If you’ve been reading North Coast Gardening for any amount of time, you’ve heard me rave about the photography of Saxon Holt. He’s a garden photographer whose work has totally changed how I approach taking pictures, not only of plants and gardens but of other subjects as well. Because according to him, a photograph of a garden is not so much about the literal reality of what we can see in any given space, but more about how we feel when we are actually there in the garden – and he shares tips that help us make that “leap” from what is actually in the viewfinder, to capturing the REAL heart of the garden. Some of my favorite tips from him are here, here, and here.
Today, I’m honored to host Saxon for a guest post on capturing the beauty of fall in the garden, in celebration of the release of his beautifully-produced garden photography workshop series, and in particular book number two, Think like a Camera, available on his PhotoBotanic website. Here’s Saxon:
Suddenly it starts to feel like autumn. A few cool nights, with the sun lower and the first leaves beginning to change, fall seems ahead of schedule.
Here in Northern California where the land is drier than almost ever, gardens are looking tired, and I am not expecting a great year for color.
But as a garden photographer my eyes perk up with any sort of change, and in the transitional stages of leaves changing from green to the multi-hues of fall, I find it a wonderful time to be a color photographer. Some of my very favorite photos were taken when the leaves were partly changed, when the brushstrokes of color they represent can be controlled by your camera frame to compose interesting images.
Where my back fence stops the deer (mostly) from coming into the garden from the woods, I grow a ‘Roger’s Red’ grape vine.
The large colorful leaves are a study of brushstrokes, and arranging a composition in the camera is a sweet study indeed. I don’t know if it is the gardener in me, or the photographer that wants to slow down and commune with the plants in the garden, but I often get lost in looking.
Look at fall color patterns and let your eyes lock into a balance of shapes and color. Use the four edges of your camera frame as a canvas and carefully control exactly where you put the shapes – the brushstrokes.
Yes, it may take some time to “see” the photograph in front of you; but what else do you want to do with your time ?
Tupelo trees (Nyssa sylvatica) are a surprisingly reliable tree for fall color here. Surprising because they are native to wet areas in the East. Mine is very slow to change color and every year I watch for those moments when the blend of colors creates an interesting pattern.
A nice trick to getting glowing colors is to use back light. I often talk to photographers about using backlight for working in the bright sun (or Death Star light as Pam Penick calls the Texas sun), but back light works even on overcast days or being in shade looking out to the light.
I went under the Tupelo and looked out hoping to find the stained glass effect, where the backlight glows through colors.
Surprisingly the red color in the leaves became orange as the backlight worked its magic. The camera saw it somewhat muted, the photographer saw color.
Another autumn is upon us. Every year the color is different and every year something new needs to be studied.
Want to learn more about how to think about and photograph your garden? Leave a comment for your chance to win one of TWO copies of Saxon’s eBook, Think like a Camera. I’ll choose two winners at random on September 23.
The winners are Chris N and Conny. Congrats! 🙂
And check out more of Saxon’s garden photography tips on these fabulous blogs in the coming week:
Saxon is also hosting an end of summer photography contest where tour visitors can put their newly found skills to work. Visit
Gardening Gone Wild on September 25 to submit your photo entry.