Garden Light

· 31.August.2015

Most people think of me as a portrait photographer and that’s true, but I do portraits of many things that aren’t people: flowers, landscapes, product, even architecture. In each case, the goal is to try and represent the subject with its own story, or the story that I choose to tell about it. Lighting; the direction, quality and depth, is the paint that I use to describe the subject and set the mood. I’m a believer of making everything right at the time of creation, which is what was necessary in my commercial days shooting film. I know how to post process, but it’s not the major part of my final creation. All images must get some treatment, mostly clarity and a little saturation, but no big PS changes.

Recently I had a bit of a disaster because during a shoot, my Black Rapid strap came unscrewed so my X-T1 and 50-140mm f 2.8 tumbled to the floor. They still worked and I continued to shoot the job, but it’s always a good idea to make sure that the focusing mechanism and alignments are correct, so off to Fuji they went. I just acquired a X-T10, which I’ve seen but not used and it seemed great. So all of the garden photos here were shot with the X-T10 and my beloved 56mm 1.2. I choose not to use the macro and just stick with one lens. Sometimes shooting wide open for plants is not a good idea, not enough depth of field, but none of the images are stopped down more than 5.6. More on my first impressions of the X-T10 at the end of the article.

Our good friends have a cottage with a stunningly beautiful garden on Cape Cod and invited us for the weekend. Their garden is filled with a variety of color, sizes, and textures and I want to capture that personality. Forgive the contradiction in the descriptions of the light where sometimes I saw that flat light is good or bad, or direct light doesn’t work. The truth is that Everything Depends Upon Everything so there is no formula for approach.

The first three images are shot in totally flat light. The one on the left is SOOC and the second one has clarity, saturation, and a few other enhancements. Flat light is great for capturing detail, but can be really dull. The hibiscus has a lot of text which doesn’t really come out until your work it in post, but the result works. Even though the light is subtle, remember that the flower petals have a degree of reflectance, so the skylight gives the variance in tones. Both light and color are important here. Red and Green are complimentary colors, on the opposite of the color chart (visual chart not light). The complimentary colors are Yellow and Violet (lightest luminance and darkest), Orange and Blue (our favorites for balanced color and tone) and Red and Green (both equal luminance value). When shooting flowers, understanding the advancing (red, yellow, orange) and receding (blue, green, violet) colors help create the illusion of depth. In black and white, it’s all the same shade of gray. We must learn to “see” differently in B & W or color.


In contrast to this quality of light is the pink hibiscus in direct sun. Yes, it has more contrast, but too hard, highlights are blown, not that interesting.




However, sometimes the direct or diffused sun works well, as long as it’s not too much in the middle of the day. I love finding spots of light that highlights the flower to bring out the drama.








Backlighting works great on many plants as long as there is good texture that can be brought out. These two examples make the plants glow:






Revisiting the same scene at different times of day and weather condition can also make a huge difference in the feeling and description. Here are three examples: flat light, more reflective light and then after the rain. The flat light is dull, but loads of detail. The next one has a little bit of filtered sun, just enough to bring out highlights and texture that make it much more interesting. Add the rain, and the shiny surfaces gleam, the texture is great but not too much, and you can almost smell the rain.



Here’s another couple of shots after the rain:





Sometimes flat light works great, brings out the detail and keeps highlights from blowing out. It can be outstandingly beautiful!





The X-T10, as you know, is a smaller version of the X-T1 without all the features. So far, I love it! The focusing is immediate and accurate and I’m extremely pleased with its performance. It’s a bit smaller and lighter, so putting on the 16-55 mm 2.8 is awkward, but with the smaller fixed lenses it feels balanced and a joy to carry. The drawback: I find myself hitting some of the function buttons with the heel of my hand due to the smaller grip. We all love that with the X-T1 when you hold the camera vertical; the exposure scale is at the bottom of the viewfinder. In the X-T10, sometimes it’s upside down, and irritating. I do miss having the ISO dial on the top of the camera, but that’s minor. Those are the biggest problems I’ve found. I’m looking forward to more time with it, and it will certainly be my backup camera.

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