HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH PLANTS IN POTS
We asked Cecilia Macaulay for her approach to creating containerized garden pictures with pizazz.
1) How does one move from the moment of inspiration to capturing the muse in a photograph?
I love this question, because it acknowledges that you take the photo not because you are required to, but because what you are looking at has suddenly left you feeling touched and moved. That’s when you stop what you are doing, reach for the camera, and the photos come out looking great. It’s actually the love in a garden that people respond to and find beautiful, not the garden itself. The same with photographs.
The perfect time for photographing something is the same as the perfect time for giving a compliment - whenever you notice how lovely something is. This will always interrupt something else. Go for it.
2) What do you suggest for those who don't own or have access to a camera, or those who feel that their camera isn't good enough?
That’s when you dial a friend or even better, an acquaintance. You tell them you need a good photographer, and thought of them. You invite them over to take photos, and cook them crepes, or whatever you are good at.
I built my passive watering system on the power of crepes, plus seven different handy-people. Did you think I did all that drilling and measuring myself?
Actually, your camera is just fine. But it’s more fun to get others involved. Other people can be just as much part of your garden as the edibles you’ve planted. We are all flowers in the gardens of each other’s lives.
3) How might one tackle picture-taking challenges posed by small spaces?
Balcony gardens ARE particularly difficult to photograph, the reason is that they are always lit from the other side of the railing, and none of us can just hover out there and click.
This photo of me was taken by using a telescopic lens from below, and the camera held very still, with a tripod.
Some of my favourite balcony photos are actually of the image as reflected in my balcony mirror.
Beautifully lit close-ups with a delicately blurred background and foreground will always look good, even if you are shooting a dead flower. The challenge is to show how you have combined the various elements of your garden harmoniously, or outrageously, so you need a blend of close and distance shots.
4) Have you hot tips for the amateur photographer attempting to capture container, context and crop?
Make sure everything in the photo delights you and was selected to be there because it’s needed and relevant. Check that everything in the background participates in the visual 'theme' you are trying to create. “It was already there” is not an excuse to allow broken plastic pots, disused BBQ's and loud street signs to ruin your picture.
Make sure that everything in the shot is related to everything else in the shot in a meaningful way, like a family. For example, the blue sheen of the pink pot repeats the blue and pink of the petals, and makes their beauty stronger. Your container garden is a painting, and your brushstrokes and highlights are made of plants, pots, and elements you choose to be there.
5) What's your advice around aesthetic choices?
Make families of objects. Pick one visual theme and stick to it. Maybe 'Wabi-sabi' restraint, with rusted pots and faded natural wood. Or 'Manga style', with proudly plastic pots holding a riot of big leaves and fruits, any fussy or old-fashioned things excluded.
Have a powerful theme or key word and all aesthetic questions will answer themselves. "Do I line things up formally and use symmetry, or do I stagger and group things to look like nature put them there?" You will know!
o Photograph light on dark, dark on light. No mid-green on mid-green or your composition will blend together.
o Think about negative shapes - does the space left behind make an interesting shape too?
o Restrict colours to one 'Family'. That means, they will be diverse, but related, and all look better in each other’s presence. Same for materials, and even plant themes. Go all South American edibles, or all medieval healing herbs. You are creating a world for us.
6) How does one re-create rich, hypnotic colours with a camera?
I used to wait for the low-slanting morning or evening sun. I soon learnt that the loveliest effect was holding an umbrella over everything, in the strong sunshine. It seems to cause the light to come in from all directions, making things glow from within, sculpting each petal with new significance.
I never use a flash, because with my little camera, being lit from one direction makes things look flattened and dry. But I always steady the camera against a wall or chair, so the low light doesn't let things blur.
Flowers with umbrella overhead, Jyugaoka, Tokyo. See how the green in high-contrast looks lifeless, but the flowers are radiant?
7) Have you recommendations related to photo-editing?
Crop out anything that doesn't contribute.
Because I use an automatic setting and don't use a flash, I sometimes have to decrease shadows or increase exposure afterwards.
Keep it natural. Do most of the editing to the actual garden!