Picture This – Highs and Lows

Front Walk at Hayefield.com

There are no signs of spring springing around here yet, due to the brutal cold still lingering—and oh, look, more snow on the way—so it’s back to the topic of fun garden photography to find some cheering color. This time, I’m thinking about ways you can change your views by changing the height and angle of your camera.

Holding your camera at eye level and shooting straight ahead—as in the image above—is the usual way to photograph a sizable plant, border, or landscape. And a downward view—the way we usually see our plantings when we walk around the garden—is common for most herbaceous plants. (Below is shredded umbrella plant [Syneilesis aconitifolia].)

Syneilesis aconitifolia with Rubus idaeus 'Aureus' at Hayefield.com

Exaggerating the downward approach, so you’re shooting almost or completely straight down, is one way to add a bit of variety to your plant portraits and combination close-ups.

Syneilesis aconitifolia at Hayefield.com

This approach can capture intriguing tapestry-like or patterned effects, especially if you can fill the whole frame with the plants. (Above is the shredded umbrella again; below is Chocolate Chip ajuga [Ajuga reptans ‘Valfredda’] with golden creeping Jenny [Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’].)

hocolate Chip ajuga [Ajuga reptans ‘Valfredda’] with golden creeping Jenny [Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’] at Hayefield.com

If the plants don’t fill the frame, though, the effect can be really weird: kind of dizzying, in fact, as your eyes try to make sense of what you’re seeing.

Syneilesis aconitifolia at Hayefield.com

Experimenting with different angles will help you figure out which ones you find most pleasing for each of your plants.

Syneilesis aconitifolia with Rubus idaeus 'Aureus' at Hayefield.com

Shooting straight on can be a good way to show off plant habits and flower forms (shredded umbrella again above, and Colchicum speciosum below)…

Colchicum speciosum with Phuopsis stylosa at Hayefield.com

…while tipping the camera a bit can give you an interesting view inside of cupped blooms.

Colchicum speciosum with Phuopsis stylosa at Hayefield.com

If you want to photograph trees, high-climbing vines, and other plants above normal eye level, of course, you’ll angle your camera the other way. (Below is ‘Sunspots’ annual sunflower [Helianthus annuus]; this one was about 8 feet tall.)

Helianthus Sunspots

The closer you are to the plant, the steeper the angle. As with shooting straight down, shooting almost straight up creates a rather vertiginous effect, but it’s a neat way to create a dramatic perspective.

Tall trees at Hayefield.com

Shooting upward is also an option for photographing the faces of flowers that tend to tilt downward, such as Lenten roses (Helleborus x hybridus).

Helleborus x hybridus at Hayefield.com

Sure, you can lift their blooms with your fingers or a stick to get a better view, but then the props are usually in the picture too. Changing the angle of your camera, rather than forcing the flowers to look up at you, lets them keep their natural charm.

Helleborus x hybridus at Hayefield.com

It also gives low-growing flowers, like snowdrops (Galanthus), a much prettier background than mud or mulch.

Galanthus nivalis at Hayefield.com

Instead or—or along with—changing the angle at which you hold your camera, you can change your own height.

Ghost bramble (Rubus thibetanus), Dakota Goldcharm spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Mertyann’), and creeping bramble (Rubus pentalobus) at Hayefield.com

I took the above photo, for instance—of ghost bramble (Rubus thibetanus), Dakota Goldcharm spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Mertyann’), and creeping bramble (Rubus pentalobus)—while standing straight up and tilting the camera down, and the one below by kneeling and shooting straight ahead. The first one is a more realistic representation of the combination, because that’s actually how I normally see it in the garden. But I prefer the second one, even though I get to view it that way only when I’m weeding the path.

Ghost bramble (Rubus thibetanus), Dakota Goldcharm spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Mertyann’), and creeping bramble (Rubus pentalobus) at Hayefield.com

Out front, I tried another experiment: keeping my camera level but changing my height while standing in one spot.

