April 25, 2011

Pink Tulips and Pink Daffodils Are Not the Same Color

Many of you gardeners already know that 'pink' daffodils aren't exactly pink. Not mauve or bubble-gum pink, at least, like these tulips. So no matter what the catalog/website picture shows, you have to plan for peachy-pink or coral-pink daffodils.

I caught all these pictures in my dad's backyard when we visited for Easter. His garden, just 100 miles away in Moses Lake, is several weeks farther along than mine.

Over the past couple of years he has planted a new bed in the middle of the backyard, and when we visited there were several hundred daffodils in bloom along with tulips, a few hyacinths and fritillaria.

I used techniques from my last post when shooting these pictures. Since the house shades this bed right before sunset, these pictures were taken at about 5 pm with the sun behind the flowers. Aren't these true pink tulips dreamy?

But even more dreamy were the hundreds of daffodils in bloom. I ordered these next photos to show the progression of color as the double daffodils open and then fade over several days.

You can see that these 'pink' daffodils open a pinkish-orange color. I forgot to ask my dad which hybrid these are, so I can't name them, sorry.

The flowers in the background are blurry because I mostly used a 1.4 f-stop. Maybe a couple of photos go up to 2.0, but not any higher than that.

And the backlighting makes the flowers and background glow, just as Jose Villa promised. Don't you just feel warm when looking at these sun-filled shots? Me too, despite the rainy grey weather outside my window right now.

Anyway, as the daffodils age the peachy-pink color softens and softens . . .

. . . until the flowers are mostly white with a pastel pinky-peach center. Still not bubblegum, or even cotton candy, and definitely not mauve. But a pretty color nevertheless.

April 19, 2011

Wedding Photo Tips Adapted for Garden Photos

This month I bought 'Fine Art Wedding Photography' by top photographer Jose Villa (available from Amazon here) and have enjoyed studying his methods and thinking of ways to apply them to my garden photography. Here are five of his tips that can apply, along with my attempts to illustrate his points with photos of the spring bulbs in my garden. Included are 'Tete-a-Tete' mini daffodils, 'Spring Beauty' scilla and 'Grande Maitre' crocus. Of course my photos are nowhere near as beautiful as his, which you can see on his blog here.

1. Photograph with your aperture wide open (ie with a low f-stop). In layman's terms, this creates a blurry background. It requires leaving full auto mode and going at least to Av mode, if not full manual. Unlike Mr. Villa, I am not quick enough with manual to use it much, so I set my camera to Av mode so I can push the f-stop all the way down to 2.8 or 1.4, depending on which lens I'm using, and let the camera figure out the rest of the settings. A bonus to using a low f-stop is that it reduces the blurriness from camera shake, which is especially helpful in dimmer light. You can see in the photo above that not all of the daffodils are on focus thanks to an f-stop of 2.0.

2. Take advantage of the soft skylight that lasts about 10 minutes after sunset (or before sunrise). Mr. Villa goes so far as to check sunset times on days when he's shooting a wedding so he can make sure to have the newlyweds available for photos during this time. Well, most photographers already know that the best light is right around sunrise or sunset. A cloudy day can produce similar light. The nice thing about this type of light is that there aren't many shadows, so you can shoot in any direction. This light also lets you capture good colors instead of the washed-out hues that can occur in strong sunlight.

3. Backlight your subject when shooting in strong sunlight. When I first started taking pictures for this blog, my instinct was to do exactly the opposite, and shoot with the sun at my back. But backlighting (shooting with the sun behind your subject) creates especially pretty pictures when the light is low just before sunset, with the flowers glowing. The photo above shows the same clump of daffodils and scilla as the photo above it, only one is backlit with the setting sun and the other is lit with soft skylight. The backlit flowers are very striking, though perhaps you can see true colors and detail better with the softer lighting.

4. Expose for the shadows. This applies to backlit subjects. To do this (sorry for the non-technical terms here), make sure that the center red dot on your screen flashes/beeps right on the point (often the center of a flower) where you want the best focus and correct exposure. This will cause you to lose some detail in the 'blown out' highlights of the background (which will be blurry anyway since you're shooting with a low f-stop), but will keep your focal point clear and properly exposed. This makes the overall photo brighter, with soft colors and glowing light. In the photo above, you can see white splotches in the background that have no detail thanks to the low f-stop and overexposure, but they don't detract from the flowers in the focal point, and the whole photo is filled with light.

5. Overexpose for soft colors and glowing light. I have a hard time giving up vivid colors to create this effect, but I tried for this post. You can see that the photo above is slightly brighter and the colors softer than the one below. Mr. Villa overexposes by adjusting his manual ISO setting to one f-stop below the speed of the film (so he sets 3200-speed film at 1600-speed). Since I'm not that proficient in manual and I don't use film, I adjusted the exposure on my computer by using Photoshop Elements' RAW editor.

Of course most of us aren't going to be able to create photographs as beautiful as Jose Villa's, but experimenting with his methods could help us capture some shots that are better than expected. I'm certainly having fun with his tips, and can't wait to try them out while photographing my children, too. If you try any of these tips and have success, be sure to leave a comment and post a link to your photo(s). Best wishes!

