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.

63 Responses

  1. Wanda Pylant says:

    Yes, I will definitely use those two suggestions. Great Tips.

  2. Malcolm W. says:

    Great advice. Count me in.

  3. Lori says:

    I like the portable shade idea. I will definitely need to try that!

  4. Cheryl Hawes says:

    I have issues holding the camera (a cheap, point and shoot) still enough in low light to get a sharp photo. Maybe I ought to find a tripod!

  5. Laurel says:

    I love the detail and glow of the back light effect!

  6. Alison says:

    I’ve always gotten a lot out of Saxon’s posts on Gardening Gone Wild. Great advice here about shooting in bright sunlight, which we often get even here in the PNW during the summer.

  7. Candee Kenny says:

    Can’t wait to use the tips in my fall garden

  8. Bridgette says:

    Love the portable shade idea. Gorgeous photos!

  9. Margaret says:

    Wow!! would love more of Saxon’s tips as I work on my little book on Fairies, Frogs & Trolls that live in my Herb Garden.

  10. David says:

    Great ideas. As I “remodel” my yard I will take these ideas to heart.

  11. Jenny says:

    I certainly need help with my photography. Love those hints.

  12. Shirley says:

    Good advice and ideas to try. Avoiding the death star is next to impossible much of the year in South Texas!

  13. Saxon says:

    Thanks Pam ! Already lots of comments. I hope your readers follow the tour and get more tips and then everyone is invited to the Picture This contest at Gardening Gone Wild – and if memory serves YOU have won.

  14. Marcela says:

    Saxon Holt explains in a very simple way. Congratulations!. I´ll try those tips!

  15. Mary says:

    Great tips, I love garden photography and so happy I came across this site.
    I love getting tips and inspiration from other gardeners
    Thanks for sharing

  16. Michael T. says:

    I thought it was just me as a bad photographer. Thanks for the tips..

  17. Great topic choice, Pam. I loved our mini-lesson from Saxon at at the Garden Bloggers Fling several years ago. Thanks for the tips, Saxon, and the chance to win the e-book.

  18. Scott Weber says:

    I’ve found over the years that while I’m always happy and relieved to have overcast conditions, my favorite and most dramatic shots are always the result of side or back-lighting.

  19. Sue says:

    I love the backlit photos. I will try to experiment with a few native plants in the coming weeks

  20. tami says:

    Great tips. I’d love to take better pictures of my garden.

  21. Joanna says:

    I have been taking pictures for a while now, but it never hurts to learn more. Thanks for the chance!

  22. Barb says:

    Shared with my photographer husband

  23. Ruth Lil. says:

    Really loving the tips and your wonderful photography.

  24. Tece Markel says:

    Love Saxon’s work!!

  25. Sarah says:

    Love to see the backlighting. Great tip for the Death Star light. :^)

  26. TexasDeb says:

    Great hints as that first tip “Don’t!” is hard to follow in Central Texas. Happily for our area at least, we have the promise of more gently tempered sunlight heading our way. October’s flowers are not only gorgeous here, but the quality of the light that time of year is every would-be garden photographer’s friend. Looking forward to reading on the other blogs to pick up more.

    RockRose garden blogger Jenny is also counted amongst the past Picture This! winners – that’s two from Austin I know about -there may be others. Local competition will be brisk!

  27. zooperson says:

    Would love to,have the book.

  28. Joanne says:

    Thank you for the tips.

  29. rickii says:

    Sounds like Saxon is well positioned to help us narrow the gap between what our eyes see and what the camera captures. No wonder there is lots of interest in this giveaway.

  30. Heidi says:

    Great tips! Thanks so much for sharing. : )

  31. Lynn says:

    Thanks for the tips and a chance to win your e-book

  32. Melody says:

    These tips will come in handy here in Florida too! Thanks for the tips, Saxon; and thanks for hosting the give-away, Pam.

  33. Barbara says:

    Great tips. And beautiful pictures!

  34. Greggo says:

    Thanks for the tips Saxon and for you hosting Pam.

