Western Hills Garden in Occidental California is a great garden but can be a difficult place for landscape photography.

May morning, Western Hills Garden

How can that be? Well for starters, it is quite complex, has at least 18 different garden rooms, mature trees and shrubs blended together in subtle ways that all want your attention, and distractions at every turn.

And if it is a sunny day there can be deep shadows and bright hotspots scattered throughout every view.

When faced with almost overwhelming choices, the photographer just has to find a story and work one scene at a time. That is today’s tip – be sure you know exactly what story you want to tell.

I began working the big pond in the middle of the garden, when I noticed the small fountain burbling out of tiny pond next to the path.

I had a good feeling that if I found a position where I could see the small fountain pond in front of the larger pond, I would have the opportunity to define a very specific view of the garden. The empty, open space of the larger pond provides some hidden separation between this garden room and the more distant trees.

This first view of the fountain shows the pathway leading through this section of the garden, but it is really not a photograph about the fountain. It is more a story about the pathway and leads the eye out of this garden room. The light colored sky pulls the eye up and away.

I needed a tighter composition and the two small trees flanking the pond are ready-made framing tools.

By cropping the top so that no white sky is showing, the fountain takes center stage, and I find the photo within the photo.

Another story about this section of the garden is the incredible variety of plant foliage and textures. I backed down the path so that I could incorporate more of the understory.

Now the garden is starting to show the tapestry effect I love when a variety of shapes and colors feel almost woven together.  But I really didn’t like the white calla lilies.  White always draws the eye and I did not want to make this photograph about the flowers. The fountain is lost.

I kept working for an angle that would eliminate the flowers and where I could still see the fountain peeking through. I couldn’t find one, secretly wishing I could just cut down the flowers.

Then I realized it would be a pretty easy fix in Photoshop:

Before and After Slider


Cutting out the one flower makes all the difference. It’s just a matter of a little bit of revisualization and knowing exactly what story to tell.