April 14, 2011

GGW's Picture This Contest: Let's Talk About Light

When I read about Gardening Gone Wild's theme for their April photo contest - light - I thought of this picture right away. I took it around New Year's at the Santa Barbara Zoo, and the cheerful backlighting reminds me of everything I miss about California winters - mild temperatures and sun. Ah well, if we can't live in California at least we can visit once in a while. So here's my entry for the April GGW photo contest.

April 11, 2011

Parade of Small Spring Bulbs

Small bulbs have been the stars of the garden so far this spring. I love the small bulbs because many of them bloom early, and once the show is over their diminutive foliage doesn't draw as much attention to its half-dead state as large tulip leaves do when they die back (although I planted some tulips last fall anyway). Above is a shot of Crocus 'Grand Maitre' and blue Scilla 'Spring Beauty'.

One drawback to small bulbs is that a photographer has to sprawl in damp grass or hunch down into the dirt to catch good photos. My neighbors must have had a chuckle or two at my contortions on the front lawn the other day while snapping these photos.

Last week I mentioned how unusual Crocus tommasinianus looks when the flowers first stretch up. So here's a photo to demonstrate. Somehow they look half-dressed. Though it's not apparent in this shot, sometimes it takes a few days for the petals to grow long enough to enclose the stamens, so there are bits of orange sticking out the tops even when they're closed.

But when the sun shines these cheerful little flowers throw back their petals and glow! In this photo you can see them blooming amid tulip foliage. I saved myself some work last fall by planting crocus right on top of tulip bulbs. With the tulips at 8" deep and the crocus at 4", there was plenty of room for both.

Here you can see blue Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow) blooming with Aubrieta 'Axcent Blue' in the foreground and more Crocus 'Grand Maitre' in the background. I'm planning to add some C. 'Pink Giant' to the mix as well, since this is what I see out my kitchen window while doing dishes. I was hoping the Aubrieta would bloom at the same time as the 'Basket of Gold' (Aurinia saxatilis) planted beside it, but so far no luck. Hopefully the bloom times will overlap at least for a little while, since the deep violet and gold would be pretty together.

I can't remember if these are Chionodoxa luciliae or C. forbesii 'Blue Giant', which makes it difficult to order more to match. Though if they're so similar, maybe it won't matter what type I get.

Here a shot of Chionodoxa with Phlox 'Emerald Blue' in the background. I had an idea that these might bloom together, but the phlox isn't even close to blooming yet. There's plenty of trial and error in trying to match up spring blooming partners.

It's interesting to compare the light blue of the Chionodoxa with the light blue Scilla 'Spring Beauty', which are also blooming right now. Though both could be called 'true blue', the Chionodoxa leans slightly toward periwinkle while the Scilla (above) is an almost turquoise blue.

I planted Scilla around clumps of miniature daffodils ('Tete-a-Tete') in hopes that the blue and yellow would play off each other well. So far most of the daffodils haven't started blooming . . .

. . . except for the clump in the photo above, which makes a cheerful combination. This pretty picture - with afternoon sunlight backlighting the flowers - was definitely worth a few strange looks from the neighbors and a few damp spots on my jeans, don't you think?

April 4, 2011

Crazy for Crocus

Although crocus aren't the most exciting flowers - they're small, their colors are limited, and they don't repeat bloom - they were the only thing blooming in my March garden. And that made them fabulous!

These first photos show 'Golden Bunch', which has been in bloom for nearly a month now (surely they'd expire faster if our weather was any warmer). This type is 'bunch blooming', meaning that each bulb produces numerous flowers. The photo above shows the flowers from just 5 little bulbs that were planted last fall. I'm so impressed.

The second type of crocus to start blooming in my garden was Crocus tommasinianus 'Barr's Purple', also planted last fall. Whereas the other crocus in my garden form complete flowers low down and then send them up, this one sends up half-formed flowers that gradually fill out. They look kind of ghostly at first.

Above are more of the tommies. Many crocus are great naturalizers, which means they increase in number each year. My neighbor has lots of crocus as well, including some of the pure white and lavender-and-white striped types. Since she planted them five years ago, the clumps have expanded quite a bit. Can't wait to see how much mine increase in future years.

These last couple of photos show 'Grand Maitre' crocuses, which I picked up at Costco last fall. I think the bag contained 50 or 100 bulbs for about $14, which is a great deal either way. The only drawback to Costco is their limited selection, whereas Brent & Becky's Bulbs offers 36 different types of spring-blooming crocus.

I've been marking up pages in the B&B catalog to remind me which crocus to order for fall planting this year - more of the same types that I already have, to fill in empty spots. Might as well make March as colorful as possible! The small bulbs are easy to tuck in around perennials and shrubs, and they're much less work to plant than others since they only go 4" deep. Now my other small bulbs are starting to bloom - Chionodoxa, Scilla and Galanthus. I'll post pictures of them next week.