I can control highlights and shadows in post production.

Rose, climbing 'Handel'
Rose, climbing ‘Handel’ in sunny rose garden.

This next picture of Filoli, in a shade garden, can incorporate the sunny sky beyond.  Much different style than years ago.

Gravel path in woodland garden to open door into walled garden in morning light at Filoli
Gravel path in woodland garden in morning light at Filoli

The exposure was set for the shade garden, but unlike film, the digital camera holds enough detail in the sky area to give the photo a bright feeling.

Photography is even more thrilling now that I see light differently.  While I quickly learned to avoid the hard light of high noon during the film day, the new technologies allow more ways to capture the light.

I hope you enjoy the gallery of light photos in the Archives.

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Members who log into the Learning Center will l see a much longer post with more example of using the light.

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I have an any month calendar with some of my favorite light photos in my Café Press Store.  It can start any month of any year.  Now on sale for $17.95

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