Shooting a garden in Death Star light and a PhotoBotanic GIVEAWAY

Saxon Holt guest posts today!

Acclaimed garden photographer Saxon Holt regularly shares his expertise and inspir- ational images on his blog and at Gardening Gone Wild, helping to educate the next generation of garden photographers, many of whom, like myself, are bloggers or Instagram sharers. In addition to his skill with the camera, he’s a fine teacher who recently published (and promptly won a Garden Writers Association award for) an e-book called Good Garden Photography. Since then he’s published two more e-books about garden photography and has another ready to drop, all through his website PhotoBotanic.

I had the pleasure of meeting Saxon at Garden Bloggers Fling a few years ago. He’s got a great concept going with PhotoBotanic, and I’m delighted to help him publicize his e-books as part of a blog tour and giveaway.

Here’s how the blog tour works: Saxon is guest posting on 6 blogs this week, and today he’s here at Digging! I challenged Saxon to write about photographing gardens in intense sunlight, as we central Texans so often must do. Please read on for his Death Star photography tips, specially written for us. Following Saxon’s guest post, stick around to enter a giveaway for his e-book!

How to Photograph in Death Star Lighting, by Saxon Holt

The best advice for taking pictures in bright, hot light can be summarized in one word: don’t.

The human eye can see detail in shadows and can compensate for the bright highlight areas, but a camera sensor does not have the dynamic range to register all the information the eye can see on a sunny day.

The hot rays of the sun come to earth in unbending parallel beams — death star light, a term I will forthwith steal from Pam. In dry, arid climates especially, where there is no humidity to bend the light into shadows, the sun bores into gardens. The camera sees black contrasty holes or garish steely colors with no softness or subtlety.

So avoid the sun; but keep reading for a sunscreen tip to follow. Hope to shoot on cloudy days, or plan for very early or very late in the day. Late in the day, after the sun sets, is a surprisingly nice color of light. I urge photographers to use tripods to help compose careful photos, but it is especially important if you want to shoot in soft light late in the day.

But sometimes you simply have to shoot in the bright light of our star. If you only want to shoot a close-up of a flower, leaf, or fruit on the vine you can use a sunscreen, literally. A small flexible diffusion disc, found at any decent camera store, and held between your subject and the sun will soften the light so perfectly it will seem like a photographer’s studio.

Here I am holding a disc above a lily in a public garden, where I had one chance on one day to get a photo.

Note I used the dark shade of distant trees to advantage.

If you need to shoot a wide area of the garden and can’t wait for the sun to go down, try using back light, my favorite trick. Photographers were once told to shoot with the sun behind us but, ughh, that’s ugly. Backlight is much more interesting, shooting toward the sun, light behind the scene. You need to be careful to shield the lens from direct rays, but backlight can be great in gardens where the sun creates a rim light around plants or even transparent glow through a leaf or flower.

Again, as in the lily photo above, you can use the dark shady area, where the camera is unable to capture detail, to your advantage, in areas where you don’t want detail.

Do try to avoid the worst light in the very middle of the day, but you can find ways to let even sunny light work for you when it starts coming in from an angle and creates some shady areas for backgrounds. I think we can learn to love even death star light.

–Saxon Holt

And now for your chance to win a free download of Good Garden Photography, the first e-book in Saxon’s Garden Photography Workshop Series! If you’ve never read an e-book, it’s simple; anyone with a computer or an iPad can download and read it, after placing an order online. For this giveaway, Saxon is doubling the excitement by offering his e-book for free to two winners from Digging!

Simply leave a comment on this blog post to enter. One comment per person, please. The deadline for entering is 11 pm on Wednesday, September 16. I’ll draw two winners at random and announce their names the next day on this post. Good luck!

For more chances to win — and more photography tips from Saxon — please visit the other blogs on the blog tour:

Wednesday, 9/9, Red Dirt Ramblings
Thursday, 9/10, Digging
Friday, 9/11, J Peterson Garden Design
Monday, 9/14, North Coast Gardening
Tuesday, 9/15, Cold Climate Gardening
Wednesday, 9/16, Garden Rant

Saxon is also hosting an end-of-summer photography contest where you can put your new skills to work. Visit Gardening Gone Wild on September 25 to submit your photo entry.

UPDATE: The giveaway winners, chosen via Random Number Generator, are #53 Michaele Anderson and #63 Gwen Rose. Congratulations, Michaele and Gwen! I’ll send you an email to get your confirmation. And thanks to everyone for entering.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Lawn Gone! giveaway: And the winners are…

To make a party of my new book announcementThe Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water (coming spring 2016; follow on FB) — I’ve been running a giveaway of three copies of my book Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard.

Out of 110 entries, I’ve just drawn the three winners, selected by a random number generator:
#73 – Cityslipper
#56 – Candice
#55 – Brenda Kula

Congratulations, y’all! I’ll email you today to get your addresses. To everyone who commented, thank you for sharing your favorite water-saving tips! It’s heartening to see that so many people in all kinds of climates are conscious of their water use and interested in conserving.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

A new book for 2016 and a Lawn Gone! GIVEAWAY

The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.

I have a big announcement, my friends! I’m writing a new book, a follow-up to Lawn Gone! that’s all about how to garden with less water. Or perhaps a better way of describing it is, it’s about honoring water in your garden.

No matter where you live, whether you contend with drought or are blessed with regular rain, water gives life. As we’ve all grown more conscious of the environmental impact of our gardening practices — from dusting the garden with chemicals to mowing and watering an expanse of thirsty lawn — we’re learning to create beauty that’s more in tune with our changing climate, and that isn’t wasteful of our most precious natural resource: clean water.

While visiting a xeriscape garden near Phoenix last spring, I was moved by an insightful proverb engraved on the rim of a steel container pond: “The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.” Nor must we. Now I don’t claim to be a paragon of water conservation, but I’m doing what I can and learning more every day, making small changes that add up to big water savings, and getting more out of the water I do use. I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

The book will come out early next year, in February 2016, published by the awesome team at Ten Speed Press. I’ll keep you updated on its progress. I’m really excited about this topic, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Right now though, I feel like keeping the party vibe going. To thank you for reading and visiting Digging, I’m giving away THREE signed copies of my book Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard, which the Dallas Morning News called “an excellent guide…if this is the year you reduce your lawn footprint or get rid of it altogether.” Here are the details:


What: An autographed copy of Lawn Gone! to THREE lucky winners

How to Enter: Leave a comment on THIS post and tell me ONE thing you do to conserve water in your garden. It can be anything, from planting some native plants, to collecting rainwater, to using drip irrigation or soaker hoses, to reducing your lawn, to watering in the morning instead of the afternoon. Just one thing. I bet you are doing something!

Who: One entry per person. Open to residents of the continental U.S. only, please, due to shipping costs. I’ll draw 3 winners at random.

When: Giveaway ends at 1 p.m. central time on Monday, February 9. I’ll announce the winners that day here and in a new blog post. Please check back to see if you’ve won.

Good luck to you all! (And thanks to Tom Ellison for sharing his garden, pictured above, with me.)

UPDATE 2/9/15: The three winners, selected by a random number generator, are:
#73 – Cityslipper
#56 – Candice
#55 – Brenda Kula

Congratulations! And thank you to everyone who entered. This giveaway is now closed.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.