Camera practice at the Wildflower Center


Sea holly, or eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii)

I tried watching an instructional DVD about using my new camera on Sunday but fell asleep halfway through. When I awoke I decided a real-life test drive should be the first step, at least to try out the semi-automatic settings. So I headed to my favorite strolling garden in Austin, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, to see what the new toy could do. Or rather, what I could do with it. Suffice to say, not much at this point—I mean, not much that I couldn’t already do with my old point-and-shoot. I aspire to learn the manual settings eventually. Meanwhile, the semi-automatic settings appear to work quite nicely.


Liatris and yucca

My old point-and-shoot, which I’ve been quite happy with for 3 years, is a Canon PowerShot S3 IS. But recently I decided to make the leap to an SLR. My new camera is a Nikon D5000, which I chose based on personal recommendations, online reviews, and handy extras like an articulating LCD screen.


Gayfeather (Liatris mucronata)

First impressions: This camera is significantly heavier than my P&S. I find it a little harder to use for macros because of the weight, but I expect to adjust for that in time. It does a much better job with reds than my old camera, which had difficulty rendering them in sharp detail without oversaturating the image with color. And in an indoor test run, it did a fantastic job with low-light interiors. As for the garden pics, I’m pleased with its performance and know that I can do more as I learn the ins and outs of this camera.


Grape arbor

Now I’ll shut up and let you enjoy a warm, late-summer afternoon stroll at the Wildflower Center. What a contrast with today’s steady rain and cooler temperatures, which seem much more fall-like. Remember that all the plants at the Wildflower Center are native to Texas (mostly central Texas), and the gardens are a great source of inspiration.


Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii)


Turk’s cap is a magnet for hummingbirds.


Turk’s cap and flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii), a hummer’s fantasy combo.


Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)


Bottle tree, part of a folk art exhibit at the Wildflower Center now through December 5.


American agaves (A. americana) and Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) in front. That’s probably Gulf Coast muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) in back.


An enormous datura (Datura wrightii) planted in a stock tank had sprawled to about 9 feet, with dozens of creamy white blossoms tightly furled and waiting for dusk to open.


The honeybees, knowing they’d be asleep by then, just couldn’t wait. They were frenzied to get inside the blossoms, and pushed and pulled at each other to start spelunking for pollen.


Must be good stuff!


American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), one of my favorite fall shrubs, was in full berry along every shady path.


And Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) was fruiting.


I love the play of sun and shadow here: Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis), Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea).


Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) adorns the wall of the cistern-tower.


Its blue berries and red stems make a pretty combination.


The outdoor dining area in the main courtyard


The cistern-tower is the landmark building at the Wildflower Center. A stone tunnel leads you inside to a spiraling stair. Halfway up you can look down through a grate at the water collected inside or up through a grate to the sky. From here a narrow stair continues on the outside of the tower up to an observation platform at top.


A handful of very xeric plants, like prickly pear (Opuntia), grow in a wall planter at the top of the tower.


Back down to earth, a perky sunflower (I didn’t get an ID) waves goodbye to you and to summer.

All material © 2006-2010 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

17 Responses

  1. daricia says:

    pam, your pictures look great. i hope you enjoy your new camera. i always like hearing about bloggers’ cameras and details about how they take pictures. every garden blogger is a photographer, too, but you rarely hear much about that! i envy that you live near the wildflower center. i hope i can visit it sometime.

    Thanks, Daricia. You are right that every garden blogger is a photographer. If you’re interested in other bloggers’ posts about their cameras, Gardening Gone Wild has collected some links about the topic. —Pam

  2. Your photos look very good with just the auto settings. I think if I moved to a heavier camera than my little Canon Powershot I’d have to use my tripod and I have enough trouble getting the camera out quickly enough to catch my photos subjects now! Have fun with your new toy.

    I’m having fun, Heather. Yes, there are trade-offs with each choice. Canon PowerShot is a very nice camera in my opinion, and I can see still using mine when I want to carry something more compact. —Pam

  3. ~fer says:

    Great pictures!
    love those close ups, they are very vivid.
    I hope you enjoy your camera!

    Thanks! I am enjoying it. —Pam

  4. Thanks for the tour, it’s neat seeing what it looks like in the fall and comparing it to my memories of what it looked like in spring. The photos are so crisp and detailed, just wonderful. It’s amazing when you zoom way in on a downloaded image how you can see the bees’ tongue-thingy. Get used to a tripod, that’s the best way to do macros with a heavy camera.

