Filling the frame with Saxon Holt: San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling


The 2nd day of the San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling opened with an optional photography workshop with professional garden photographer Saxon Holt at San Francisco Botanical Garden. While participants arose early, we still did not arrive at the magical “golden hour” of sunrise, and by 8:30 a.m. a very un-San Francisco-like Death Star was already beating down with intensity.


Despite the sun glare and the large number of bloggers who opted in on the workshop — a testament to Saxon’s popularity and the desire of most garden bloggers to improve their photography skills — Saxon (pictured here with S.F. Fling organizer Kelly Kilpatrick) gamely led an exercise in teaching us to frame our subjects. Placing a large, rectangular frame in front of us, he asked us to approach it from varying angles and see how that changed the framing of the view.

Then he set us loose in the garden for about 45 minutes, challenging us to fill our frames as we shot the garden, leaving no wasted space along the edges of our images. Afterward he invited each of us to post one image from the exercise on his Facebook page for his critical evaluation.


This is the image I chose to share: periwinkle geraniums spilling over a stone wall, with an inviting bench in the background. In his critique Saxon wrote, “I like the way you used the hardscape with diagonal lines to fill the frame and give some movement, but it feels a little empty on the right since it goes so out of focus. I wonder if you had moved to the left a bit and let the geraniums reach all the way across to the right side of the frame, you might have connected the parts of the photo.”

Good point about the right side being so out of focus. I need to work on that since I really wanted the hidden bench to be a key part of this photo, rather than a tight shot of the geraniums. See what you can learn from criticism?


I’d nearly put this photo up instead: blue fescues and an angular, decomposed-granite path. What do you think? Would this have been a better choice for the “fill your frame” exercise?


I also mulled over two more-traditional images: this one of sunlit flowers and a path curving behind, but I didn’t like the harsh shadows…


…and a close-in shot of kangeroo paws — pretty but nothing special.


Other images from that morning, which I didn’t consider for the exercise but still find worth posting, include a close-up of cherry-red Beschorneria seedpods against a backdrop of rich-colored bamboo culms, eggplant loropetalum, and orange torch lilies…


…a hummingbird sipping from an aloe blossom…


…and a rainbow arcing over a pond — the sprinklers were running during our visit, you see, and a rainbow greeted us unexpectedly.

Up next: The charming gardens at Sunset Publishing Co.’s headquarters. For a look back at the terraced, view-blessed Wave Garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

14 Responses

  1. Gail says:

    What a fun and informative workshop, but that blazing sun at 8:45AM sounds brutal!

  2. Alison says:

    I’m really enjoying your Fling posts! This was an informative and useful workshop, I really enjoyed it. That’s a great shot of the rainbow. I like the photo you chose for the critique. The other would have been a good one too. I’m pretty sure he would have said something about leading lines if you had chosen that one (since he talks about that a lot). Either way, it’s an education to get his comments.

  3. Katina says:

    I love the ‘fill the frame’ exercises. The only problem comes if you fill the frame too much and forget about actually printing out and framing your picture – then filling the frame in the photo can ruin the picture in real life.

    My aunt always said that doing Creative Memory photo albums made her a better photographer because she didn’t want to have to cut her photos to make them look good in the album, so she started filling the frame while taking photos. Worked like a charm.

  4. I loved your “rejects”! If I had been getting any sleep at night, would’ve wanted to participate. Sounds like I missed some insightful instruction from a master.

  5. Scott Weber says:

    Wasn’t it an amazing opportunity, Pam…I’m still amazed I got to meet Saxon Holt! I think you chose wisely, I like that photo…and I like having lots of out of focus elements in a photo…I a huge fan of limited DOF :-)

  6. I am anxious to improve my photography skills so the tips you shared were very helpful.

  7. Oh, I like the Kangaroo Paws–because of the way the light plays off their unique form! Plus, they’re fascinating plants to start with. Also, the rainbow shot is great and a fun photo to view. Wish I could have been there!

  8. Chris F says:

    I’m with Plant Postings…the branching of the Kangaroo Paws fill the frame nicely and the lighting makes it very interesting.. I think the one with the sunlit flowers would have worked if you were slightly closer. You always take wonderful photos.

  9. sandy lawrence says:

    Totally agreeing with Chris and P.P. The Kangaroo Paws photo is superb and would have been my choice. Look at that depth!

  10. Carla says:

    Kangaroo Paws!!!

  11. commonweeder says:

    It is wonderful that the Fling organizers again included a photography lesson – because we are all trying to be better photographers even if we haven’t graduated from a simple camera.

  12. Pam/Digging says:

    Thanks for all your comments, y’all! Maybe I need to reconsider my evaluation of the kangaroo paws image. :-) —Pam

  13. oooo I like the rainbow picture. It makes me happy.

    They just turn that frown upside down, don’t they? :-) —Pam

  14. I saw a rainbow from a distance, photo didn’t really come out. :-( Absolutely love that first picture, makes me smile.

    Thanks, Janet. —Pam