Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Back to School: Vision On

My attempt at creative flower photography

I've shown you lots of pictures over the past few weeks, hence my choice of title for today's post - I'm reminded of Vision On's Gallery section if you can remember back that far.

The final lesson of the photography course was about developing technique and vision, and Clive Nichols specifically talked about:
  • Looking at plants from different or unusual angles, especially an insect's viewpoint
  • The colour wheel and finding complementary backgrounds in nature
  • Use of wide and narrow lens apertures to achieve soft or pin-point subject focus respectively
  • Using movement creatively - either naturally (i.e. windy conditions) or man-made (via the camera)
  • Looking out for other creative opportunities, such as shadows, and finding good plant combinations to photograph

There was also a tiny section on simple post photoshoot processing; students looking for in-depth guidance on this topic, or the use of additional lighting should look elsewhere. This course focuses on plant forms and how to achieve naturalistic results ('scuse pun - purely intentional). There's very little discussion of general garden shots, but the techniques covered can be applied to those too.

I prefer my camera to do the work most of the time and I tend to shoot 'straight', so it was great to go and have a play with my camera's controls and do a little post shoot processing for a change. As usual I had to submit 3 photos for my final assignment, though I couldn't resist sneaking in a cheeky fourth this time.

How did I get on?

It was great to have the opportunity to stop and have a think about my photography, where it's heading, and have the excuse to go out and have a play. Before I started, Ronnie raised concerns about the long equipment list for this course. I've shown it can be done without all the bells and whistles as I managed with just my DSLR camera, an 18-55mm lens, plus a bit of improvisation.

The key thing is to have the courage to step away from your camera's Programme (P) button, be creative, and get to know your camera's controls. The Aperture (A) button in particular is your friend when it comes to flower and plant photography. 

How's your motivation for self-study? It needs to be high for you to get the most out of the course. Most of the time is taken up with thinking about photography, taking photographs, then the selection and self-critique of them. I had around 2 hours tuition (videos + reading Clive's critiques), but I took around 24 hours to complete everything, spread over the 4 weeks. 

Also be prepared for no-one taking the course at the same time. Much is made of the online classroom on My Garden School's website, but the course still goes ahead if there's only one student (the maximum is 20). If you need someone to constantly chivvy you along, or you like to chat with your fellow-students, then you may need to look at attending one of the photography workshops available at various gardens instead.

Note that if you can't complete the assignments within the time period, you cannot carry any of them over to a future running of the course.

As I've finished the course, it's time for my end of term report:

Full marks

  • Tuition and feedback from one of the world's top garden photographers and Clive is a good tutor
  • A detailed analysis and critique of Clive's own photographs - I'd say looking at photos is just as important for developing your photography as going out and taking them
  • It's an online course so students can choose the best time to study which suits them, and this can be varied from week to week
  • No travel costs involved - unless a student chooses to travel outside their neighbourhood to complete their assignments
  • The videos are available to replay for a year after the course is completed and there's a full set of course notes available to download for later consultation 

Could do better

  • Technical glitches with the website throughout the course - it should have been tested more thoroughly prior to its relaunch ahead of us starting our studies
  • There is still room for improvement with the website - some of the design is clunky and the 25 minute lessons can take a while to download even if you're on superfast broadband like me. I've already given more detailed feedback to My Garden School
  • My Garden School needs to think about how to improve the experience for lone students, or how interaction can be encouraged when students are reluctant to chat online
  • If I was a paying student, I'd like a couple of extra weeks tuition at current prices 

My thanks to My Garden School for the opportunity to review one of their wide range of courses on offer. I'm continuing with my photography posts for a little while longer as Clive has kindly agreed to be a VP VIP, so look out for my interview with him soon.