Front garden middle border with Canna 'Australia', Lobelia cardinalis, Tagetes patula 'Moldova', and Zinnia haageana 'Soleado' at Hayefield.com

Above is usual eye level (a few inches over 5 feet); below is at about 4 feet.

Front garden middle border with Canna 'Australia', Lobelia cardinalis, Tagetes patula 'Moldova', and Zinnia haageana 'Soleado' at Hayefield.com

At about 3 feet…

Front garden middle border with Canna 'Australia', Lobelia cardinalis, Tagetes patula 'Moldova', and Zinnia haageana 'Soleado' at Hayefield.com

…and about 2 feet. It’s interesting how the view changes as some plants get hidden and others become more obvious, and as the background changes.

Front garden middle border with Canna 'Australia', Lobelia cardinalis, Tagetes patula 'Moldova', and Zinnia haageana 'Soleado' at Hayefield.com

Shooting low like this is over-exaggerates vertical plants, such as the cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), which look like they’re about 8 feet tall instead of 4 to 5 feet It’s fine for showing off individual plants or combinations, though, and it’s a neat way to get an idea of how other people might experience your garden: sitting on a bench, for example…

Diagonal Path with Panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch'. Rudbeckia fulgida, Patrinia scabiosifolia, and Eutrochium purpureum 'Carin' at Hayefield.com

…or at kid or critter level.

Side garden path at Hayefield.com

Side garden path at Hayefield.com

Front garden middle path at Hayefield.com

No wonder gardens can be so magical for children. It’s easy for grown-ups to forget what it’s like to be completely immersed in plants. (Below is dwarf fleeceflower [Persicaria affinis] with Japanese blood grass [Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’], ‘Gerald Darby’ iris, and Tropicanna canna [Canna ‘Phasion’].)

Dwarf fleeceflower [Persicaria affinis] with Japanese blood grass [Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’], ‘Gerald Darby’ iris, and Tropicanna canna [Canna ‘Phasion’] at Hayefield.com

Shooting right at ground level is an interesting option for photographing low-growing plants, like these hybrid Dutch crocuses, since you typically don’t see them that way.

Dutch crocus (Hokus Crocus Mix) at Hayefield.com

To get shots like this, you have to get down and dirty—literally. That’s not so bad in summer, but when you’re shooting spring bulbs, it’s an easy way to get chilly and muddy really quickly, so it’s a good idea to drag a bit of old rug or blanket around with you so you have something to kneel or lie on.

Helleborus x hybridus at Hayefield.com

Once you get down this low, there’s nowhere to go but up! Change your perspective another way by getting higher: on a stepladder, for example…

Front garden at Hayefield.com

…or on a raised porch, deck, or balcony.

Side garden at Hayefield.com

A second- or third-story window gets you even higher.

Courtyard in summer 2005 at Hayefield.com

(These two shots are of the courtyard: above in 2005 and below in 2013. It’s kind of amazing how much the volunteer Eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) behind the barn grew in 8 years!)

Courtyard in fall 2013 at Hayefield.com

Do I need to add a disclaimer to the next one? Okay: Do not try this at home. That being said…to get even more of an overhead view of the garden, I have, on occasion, carried my camera up onto the house roof. I bring a hammer, too, so I can pretend I’m up there doing serious maintenance stuff if a car goes by or a neighbor is out walking.

Front garden at Hayefield.com

Diagonal Path at Hayefield.com

Side garden at Hayefield.com

Veg garden and cottage garden at Hayefield.com

Is it useful? Not so much in a garden that’s basically finished, except for record-keeping. But if you still have some empty space to fill, or if you’re thinking about reworking an area that you’re not happy with, having images like these could be really handy when you’re sketching out ideas.

Need even more of an overhead view? You can’t get much more aerial than a satellite image. I checked out at least a half-dozen options, and Google Earth aerial maps were by far the most clear and the most recent. I think these are from 2012, based on the pattern I mowed into the lower meadow.

