form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care

Up Close and Personal


We tend to refrain from posting close-ups of plants.  In fact, whenever possible, we feature plant combinations and groupings as we find it most useful to replicate what one sees the majority of the time when viewing a garden.  However, sometimes it pays to take a closer look!

Leucadendron (Conebush) 'Jester' (syn 'Safari Sunshine') involucral leaves, or bracts

Leucadendron (Conebush) ‘Jester’ (syn ‘Safari Sunshine’) involucral leaves, or bracts, in winter, when their pinky-red color is most pronounced.

Other than specialized assignments to photograph particular gardens, most “plant” photography is what is called “macro” photography.  Macro photographers use specialized lenses, tripods and other equipment to capture exquisitely close images of flowers and other intimate perspectives of plants.  Many of these images are actually shot in a studio setting where there is no risk of a blurring breeze and where the backdrop and lighting can be carefully controlled.  The purpose is to realize the artistic beauty in the color and form of the subject, whose function as a plant is essentially irrelevant.

Chamaecyparis obtusa (Hinoki False Cypress) 'Tetragona Aurea'

Chamaecyparis obtusa (Hinoki False Cypress) ‘Tetragona Aurea’ branch tip, glowing gold

Macro photography is extremely challenging.  The power of the image results from a perfect depth of field (shallow or deep, depending on the artistic intentions of the photographer), exposure and composition.  Also, with the advance of digital technology, creating an image that is distinctive is extremely difficult.

Chondropetalum elephantinum (Large Cape Rush)

Chondropetalum elephantinum (Large Cape Rush)

Once a photographer has mastered the technical aspects of macro photography, it is an enormous challenge to produce images that don’t look like all of the others.  There truly are millions of images of perfect red roses; the challenge is to have your rose evoke something the others don’t.  Not easy!!!  Great photographers, such as Mike Moats, make a living shooting “tiny landscapes”, looking for a “story” in each image through  imperfections or other evocative elements.

Callicarpa bodinieri (Beauty Bush) 'Profusion'

Callicarpa bodinieri (Beauty Bush) ‘Profusion’, graced with gossamer on a winter morning.

The alternative approach to photographing gardens is to treat them as  landscapes,  using perspective, depth of field, natural light and exposure to evoke  beauty and mood.  Jan’s view of garden photography is that it falls somewhere within the mix of architectural photography and large and tiny landscapes.

Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar) 'Mushroom'

Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar) ‘Mushroom’, wearing its burnished winter coat of bronze and taffy, with highlights of lavender and mauve.

Jan has the added challenge of photographing what  Sara wants to reveal about the garden.   Jan is often attracted to a subject because of color and composition that has nothing to do with the point Sara wants to make and illustrate. This results in much discussion and interpretation, generally resulting in heightened appreciation and understanding by both, but sometimes in gales of laughter.

Cornus mas (Cornelian Cherry) 'Golden Glory' flowers in February

Cornus mas (Cornelian Cherry) ‘Golden Glory’ flowers in February

We also grapple with the issue of realism, especially regarding color saturation.  Jan firmly believes that being a photographer has sensitized her to light and color, whereas non-photographers often filter out (no pun intended) those details while appreciating the overall scene.

Garrya elliptica 'Evie' (Coast Silk Tassel) in bloom in February

Garrya elliptica ‘Evie’ (Coast Silk Tassel) in bloom in February

However, it is not uncommon to find images in garden books that are so supersaturated as to appear surreal.  We’re looking for something much more the way Jan and Sara, together, see the sight.  It’s a constant learning experience.

Pinus thunbergii (Japanese Black Pine) 'Shirome janome'

Pinus thunbergii (Japanese Black Pine) ‘Shirome janome’ with its stunning variegation readily visible. As beautiful as any flower.

So, with that background, we hope that you have enjoyed these more intimate perspectives of the garden.

Copyright 2012 by Form and Foliage


18 thoughts on “Up Close and Personal

  1. Always look forward to see what you come up with next. I’m never disappointed. You motivate and inspire the sleeping green thumb within us.

  2. Thanks, Deb! We find that it motivates and inspires us, as well, to continue to see the gardens in different lights and with different perspectives. We’re glad that you like it.
    Jan and Sara

  3. It’s wonderful to see your close-ups of beautiful plants and shrubs. I was tempted to reach into the photos to feel the textures, riffle them with my hand to trigger the fragrances. Maybe that’s next, Jan and Sara, olfactory photos! Being more of a “plant collector” than a designer, I like to see the close-ups because I might eventually want one of each–a big no-no for great designs. Sigh . . .

  4. Thanks, Sandy! For those interested in how one achieves a cohesive design when one has a mania for plant collecting, Sandy and Sara wrote an article back in 2008 entitled ‘The Plant Collector’s Garden: Creating Harmony from Havoc’. It can been seen on the Sonoma County Master Gardener’s website ( and most easily found by typing ‘havoc’ in the Google site search bar. If I can figure out how to embed a link in this thread, I’ll do it, but right now it defeats me.

  5. Beautiful, no matter whose ideas!

  6. Wonderful article. Very interesting, well written and illustrated! More, please!

  7. Such refined, sensual images – I want to step into each frame and touch and smell each plant. Viewing your compositions is the next best thing.

    • How interesting Paula that both you and Sandy mentioned fragrance, which one doesn’t usually associate with foliage plants. We are actually planning to do a piece on fragrance at some point, as there are many leaves that are quite redolent, even those of non-‘herbs’. We do respond to texture as much as color, though – it never ceases to amaze us how many different textures we find in the garden.

    • Paula,

      Thanks for such nice descriptive comments on your response to the images….it does a photographer’s heart good!

  8. Beautiful photos – and you know I LOVE seeing the conifers included in your post! Although I will probably never include Chondropetalum in my garden, I do love Jan’s photo!

    • Thanks, Ed. This particular image was taken on one of my first trips through Sara’s garden, I’ve taken additional photographs on each trip, but have yet to get one I like better than this one. Of course, there’s always another angle and I will continually seek that! 😉

  9. Thanks, Ed! Praise from you is praise indeed! Jan is due here in three weeks and I”m afraid she’ll miss bud break on the conifers – they are so early this year (and the maples are already leafed out!) that it caught us by surprise. We timed her visit based on last year’s bud break. Winter was basically cancelled in the Bay Area, although we got quite a bit of rain in March, when you all got your dumping of snow.
    Sara and Jan

  10. Ed,

    Thanks so much for the nice comments on the Chondropetalum. That is actually one of the earliest shots I’ve taken of that plant during a pre-blog visit to Sara. The more recent shots just don’t work as well as the plant matured!!!! I’m not giving up, however; there’s always a new angle to try.


  11. Beautiful images. I enjoyed learning about the thought process that goes on behind plant photography and the choices you make.

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