  35. June says:

    Your posts have helped me more than trying to learn about f-stops and that sort of technical information. I’m a gardener – who enjoys sharing. Your photography tips are excellent for someone like me. Thanks!

  36. Great tips.
    I have a good tripod. Just have to remember to use it. Especially on zoom or low light pics.

  37. Katie Elzer-Peters says:

    Pam! Thank you for hosting this tour! I can definitely use this tip. I’m constantly shooting in HOT light.

  38. Maggie Carpenter says:

    I look forward to reading more of Saxon’s hints in hopes of documenting all the work I’m dreaming of doing in my garden this fall, post-retirement! Your garden provides inspiration, too, Pam, and I look forward to seeing it in person in October.

  39. Lara Ruiz says:

    I love taking photos of plants but I never seem to be able to translate their beauty. Sounds like this book would be quite helpful.

  40. Nancy Baxter says:

    I have wanted to do photography for a good while. Your info was very helpful. I will check out the other blogs too for more hints. Hope I win. Thanks for the giveaway

  41. Jim B says:

    Thanks for the tips. Will try on my parents gardens!!!

  42. Martie Brown says:

    Wonderful information. Thank you.

  43. Karin Steinhauer says:

    Thank you for asking that very pertinent-to-my-garden question! Here in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles it is so hard to get any decent photos between May and October!

  44. Cathy Insley says:

    Good tips for sunny day photos! Can’t wait to learn more.

  45. Carol Hanson says:

    great tips; love your garden Pam even tho I can’t grow anything that you do here in my zone 3-4 garden.

  46. Heidi says:

    Love the beautiful pics and great tips, I definitely want to read more! Thanks for doing the giveaway.

  47. I agree with Saxon, the death star is a bother. I bet his ebooks are fabulous.

  48. Sherry L Mason says:

    At first the “death star” was pretty humorous. Definitely too much of anything (even sunshine) can be bad. But, in actuality “life star” is more true. After all, as gardeners we are all LIGHT HARVESTERS.

  49. Kris P says:

    Great tips! I discovered the value of shooting into shade quite by accident and use it when I can – unfortunately, I seem to have much less shade than I need.

  50. Eleanor says:

    Thank you for the chance. I wondered why my garden photos always looked so washed out.

  51. Dianne says:

    I love shooting into the light. It gives my photos beautiful life and light. All thanks to Saxton.

  52. Lyn says:

    I love that term “death start light” – it describes it perfectly. It is especially frustrating when garden visiting, as most gardens are only open in the brightest times of the day (a pet gripe of mine).

  53. michaele anderson says:

    Just these couple of tips and the pictures showing the examples were a light bulb going on moment for me. I’m sure the book must be fascinating and so informative.

  54. The workshop we had with Saxon at the Garden Bloggers’ Fling was amazing. I learned so much from him in just that bit of time–I’d love to win this book!

  55. Jane says:

    Finally bought a good camera. Now I need to learn how to use it!

  56. Jennie Brooks says:

    I’d always heard not to shoot in bright light. Glad to hear some helpful tips.

  57. I do sometimes try the impossible and I appreciate the tips…I will definitely be using these tips…I have been adoring the use of back light….it is amazing the photos we can get. Love the opportunity to win the book!

  58. Vp says:

    Great tips. I’m taking an online floral photography Masterclass and struggled with the exercise using bright sunlight. I’m intrigued with the diffusion disc picture – looks like you need to use a long shutter release cable to be able to take the photo!

  59. Robin says:

    I’ve been meaning to pick up a small portable scrim!

  60. Create your own shade – now why didn’t I think of that? And wow, what a subject! I’m sure there are many more excellent tips in this book, too. I would learn so much from this book. Thank you for posting this giveaway.

  61. Katherine says:

    Looks like a great book! Thanks for sharing- Excellent tips that I for one need!!!

  62. Gwen Rose says:

    Thank you for giving advice on garden photo techniques. I am an experienced gardener, but a novice with the camera.