Aerial View of Hayefield 2012

Below is the closest view I could get of the area right around the house: good enough for rough planning, anyway. (And, good enough to show where two small alpacas were hanging out at the moment the image was taken, just north of the house; see them circled in red? I can even tell which is which! And wow, those chartreuse plants really stand out, even from space.) Apparently the images in more-populated areas are taken from airplanes, and they’re at even higher resolutions than the satellite images.

Aerial View of Hayefield 2012

If I’d had access to overhead images like these 14 years ago, would I have done a better job creating a more organized system of paths and planted areas, at least inside the fence? Possibly. But back then, I really didn’t know what all I wanted, so the plan likely would have changed anyway. I can’t say I’m terribly disappointed how it evolved section by section, even if folks flying overhead aren’t impressed.

(By the way, you can’t use Google Earth images for commercial purposes, but according to the GE policy statement –Use of Images—it’s okay to use them on your own blog or website or print them out if you keep the logos and such on them.)

Until drones start flying around at even closer range, there’s another way to get an almost overhead view of your yard: the “10-foot pole method.” Credit for this one has to go to Alan Lorence of It’s Not Work, It’s Gardening! To get aerial pictures of his garden, he attached his point-and-shoot camera to a section or two of metal conduit and used the timer function to capture  images as he walked around. You can check out his results in A Different Perspective and Bird’s-eye Survey. This is brilliant, Alan, though what I’d also like to see is a picture of you doing it!

18 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sue Gilmour on March 2, 2014 at 5:07 am

    Love all of the ideas for shooting, I remember being up on the roof, it feels so unreal up there looking down, I never thought of taking a pic though, we were tarring some shingles!
    It’s still freezing here too, the animals must be getting as weary of the winter as we are. Poor chickens hardly ever come out.
    I am planting seeds though, so nice to see green shoots even if its just under my grow lights.
    Thanks for the colour this AM!! TTFN…Sue

    Good morning, Sue! Good for you, making your own spring indoors. This cold has to give up eventually, but I’ve pretty much given up hope of having anything to show for Bloom Day on the 15th. At this point, I’d just be happy to see some grass so the boys could start grazing again.
    -Nan

  2. Posted by debra on March 2, 2014 at 6:22 am

    good to hear from you again. it’s always nice to see your garden. we’ve had some snow/ice/cold temps here but i sure wouldn’t like to live with it all winter. saw one grape hyacinth and a few daffodils and lenten rose and a few camellia buds have opened yesterday and they made me smile. don’t be jealous but today is to be 70 degrees …. so anxious for spring and time to plant. hubby did plant spinach yesterday. Hope the rest of the winter goes by quickly for you.

    Thank you for the garden report, Debra. It’s a joy to know that someone, somewhere is getting a taste of spring and mild temperatures. Our turn will come eventually. I hope you thoroughly enjoy the new gardening season!
    -Nan

  3. Posted by joann scholl on March 2, 2014 at 6:51 am

    wintry mix in the forecast this a.m. and some bitter cold at night.so happy to see beautiful gardens . it helps the dreary winter seem a little brighter. my,won’t we be sooo busy when the weather finally breaks!
    my best to you and the boys….jo

    You said it, Jo–we’re going to be very busy as soon as the snow melts! I guess it’s a good thing we had lots of shoveling to do to stay in shape.
    -Nan

  4. About all that I can add… Is those hellebore can stand a bit of roughness… shifting them, propping the flowers up on their leaves… results in a pleasing photo, and leaving the blooms propped up means that I can enjoy them the way that I want to see them… Works for a small group of 3 or 4 plants… I don’t bother with a large patches… And… yeah, I’ve seen those pics of somebody’s hand holding up the flowers …

    Your discussion of shooting from the roof reminded me of climbing the rickety step ladder back in ’08 to shoot the dogwood blooms…

    While I have taken screen shots of my place on google earth… I’ll pass on posting them to the internet… for now…

    Yep, that’s an option for the hellebores. Planting them in pots, in a raised bed, or on a hillside shows them off well too. Honestly, I think they’re charming with their heads down, and the hybrids usually lift their faces on their own as they mature.
    -Nan

  5. Wonderful post Nan! I especially like that you showed the same plant (shredded umbrella) from so many different perspectives — it really illustrates the difference point-of-view can make!

