Sunday, June 16, 2013

Digital Garden Photography Class

For the past five weeks I have been taking an online Digital Garden Photography class through Longwood Gardens. It’s my first online class and I didn’t know what to expect or how much I would learn, but it’s been a great experience.

I had taken a photography class in college, however, that was longer ago than I care to admit. Let’s just say that there wasn’t such thing as digital cameras then and I had a used Pentax K1000, a good workhorse of a manual camera back then.  When I moved over to digital in 2005, I never really felt comfortable with the manual settings and wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing anymore. I was a bit intimidated by all of the buttons and settings. I had been looking for a photography class that would go over the basics again, in a digital environment, but was hoping for a garden-related one. Longwood Gardens to the rescue! This class fit my needs perfectly.

Each week we had to watch a video online, then we would have a homework assignment that we would upload by the end of the week. There was a discussion board where we would post our homework pictures and the instructor and other students would comment/critique. We all learned from each other as we read the feedback from the instructor and other students. I would get really excited each week to see what images the other students would post. Everyone has very different backgrounds and experience levels, so it was fun seeing what they would do each week. We would give each person’s photo a star rating (1-5 stars, 5 being the best). 

The first week was learning about equipment selection and camera handling, along with file types and sizes. The second week was about setting up for a shoot and learning about manual settings, exposure, and metering. The third week was compositional techniques. I took this photo of my climbing hydrangea for that assignment. It uses the rule of thirds and negative space. I used a macro extension tube for this shot.

White climbing hydrangea.

The fourth week was about the direction and quality of light, such as using back lighting, side lighting, or diffused lighting. When I read this assignment, I knew I wanted to shoot my smokebush. When it’s not too hot or too cold, I drink my coffee on the back porch in the mornings. I am always amazed at what the morning light does to the leaves of the smokebush. It makes it look like they are different colors, have a translucency, and the leaves and stems create dancing shadows on other leaves. I wanted to try to capture that. It took me three different mornings of shooting to feel like I got a good enough picture that captures what I wanted it to. It’s still not perfect, but what is! This assignment was the turning point for me in the class. I feel like I learned a lot about composing a shot, shooting from different perspectives, and shooting at different manual settings. I finally started to feel like I understood my digital camera and its manual settings. Everything started to “click” in my head.


The fifth week was about capturing the “mood” of color. I decided since this was the last assignment, I wanted to practice everything I learned about set-up, composition, and light and combine it with color. I packed up my camera equipment and tripod and took a field trip to the Morris Arboretum. I knew there would plenty of subjects there. I ended up concentrating mostly on Love-in-a-Mist, Red Hot Poker, and some peach-colored roses. For this assignment, I chose to use the Red Hot Poker since it screams analogous color (colors that are next to each other on the color wheel) and gives a sense of being sizzling hot and happy! This was my only image to get a four star rating from my classmates. The others had gotten three stars.

Red Hot Poker (Torch Lily).

The last thing we had to do was upload four images as a “portfolio” of our best work from the last few weeks. I decided I wanted to use images the instructor hadn’t seen before. For the first image, I included one that I had taken earlier in the class when I was experimenting with my macro and the light on my smokebush. I included this because I had originally really liked it, although I see all of the flaws in it now based on what I learned about my manual camera settings. I still really like the way the shadow of the flowers are on the leaf, though.

Smokebush flowers and leaves.

The following are all images that I had taken at the Morris Arboretum and that I included in my final portfolio. I feel like they show that I finally am understanding my camera better, as well as lighting and composition.

These are lovely peach-colored roses with a dark purple smokebush in the background. The shadows became black, really making the graceful flowers jump out at you. I love that there are a few water droplets on the one leaf.

Peach roses and smokebush.

This image is of Love-in-a-Mist seed pods and is more of a monochromatic color scheme with all of the greens. Love-in-a-Mist is a gorgeous annual. It’s a double-whammy because not only does it have interesting, beautiful flowers, but also these fascinating seed capsules. You can see a bit of spider web in this shot. I really like the back-lighting in this image.

Love-in-a-Mist seed pods.

This is probably my favorite photo that I took during this class. It is the Love-in-a-Mist flower and is another example of analogous color. I love the lighting in this shot and how the multiple pistils in the center are shadowed on the flower petals. This is a truly fascinating flower. I actually planted some in my garden this year and they are just leaves right now. I hope mine actually blooms and forms seed capsules so it self-seeds.


I learned a lot over the past few weeks, more than I thought I would. Will I break out the tripod and carefully compose every shot I take for my blog from now on? No, no I won’t. I just don’t have the time for that. But it will having me look at my garden differently and trying shots like these more often.

I want to give a shout-out to my instructor, Jon Cox, for all of his valuable feedback during this class. Thanks, Jon! You can see what a talented photographer he is if you check out his website:

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