Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Creating a Photogenic Garden

By Paul Salazar
Photos by Paul Salazar

As a photographer, I am always on the lookout for eye-catching scenes, vibrant colors and interesting subjects. Browse through any photography book or magazine and one is overwhelmed with photographs that we all long to take but never do because we don’t have the time or money to travel to the exotic places pictured in these publications.

Does your camera sit on a shelf most of the winter when scenes outside are dull and all the leaves have fallen from the trees? When spring arrives, our desire to take photographs blossoms like the world around us. Every year, I make a conscious effort to get out and photograph often, even during the dull winter months. I don’t take long trips, I just step out into my back yard.

I have set aside a couple of corners of my yard for photography gardens. These are not the symmetrical, well planned and pristine gardens featured in the garden magazines.  My gardens don’t require a lot of work and are purposely cluttered with interesting items that I collect randomly anytime I see something of interest. I have an old wagon wheel, a banged up watering can, old gardening tools, a section of split rail fence, a section of barbed wire fence and a section of picket fence. Interspersed among these items, I have dragged in some interesting boulders and several pieces of trees that have interesting shapes and knot holes.

Among all these items, I plant flowers and shrubs. Generally, I plant the taller items behind the shorter and evergreen trees and bushes at the very back of the garden so that I have a green background even in the winter months.  A few winter-blooming plants keep color in my photographs year-round. My garden’s layout is constantly changing as I move different items in and out to create new interesting scenes for photographs. My garden is a habitat for birds, butterflies and small animals like chipmunks, squirrels and lizards and for spiders and insects. I’m trying to create mini-scenes for interesting photographs, scenes that include color, shape and form.

Here are a few tips when laying out your photography garden:
1.    Birds are attracted to the sound of running water. Include a bird bath and/or a small garden pond that has a pump to move the water.
2.    I generally do not include white flowers in my garden as they are too bright and distracting in photographs. If you want white flowers, put them in their own section and don’t intersperse them throughout your garden.
3.    Bury several sections of 18-inch-long, 8-inch in diameter plastic pipe in a semi-circle  around the perimeter of your garden  so that you can readily insert and change out interesting posts and sections of trees with interesting shapes and knot holes. I put peanut butter suet in the knot holes to attract birds to natural-looking perches for photographs. 
4.    Place bird feeders around the perimeter. I do not photograph birds at their feeders but include all sorts of interesting objects, branches, logs, etc., throughout the garden for them to perch on. I often plant colorful flowers behind these items for a splash of color.
5.    Check with your local nursery for plants and flowers that attract birds and butterflies.  Save money and buy perennials instead of annuals.
6.    Finally, grab your camera and keep shooting all year!

Columnist Paul Salazar is a photographer and photo instructor whose work has been published in “Our State” magazine, in the book “Forever These Lands” and elsewhere. You can see his photos at paulsalazar.com

To learn more about photography from Paul Salazar, consider signing up for his 3-session workshop “Photographing Plants,” which runs Wednesday, May 16 & 23, from 6:30-9 p.m., and Saturday, May 19, from 8 a.m. to noon, at Duke Gardens. To register, or for more information, please call 919-668-1707.

To learn more about classes and public events at Duke Gardens, please visit gardens.duke.eduhttp://gardens.duke.edu.

More photos from Paul Salazar

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun.

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