    Hi Alan! Thanks for stopping by today. And hey, I look forward to reading more about your own photography experiments!
    -Nan

  6. Posted by L on March 2, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Fun to see shots of your place from so far above. I have looked at our place before. It isn’t too impressive from there. ha.. I have a much smaller area. I have climbed on top of my house to take pictures before. That gives a fun view. I will have to pop over and look at Alan’s results.

    Good morning, Lisa! I think you’ll enjoy seeing what Alan came up with: it’s much safer than ladders and roof-climbing.
    -Nan

  7. Posted by Liz Dutton on March 2, 2014 at 10:06 am

    No signs of Spring springing here in Wisconsin either— and more shoveling to do today too! But being able to enjoy YOUR garden made this gardeners morning much more bearable! Thank you!

    My gardens are in my daycare home so your comment about the child’s perspective of being completely immersed in plants made me grin. It was the children’s idea to surround their big sandpit with tall ornamental grasses “so they could hide like lions”. The kids love the sound and movement of grasses. And I love how the grasses look most months if the year and how they block the view of scattered buckets and Tonka trucks.

    A safari garden – how fun. Smart kids, Liz! Good luck with the shoveling today. Really, who needs a gym membership with weather like this?
    -Nan

  8. Posted by Allan Robinson on March 2, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Sitting inside on a miserable wet day it is such a delight to look at your photos and read the descriptions of your wonderful plantings Nan, so thank you for brightening my day. I really like the different views of your plot too, the Google Earth ones giving us a great view of the size of your plot (envious). I managed to get out in my garden yesterday and planted some Primula Vulgaris and a variegated Viburnum Tinus. I am following some of your plant combinations and going for Gold/chatreuse/lemon with shots of orange, purple and blue, Chatreuse is now my favourite colour (cannot get enough of it). I hope and pray that you and your boys get some good weather and that Spring comes soon for you so that you can get out and start gardening again. God bless you Nan

    Ohhhh, primroses; a true sign of spring. I haven’t even seen any in grocery stores around here yet. It’s so good to hear that you’ve been able to do some planting, Allan; I was afraid that you might be completely soggy by now. Your chosen colors should go a long way to creating a cheery effect this year!
    -Nan

  9. Posted by Susan on March 2, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    It’s so much fun photographing the garden! Dirty knees are a must! This was a great post on perspective! Thank you!

    Agreed, Susan–dirty knees are pretty much a permanent condition for gardeners. But cold, muddy knees are mighty unpleasant, especially as we get older!
    -Nan

  10. Great tips and wonderful photos! Now I just have to work on my flexibility – getting down low is always a struggle with one bad knee that just doesn’t want to cooperate. Your plants look good from every angle. I love that shredded umbrella plant but it appears that it wouldn’t like southern California.

    I hope spring finds you soon!

    Hi there, Kris. Yeah, I’m guessing that the Syneilesis wouldn’t be happy there, but who knows–maybe it would be worth a try? It’s a very cool plant.