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Previous posts:

Other student reports:
  • Alison on Toby Musgrave's garden history course
  • Andrew's first thoughts on Harriet Rycroft's container course; plus Ronnie's first experience of the same course
  • Happy Mouffetard's first and second reports on Noel Kingsbury's planting design with perennials
  • New commenter Angela's review of Alex Mitchell's edible gardening made easy

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Michaelmas, Blackberries and the Devil's Spit

Some of this year's hefgerow blackberries
Some of this year's hedgerow blackberries, a few yards from our house 

Today is Michaelmas Day, one of the quarter days which mark the year in our traditional calendar. It's the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel (not the shop), who is said to have hurled the devil from heaven for his treachery.

It's the time for the final gathering in from the fields, and harvest festival celebrations. I remember this period referred to as "blackberry week" when I lived in the north east during the late 1970s. Schools gave pupils a week off in early October so they could help their families with the harvest and gather blackberries from the hedgerows.

Michaelmas, blackberries and the devil are connected in our folklore as it's said the devil landed in a bramble bush when he fell from heaven. He then spat and stamped on the bramble's blackberries, cursed them, and scorched them with his fiery breath. This rendered the fruit inedible, so tradition says blackberries shouldn't be eaten after Michaelmas Day.

My research shows the actual date isn't clear as there's also reference to 'old Michaelmas Day' on October 10th (or 11th according to some sources). This is the date Michaelmas Day would fall on, if the 11 days 'taken' when the Gregorian Calendar was introduced were restored. I'd say the folklore pre-dates the calendar's introduction in 1752*, so my money's on October 10th.

I'd also say there's a grain of truth in the folklore, with the story making a memorable warning to everyone that blackberries are usually past their best in October. It seems the supermarket's concept of the 'Use by' date isn't a relatively new introduction after all.

Bramble jam
In the interests of research I perused our local blackberries yesterday and can report they're in fine fettle. It looks like we have 11 days left to make the best of this foraged fare. Michaelmas Pie is the dish traditionally eaten today, but sadly the recipe's been lost to the mists of time. I'll make do with Threadspider's fine recipe for Bramble Jam instead.

How are the blackberries looking in your neighbourhood? What are your favourite ways with them? Tell all in the Comments below.

* = Pope Gregory's calendar reform actually dates back to 1582, but it wasn't adopted in Protestant countries until much later.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Back to School: Getting Niggly With It

My improvised photography studio - in the kitchen by the patio door
My kitchen photography studio - with quickly improvised diffuser when the sun came out. 

Sometimes you need to go backwards in order to move forwards. And so it was with this week's lesson and assignment which looked at working indoors and outdoors in not-so-perfect conditions.

I've taken lots of pictures in the rain and frost this year, so I decided to concentrate on indoor work using natural light from a window. The results highlighted deficiencies in my technique, equipment and improvisation. That's no bad thing in my view.

Here's my latest collage - the brief said plants or flowers, so you'll see I've taken that to quite an extreme by my decision to use apples as my subject.

Collage of nine apple photographs

The three images I selected for submission are included in the collage this time. Which ones do you think they are?

This assignment got me quite niggly and dissatisfied with my photos. Studio work slows things right down which in turn tried my patience and I could see many faults in each image. Then there's the selection of the right fruit, their preparation (mine were covered in bits of leaf, birch seeds, dirt etc), finding the most pleasing shape and colour to face the camera; what's the best background to use etc etc.

It's no wonder that little lot, plus the days I spent thinking about how I was going to set up my 'studio' and improvise all the items on the course's equipment list I don't have, meant I took much longer this week and had far fewer images to select from for my assessment.

However, I don't mind. This is the week I learnt. A lot.

Coming up next: Final Lesson - Developing Vision & Technique

Previously: Back to School - My introductory post; Lesson 1 - Lighting; and Lesson 2 - Composition

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My photographs taken in not-so-ideal conditions:

And then there's:

Google "apple still life images" and the link takes you to the set of images presented. How many of them work for you?

Disclosure: I'm taking the course for review purposes as a guest of My Garden School. There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.
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