I am so excited to introduce you to the first of a few guests I have lined up while I am away. Rich Pomerantz garden imagess have been published in garden design, National Geographic the New York Times and many great publications in between. I asked Rich to talk to us about how he thinks garden design and garden photography intersect. I have this theory that to get better at one will guide getting better at the other….and after reading Rich’s wisdom, I think I might be right! Rich……
Many gardeners enjoy photographing their garden designs. Doing so gives them the chance to record their work or that of the gardens they visit. It also preserves the memory of a garden at a point in time. But did you realize how improving your garden photography skills can help your design abilities? There are many aspects to each discipline that overlap, but they are not always so obvious. I’ll discuss a few.
There are several things that are critical to good photography that are also important in garden design. Master photographers know that light is a primary consideration.
Light has color, direction and intensity. Every good designer takes into account the direction of the natural light when laying out a garden. If they do not the garden is likely to be either a terrific failure or just mediocre, as the plants will not receive the light they need to grow properly. The best garden designers also think about the intensity of the light at different times of the seasons when planning their plantings. Knowledge of what can thrive in partial shade versus full sun and where the sun will hit in May, and then where it will hit in September will certainly inform the planting scheme. As a photographer I always want to know where the light will be coming from at different times of the day and I plan my shooting accordingly. If I want to photograph a backlit miscanthus in September,
then it ought to be planted to take advantage of the light hitting it across the garden from behind.
Perhaps the most obvious overlap is in composition. Good photographic composition follows the same rules that we learn from art history like the rule of thirds, use of leading lines or curves to lead the eye into and around the frame, and the use of pattern, among others. Smart garden design will use many of the same ideas, in three dimensional and living forms. So we see in formal gardens (and many not-so-formal ones) the use of axial lines leading to a focal point,
which give us leading lines and lead the viewer/visitor to the “prize” at the end, which becomes a primary subject in the artist’s composition. Most gardeners have been told about planting in odd numbers, which is a variant on the rule of thirds.
In photography, as in other art forms, once the rules are mastered then more complicated and interesting ideas can be explored, using the foundation already built. Successful idiosyncratic gardens work well because the designer has taken her own idea and imprinted them over a framework of the basics. The famous “blue stairs” at Naumkeag is a variant on the axial line leading to a focal point, and has been photographed like this a million times.
But the genius of Fletcher Steele’s design is that it goes beyond the axis to be a fascinating abstraction placed on that landscape when viewed from any angle, so I made this image from a not-so-obvious angle to create a more idiosyncratic impression of the design.
Photographing gardens can certainly give you a stronger visual discipline and a better understanding of why certain photographs work and others do not, and where the problems may lie in the design of the garden. So there is an additional benefit to photographing gardens! Not only will you take home your interpretations of beautiful locations and plant ideas, and not only will you retain the memories of the gardens you visit, but by working on your photography skills while snapping those lovely photos of the gardens you visit, you can also improve your design skills.
Rich has a great blog with more beautiful photography and great insight that is worth checking out.