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Keeping It Simple at Filoli Gardens

Hey, everyone. My last post had a LOT of positive reaction, so I wanted to thank everyone that “liked” or has decided to “follow” me. Writing a successful posting each and every time is HARD WORK. It’s more evident than ever after sitting here in front of the keyboard for almost twenty minutes wondering what I’d be writing about today. Of course, I can’t expect to duplicate the results of a posting that clicks with so many of my readers each and every time. But, I do hope to be able to impart something to my readers with each posting. Whether it be a tip that has worked for me or just laughing at some of my comedic attempts, that works for me.

Would I love to have a uber successful blog? Well, HELL YES!!! But, I also acknowledge that the pressure to write really good stuff would jump up quite a bit. So, for now, I am happy to know that my blog is being read, followed by a small groups of my peers and that every so often I write about something that connects with others out there to help them out. So, I’m in it for the long haul, folks. I hope you’ll join me for the ride and get some enjoyment out of it while you’re at it.

Today’s images that I worked up were the last of the images I still had from my trip to Filoli Gardens a few weeks back. I had previously shared with you a macro series on the honeybees that I bumped into, a few images that I loved about the interior of the estate and my last post was about the cute little gift shop that they have on premises. Filoli Gardens definitely worked out to be much more than I ever imagined, and as the photographer part of my brain was going crazy with all sorts of ideas for future visits to the property, I still found time to enjoy the gardens for the serene tranquility that they offer and a great time outside taking in the perfectly manicured settings.

When visiting so many of those sites that could be lumped into the vague category of “touristy” or “travel”, I often find myself at a catch 22 with what to photograph. Do you go with the nice panoramic style images to record everything in front of you? Do you narrow it down and focus on something in an attempt to take an artistic rendition of the same spot that so many photograph? Do you just throw your camera as far as you can as you scream “to hell with it all?!?!” NO, PLEASE DON’T DO THAT!!

But, luckily there is a compromise that can be reached with any photo shoot, even those that have been photographed so many times that you can imagine the pages after pages of Google images scrolling through your brain. What’s the trick, you ask? Well, KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID!! This obviously ties in to a certain degree to my last posting with being able to see the images before you record them. But, to be a little more specific, you don’t want to complicate the issue any more than it absolutely has to. So, my suggestion is to please DO take the touristy shots, but also try to find a more artistic eye to the image.

To try to illustrate my point, I’ll be varying my layout that I’ve used since Day 1 on my blog of keeping all my images to a gallery at the bottom of the post. I’ll try to go through a couple of images where I explain my thought process to see if I can make sense of myself. So, here goes nothing…

In this first image, I found myself waiting in a short line of a few other patrons that were photographing themselves or their partners in front of the shallow pool that sits in front of the gift shop. As I waited, I remember thinking to myself, I don’t want my picture to look like theirs. What can I do to change it or give it a different perspective? Just looking up provided the answer to my own question. Even though the layout of the area is clearly set up to have the shallow pool directly in front of the gift shop with everything perfectly centered, why go with a conventional photographic scenario? Change it up and photograph it from a different angle to give the illusion of stretching out the subject.

Shallow pool and gift shop taken from slight off center.

Is this image great? Nah, but it’s ok. Why did I cut off a small portion of the shallow pool? Well, I was trying to cut out the people who were standing a few feet away from me out of my image, but at the same time I realized that I wanted to make the clock on top of the gift shop my focal point. Following the rule of thirds, I tried to position the clock face right where the top right intersecting lines would lie. I also tried to frame it to get as much sky in the image as possible, cause I just love me some blue skies!!!

Quickly, for those that aren’t familiar with the rule of thirds, it’s basically a composition rule applied in photography that states that if you divide an image into thirds horizontally and vertically, you will end up with a large tic-tac-toe design over the image. This would also give you four point on the image where these lines would intersect. Each of these intersect points have proven to given an image a little more interest factor when the subject is placed in one of the these intersections.