    A tripod really does make a difference, especially in low light. I pull mine out when I have more time to play around or want to capture something special. But generally it stays in the closet, I’m afraid. —Pam

  5. Diana says:

    Great photos, Pam. Looks like you settled right into the new camera. I keep saying I’m going to take a class at Precision and then never get around to it. You may have inspired me to put it back on my “to do” list!

    Thanks, Diana. I’m working on it! Yes, a class for learning to use an SLR camera will help me too. —Pam

  6. Looks like the camera is working just fine. The camera USER could be part of the success.

    I wondered how those Datura would look, when we saw them back in spring. They seemed too big a plant for that planter. Looks like they took over. But, they look good.

    Is that sunflower a Maximilian?

    We’ve had steady rain, all morning. So far, it’s nice rain, not downpours.

    Thanks for the nice words, Linda. You were right about the datura. It/they have swamped that stock tank and are trying to take over the others. Still, I’d love to see and smell it at night. As for the sunflowers, they seemed kind of small to be Maximillian, but maybe. —Pam

  7. Cyndy says:

    Hi Pam, your practice looks perfect to me – beautiful images – I love that closeup of the Virgina creeper’s berries!

    That shot was one of my faves, Cyndy. Thanks! —Pam

  8. Gail says:

    Pam, I love the Wildflower Center~thank you for the tour! I am so glad I’ve been there, so i can imagine where everything is. Love that free form bottle tree~ Your description and photo of spelunking bees is perfect. Tomorrow I am signing up for a dslr class…there are 12 spots, so wish me luck on getting in the class! gail

    Good luck, Gail! I look forward to hearing all about it. —Pam

  9. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    That first photo might be the best I have ever seen of a Sea Holly. You captured the purple color and texture just perfectly. The wildflower center always has something intriguing going on. Love seeing the bees spelunking.

    I’m glad you like the sea holly pic, Lisa. The detail came out so sharp on that one. I definitely need to grow this plant next year. —Pam

  10. Denise says:

    Instructional DVDs have the same effect on me. So glad you tried your new camera out at the wildflower center. I love it when you Austin bloggers visit this amazing place. The LBJWC So. Calif counterpart for Calif native plants is probably the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which I haven’t visited in ages. Just a little further away than convenient for me. I predict your new camera will rock the blogosphere!

    Thanks, Denise. I’d love to see Rancho Santa Ana BG one day. You CA bloggers have so many wonderful public and privately held gardens to visit. —Pam

  11. Ginny says:

    I’ve been using a Canon SLR, but recently bought a Powershot. My husband felt I was “hogging” the SLR – so I wanted something that I didn’t have to share – but I didn’t have the money for another SLR. I agree that the size and weight of an SLR is a drawback but a minor one. I think the Powershot is adequate for most of the pictures I take, but I’ll still be grabbing the SLR for some, especially the macro shots.
    These are beautiful photos – I love the sunflowers waving goodbye!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the pics, Ginny. Have fun with your PowerShot. I have had two, and they are very good cameras. —Pam

  12. Les says:

    Great shots! It looks like you are on your way to mastering. In my backpack, I keep my camera and tripod (used infrequently), plus my camera manual which I pull out when I find myself stuck somewhere with nothing to do or read.

    Wow, that’s very dedicated of you, Les. Which is probably why your photos look so great. —Pam

  13. Nicole says:

    Marvelous photos-I love the crisp details in the agave and the blueberries-you just cant get that with a P&S.

    Thanks, Nicole. —Pam

  14. cat says:

    The datura and bee photos are delightful! I’m definitely going to make it over the the Wildflower Center before fall ends – too much inspiration and beauty to miss it! Thanks for the tour :)

    Cat, you need to go. Fall is a great time to visit the Wildflower Center. Actually, any time is a good time. —Pam

  15. Brianna says:

    Hey, Lee just posted about Eryngo, too. Great minds. ;)

    I saw his post yesterday! —Pam

  16. Frances says:

    Hi Pam, congrats on the new camera! It does look like fun and there is no better place for strolling than the wildflower center. Seeing the cistern and beautiful plants brought back very pleasant memories of the first ever bloggers meetup. Thanks! :-)

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