In the heart of UC Santa Cruz lies a public University like no other in California. It's diverse combination of liberal studies, and major research, includes an outstanding arts program, and the scenic Arboretum. Even though the Arboretum is a teaching facility, it's thankfully open to the public. The broad spectrum of over 300 plant families, create the perfect environment for photographers.
Aperture Academy instructor Ellie Stone met up with 6 eager Students at the Arboretum's Horticulture building. Ellie started off the workshop by getting to know each student. Studying everyone's individual skill level and expectations for the day, provides the instructor with the information needed to ensure a fun learning experience.
As the small group made it's way into the heart of the Australian Garden, the weather turned out to be a hot topic. Even though it was mid summer, and temps in other California areas were getting into the triple digits, Santa Cruz had it's classic summer marine layer. This foggy layer is exactly what Ellie had hoped for, as it provides soft and naturally diffused light. It doesn't get any better than this for floral and macro photography.
The Australian garden is home to some of the most interesting plant species, including quite a few in the Protea family. The large cone shaped flower is perfect for a lesson in composition. Ellie discussed the golden "rule of thirds" and how to incorporate the technique while photographing these highly interesting flowers. Also quite abundant in the gardens are spider webs. With just a little spritz of water, from a trusty spray bottle, these webs become more apparent and photographically interesting. This was also another fantastic learning experience. The webs are thin and delicate; so most cameras had a hard time recognizing exactly what to focus on, while in the auto focus mode. Ellie had the students change into the manual focus mode, to ensure the star of the show was in sharp focus.
The day was certainly moving quickly and it was time for a short break. A picnic table among the Cypress trees was the perfect setting. Everyone enjoyed a quick snack, while listening to Ellie talk about different types of filters, how they work, and when to use them. Swapping stories and advice is always a highlight of the day. Snack time wrapped up with a quick group photo, so all would have a fun memento of the day.
Ellie led the students through some of the South African gardens, while en route to the succulent area. More interesting protea and the favorite of most, the leucospermums, or "pin cushions". Highly colorful and uniquely designed, pin cushions have a detailed inner section, with spires that jut out, much like pins from a cushion. Another fantastic learning opportunity, this time for depth of field. The extreme layers and depth provide a challenge, and an opportunity to practice with the cameras aperture setting. While other plants can tolerate a shallow depth of field, this particular species requires more finesse. By decreasing the size of the aperture, it allowed the students to capture the flowers outer tendrils, as well as its inner ribbon like detail.
The final destination was the succulent garden. Many succulents have a fantastically natural spiral construction. More lessons in composition were appropriate, as well as the discussion of when to think about shooting in monochrome. All had plenty of learning and fun. The fog was breaking, right on cue, as the class was ending. All said their farewells and walked away with some exciting new photography knowledge.
Until next time...Ellie and the rest of the 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.