Eventually, the folks in front of us moved and it was our turn to get up close and personal with the symmetrical setting. But, the view through the viewfinder was just bland, so I dropped to one knee to see what that would look like. Well, I found that I shortened the shallow pool in front of me, while giving the grass coming up in front of me more of a presence. I composed the shot to be as centered as possible and fired away. Here’s the resulting image…

Down on one knee…

Following the path towards the garden house, I found myself upon a lot of symmetry in the garden with trees and bushes. Obviously, this was done on purpose and is kept prestinely manicured by the arborists on staff. Anyway, another tip that I can offer is to look for the patterns in life. Most anything with a recurring pattern will work great in an image if shot properly. Yet, I saw no one else trying to get a view from where I was simply cause it was off the beaten path. I had a series of trees off to my right that were hugging the brick wall with a vast space of green lush grass before reaching another line of bushes that were running in parallel with the trees. Here’s the resulting image…

Patterns are your friends!!!

In this next image, I was able to attain a little more altitude as I climbed up a stairway leading up to an area that is used as a small stage venue for jazz concerts in the summertime. When I looked over towards the house, I saw the same bushes that were in the previous image in a different perspective. Because they were standing perfectly straight against the background of the house, I thought to turn the camera over to a portrait position to see what it would look like. I felt that it worked well with the image, especially since the clouds were lined up in a way that they made it across the entire image just above the roof of the estate. Here is that image…

A line of clouds…

This next image is a perfect example of finding the interesting in something that is overall not every interesting. As I walked through the garden, I came across a tree that appeared to be littered with moss all over it. Although the tree itself wasn’t too interesting, I had a branch that was running horizontally just slightly over my eye line that I felt would make an interesting image. I found the focus spot that I wanted to highlight and chose to go with a very shallow depth of field to highlight that moss. I lined up the image so that the branch was running from left to right and focused in on the mossy substance. This is the resulting image…

Moss covered tree…

In this next shot, I made my way over towards the rose garden, when I came across a lush field of lavender in different colors. This area was called the knot garden because it was planted in a way that the different varietals of lavender and intermixed plants created a knotting affect over the entire area of the garden. I couldnt’ resist all the color, so I shot away. I’m sure plenty of people walked away with the same image, but mine might have been the only one with no one patron in it. Thanks, Content Aware Fill in Photoshop CS5!!!

Knotty garden, not a naughty garden…

In this list image that I’ll explain before cutting off this post, I wanted to explain how I get good up close flower shots. First, you don’t absolutely need a macro lens, although this does help a bit. This particular image I took with a 28-70mm and it turned out just fine. What you do need is a lens with a large aperture. If you are using your kit zoom lens that probably has a outer end of a max aperture of f/5.6-6.3 when zoomed out, that’s not going to work very well. You really need to be around an f/4 or larger. With the 28-70mm, I set it to f/2.8 and focused carefully on the front flower. Another thing that you should consider it what is the more attractive composition so that the background isn’t too busy to detract from the main subject. So, my thinking on this shot was as follows. I wanted to focus on the main flower in front of me, and positioned myself so that the surrounding foliage provided a nice darker background to let the flower stand out in all its orange luciousness. The two flowers behind it would end up being slightly out of focus as to not overpower the image, while still keeping the eye in the middle with the main subject while retaining balance to the overall image. Buyaaa!!

beautiful lily

The rest of the images that I will share followed some resemblance of the processes described in the above examples. That, or I shot all caution to the wind and just winged it. I get lucky sometimes, so the good news is that if you shoot enough images, you’ll probably get lucky as well.

If you’re in the San Francisco bay area and haven’t ever made it to Filoli Gardens, you need to grab your camera and head right on over. Make sure to leave yourself enough time to be able to spend the greater part of a whole day. If you don’t live in the bay area, please be sure to include Filoli in your plans when you come out to visit us.

I saved the bad news for last, folks. I’ve been pretty busy at work, and it calls for me to head back down to Mexico this coming week AGAIN. So, you’ll have to do without me for a week, since I won’t be taking my laptop with me. I WILL be taking my camera and a nifty Canon 240105 f/4.0 IS L series lens that I rented from for the week. For the longer rental periods, is definitely the way to go. I got the lens for the week for $50 with taxes and insurance. That’s a sweet deal to have a lens that runs the better part of almost $1200 retail. While I’m gone, be sure to check up and read some of my archives, but if you decide to check out other folks blogs while I’m gone, I promise to not get jealous. At least, not too much…

Have a great week everyone!!!


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