Every once in a while, you have to stop, breathe, and take a moment to appreciate your surroundings. I know it can be really hard to do. That's why it helps when you get to spend your mornings in a gorgeous setting, such as the San Francisco Botanical Gardens.
The Garden is a special place. Situated in the heart of San Francisco, you have 55 acres, thousands of species of plants from all over the world, a variety of animals, and unique and peaceful landscaping combine to make this a pretty spectacular destination for any photographer.
On a recent Saturday morning, I was privileged to introduce this wonderful place to the six excited students that signed up for our latest Aperture Academy workshop. We were also joined by the ever-present and familiar San Francisco resident, "Karl" the fog. Some people might be disappointed to see Karl, but not me! I know that Karl would provide my students with nice, even lighting conditions, plus an extra challenge on how to deal with changing conditions. Thanks Karl!!
I was very happy to see that my students had arrived early were excited to learn about plant and flower photography in a natural environment.
As always, we started the workshop off with some introductions so I could get to know my students a little better and they could get to know me. It's always fun for me to find out the different levels of experience of my students, and what made them decide to take the workshop.
Next, I outlined the plan for the day, and what they could expect from me. Then, I went over some of the technical aspects of photography basics. I introduced the exposure triangle, and discussed how aperture (depth of field), shutter speed (motion blur) and ISO (noise) play together to create your image.
With all the technical stuff covered, I discussed the more creative aspects of photography, such as composition and how to use the Rule of Thirds and leading lines to create dynamic images. In addition, I talked about finding pleasing angles for our subjects and to be aware of the backgrounds and potential distractions in our images. I also showed the students some of the tools I carry with me in my bag; a small 5-in-1 reflector, to help enhance (or diffuse) light conditions, and a viewing loupe that I use to make it easier to see the images on the back of my camera in bright light. After covering the basics, I did a final check-in for any questions, and then we were on our way.
One of the most awesome things about the Garden is that the scenery is always changing, but that can also be a challenging factor. We are approaching the end of the blooming season for a lot of the plants, so we will have to keep our eyes sharp and on the lookout for photogenic subject matter. But that's part of being a photographer--looking at your environment in a way that others might not see. Instead of the traditional flowers, we might find some interesting cactus, or textured greenery. The hunt was on!
We enter through the main gate and hang a left towards the Great Meadow and on to the South Africa section where I spot Belladonna lilies in full bloom. The lilies range in color from a deep pink to an almost white flower. We stop in this section for a bit to let everyone hunt for subject matter and get comfortable with their equipment and the environmental conditions.
The fog is thick but fairly high, which makes for very even light, though it seems a bit dark. We discuss what the settings should be for these conditions and the students make some adjustments to make sure our shutter speeds are fast enough to minimize motion. As they work on getting the perfect shot, I check with each of my students to answer questions, offer critiques and general information.
After everyone was relatively comfortable with their cameras, we continued our journey through the Garden, on the hunt for anything that caught our eye. We head through the MesoAmerican Cloud forest, to the Native California area and across the Conifer Lawn.
Each section of the garden offers a wealth of subject matter for my students. We stop again at the Moon Viewing Garden. This area is especially challenging because the tree canopy makes the area dark to shoot in, but the still water and the bridge make for a very peaceful reflection. Even the thick fog has lifted a bit providing a little more light for us to work with. We continue making the appropriate adjustments to our camera settings to accommodate the changing light conditions.
Our next stop is the Garden of Perennials, where there is a wide variety of flowers in bloom. During the course of the workshop, I have been mentioning to my students that they may need to take a look around their subject for a more interesting or unique angle. And here is where I can really show them what I mean. I spy some beautiful green ivy leaves along the ground but I show everyone that the underside of the leaf has a gorgeous red color lining the veins, arguably the more beautiful side of the leaf. So, take note, sometimes you need to look past the obvious or "boring." You might find something spectacular waiting to be discovered.
We continue on our way through the Andean Cloud Forest, into Chile and South America and on to Australia and New Zealand. We cross the Waterfowl Pond, back through the Mediterranean Garden to our final destination, the Rhododendron Garden. Here we find several colorful blooms just waiting for us to take their pictures.
It really is astounding how quickly three hours passes. I tell everyone to take their final photos, we set up for our group photo, and then all too soon it is time to go.
As we head back to the main gate, I take time to answer some final questions. We arrive back where we started and I thank my students for sharing part of their day with me, and send them on their way with new skills and full memory cards.
Until next time,
DeAnna, and the entire Aperture Academy team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.