    I’m starting to look at new cameras in case my current one gives up, and I see that some have screens that tilt, which would make it easier to get low shots without having to kneel. I may have to give one of those a test run to see how well it works out.
    -Nan

  11. Nan,
    Thank you so much for a lesson on perspective and photography. I shall add it to your other posts and lessons! We are in Florida for the winter (I know, dirty business that someone has to do) as snowbirds and believe this may be the best year ever to be away – it’s been miserable for you all.
    Today hit 80 here and we took a nature drive through the water management dikes and caught photos of coots and moor hens mostly, but saw turtles, ibis, herons, and cranes. We shall be returning in April (because the grass will need mowing) but read that March might be good to be away too (sorry).
    But thank you for showing photos of how it will be soon in your neck of the woods.
    Best to you,
    Shen

    Lucky you, Shen! But hmmm…80s sound a bit *too* warm; right now, even 40s would be toasty. Enjoy your visit as long as you can. And hey, congratulations on the imminent release of your new book, A Sensual Garden!
    -Nan

  12. Fantastic!
    I can’t imagine living more than two months under the snow, without blue sky.
    We are entering fall with an unsually cold February. We had the driest and hotest January in fifty years in the southeast part of Buenos Aires province in Argentina.
    I’ve just bougth your new book. Our Post Office is a mess: four month delay with the chinese stuff….. I hope books arrive sooner.

    Oh, we have had some blue sky here and there, fortunately. Two days ago, the solar panels had their best energy-production day since early September! Thanks so much for buying Five-Plant Gardens. I hope it arrives in a timely manner and in good condition, and that you find it useful. Happy fall!
    -Nan

    • Posted by Marcela Garate on March 12, 2014 at 9:34 pm

      The book has just arrived. It looks really interesting the idea of a small design that can be duplicated, triplicated, etc. Love it!!!

      I’m astounded that you got your copy of Five-Plant Gardens in 10 days, Marcela. It can take longer than that to send a letter just a couple of states away, let alone another continent. What a delight to hear that you are pleased with the book; thank you so much!
      -Nan

  13. Posted by Jorge on March 3, 2014 at 5:30 am

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing your phtography experience. Please send more!
    cheers
    Jorgito

    Good to hear from you, Jorge! I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the post. I hope you’re enjoying a beautiful fall day today!
    -Nan

  14. Posted by magda on March 3, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Your site is so beautiful and so enspiring Thank you so much for your vision I share it with my older sister and good old friend in IReland so that they too can delight in your talent !

    That’s very kind of you, Magda; thank you for visiting!
    -Nan

  15. This is so helpful. Nan, I love how you broke down each type of angle. Thank you very much. I want to get on my roof and take pics this year. As for the neighbors, to heck with them. I shared your post on FB. It was so good.~~Dee

    Thanks for that, Dee! And well, I didn’t really care so much about the neighbors seeing me up there as Mom. She’s not afraid to get up on a roof herself, and she’d cheer me on if if were up there for a good reason, but she’d worry if I did it without her here to hold the ladder for me!
    -Nan

  16. Posted by Barbara ds on March 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for another inspiring photography post, Nan. Our spring bulbs and hellebores are putting on a show right now so good timing. Too late for the snowdrops but I have to say I have never seen a more charming shot of a snowdrop than the one depicted above. I am going to pot some up for next year so that I can experiment with the camera. Your new book is coming out in Canada later this month. I have mine on order and can’t wait to get my hands on it. Hope things warm up there soon, Nan. Please give my regards to the boys. Barbara in Victoria.

    Good morning, Barbara! Potting up small bulbs certainly would make it easier to shoot up into them. Thanks so much for ordering the new book; I really hope you like it. And thanks too for remembering the boys. They have been in a much better mood the last two days–perhaps they can sense that there’s a chance of more spring-like weather on the way tomorrow–so I’m sure they’d send return greetings if they weren’t busy sunbathing.
    -Nan

  17. I wonder, Nan, if you too have had the experience – in pursuit of capturing a perfect photo – that you might want to make changes to your garden design or reposition a plant or two at the least. While it might imply “putting the cart before the horse,” sometimes fresh camera perspectives can help us understand potentials we wouldn’t have otherwise imagined.

    Definitely, Eric: I adjust my annual plantings, relocate perennials, change color schemes, and move ornaments around every year to (hopefully) improve things from the previous year. And since you thought to ask the question, I’m guessing that you do the same!
    -Nan

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