Through The Lens, Part 2



Yesterday’s photoshoot took 12 hours.  I was relieved to hear Bob was as tired as I was, at the end of the day.  We parted ways at 6:45 pm, with a plan to meet at 6:30 am this morning.  I was 5 minutes late-I was relieved he was not yet there.  Three of the photographs requested were slated by the BHG Art Director to feature winter pots with lighting.  This meant photoigraphs taken very early, or very late. Bob and I have been on deck both early and late.  I was so sleepy this morning I forgot my camera-pardon this unfocused picture taken with my iphone. I was a little alarmed to see that the lighting in the pots trumped by the lighting from the sconces on the house.  I had a feeling I would hear about this.   

Sure enough, Bob was not happy about those hot lights.  After some discussion, I asked him if he could unscrew the light bulbs in the lanterns.  6:30 am is no time to call an electrician.  No doubt,  my job was to help solve problems.     


 This winter pot features strings of mini lights, interrupted every so often by a light cover.  A light cover?  Years ago a company we bought from sold boxes of plastic spheres with an icy texture-designed to slip over a mini light.  What a great idea- these globes of light are so beautiful in our dark season.  We have never been able to source them again.  When I retire, I may design and manufacture light covers-do they not look great?

I was relieved that Bob was able to do his work, once we dialed down the lumens from those lanterns.  Of course the lights in the containers went off midway through the shoot.  I disabled the timer long enough for him to get what he wanted.  After the shoot concluded, we screwed every light bulb back in, and reset the timer.   


 He photographed the lights at the shop late in the day.  These pictures of mine were taken at dawn the day before he arrived.  I was ready 45 minutes before dawn to take some snapshots-this would help him plan.  The corgis were unsettled by this change in routine-breakfast at 5:30 am-really?

I never have any need for an alarm clock.  I am always up early.  But I set an alarm on a little digital clock I have had almost 40 years.  I wanted to be sure I was on time.  Once I got to work, and had a second cup of coffee, I was happy to be there.  The corgis quieted down, and rose to the moment.  We have had so little in the way of winter weather, I was delighted for this particular moment in a place I have come to every day for 16 years. I have nature to thank for that.  This particular moment. 

Bob says he was pleased with his photographs of the lighting in the winter pots at the shop.  He photographed from across the street.  Really?  Like I said, this was an educational trip. 

 Rob made this pair of winter sculptures for me every year.  I never ask for them.  I never make any suggestions.  What he does is a gift-I treat them as such.  They sit on top of a retaining wall at the end of my driveway.  They are what I see when I leave home in the morning.  They are what welcome me home at night.  I took this snapshot of them this past December.  They make me certain that there are certain seasonal elements in a landscape that truly do provide seasoning.  I would not want to do without them.  I take pains to make room for a little seasoning in every landscape I design.  What landscape would not be better, given the fragrance from lavender, or rosemary, or basil?  Winter pots provide a seasoning unlike any other-especially if you live in my zone.   

Late in the day, or early in the morning, these pots light my way, and my heart.   

Bob photographed them at 6:30 am the first day he was here. I was not privy to anything he did-I was completely absorbed with unfreezing the lock on the gates.  He wanted the gates open.  In retrospect, I understand this.  Every garden should issue an invitation.  An invitation to interact-an invitation to share.  I did finally get the gates opened.  What Bob photographed-I have no idea. 

The first day of this shoot was day and night.  I was great fun to be a part of that.

Through The Lens


If you think the lack of posts in the past week means I must be on some late winter road trip, you are close to right.  The vehicle pictured above is not mine loaded with luggage-it belongs to Bob Stefko, a free lance photographer based in Chicago.  Better Homes and Gardens sent him over to photograph some of my winter pots.  “On assignment” means he travels with a truckload of photographic gear.  This shoot was scheduled for 9 locations-9 outdoor locations.  I was happy for the cold weather and snow.  But for that, the shoot would have been cancelled. It took a while to get permission from clients, check all of the pots, and assemble some props per the art director, and a crew to haul things around.  Once he arrived, it looked to him like it would take a day and half to take the photographs.  A day and a half for 9 pictures?  

Bob obviously had experience “working on location”.  He arrived dressed in his snowboarding gear.  I would eventually envy him that outfit.  It was cold, and that cold seemed to sink in deeper every hour that went by.  Accompanying him to each location proved to be an education in what Rob calls magazine gardening.  No magazine wants to publish photographs that show any evidence of sloppy living.  Like the muck boots in a heap at the back door, or the newspaper in the drive. No dog toys, twig debris or automobiles allowed.   One of my jobs was to secure each site, so no one would spoil the new snow with footprints.  This is tougher than you think.  One mailman was very cooperative-one housekeeper glared at me, and marched up the front steps without one look back.  

Scott Johnson, the Art Director at BHG, was skilled at getting me to fall in line with this.  He told me how much his 14 year old son enjoys fresh and unsullied snow.  Of course, I do too-I certainly did not want to look like a twelve year old.  It’s just a little harder to get that to work when it isn’t your house.  Only company uses this front door drivecourt-we were the first company after the snow.  Whew.  BHG wanted a bench that would keep this winter box company.  It could easily be that a small portion of one arm, and a glimpse of that wool throw will be all that remains of it in the final photograph.  But to get that arm in the composition, my crew had to carry it behind the boxwood, and lift it over and into place-no footprints in the foreground snow, remember?  The centerpiece got straightened straighter than straight.  The sinamay got fluffed, and some of the snow gobs were ground up, and sprinkled over the evergreen branches.  This took a surprisingly lot of time. 

Bob took lots of pictures.  In some, his camera was held at his eye level via his tripod.  Some pictures got taken from a much lower point of view.  In the course of the 90 minutes we spent there, we had heavy clouds and snow flurries, sun, and partly cloudy conditions.  Sometimes he waited for the light to change or improve.  I get this.  The right photograph was now or never.  There would not be a second trip. 


One location asked for the pots to be moved.  This is fairly easy to do, provided you have three people with lots of experience moving heavy things, and a hand truck big enough to move a good sized refrigerator.  That would be my landscape crew.  They were amused, and good natured about the events of the day.  Once the moving was done, we had to cover all of the tracks.  Snow was shovelled from the yard onto the terrace, and then swept off again. 

These pots had plastic irrigation lines in them that provide water to the plants in the summer.  Of course they were frozen in place.  I cut the lines, and made a note to be sure to get them repaired when we come to do the spring pots. (I hope my client is not reading this.)   

In hour number three, I was jumping up and down with the cold, but Bob was the consummate professional. I wouldn’t hear about the bloody cold until he was done for the day.  He did tell me taking photographs on location depends on solutions to problems.  In the studio, he is the weather maker.  By this time, my respect for landscape and garden photographers was on the upswing. 

I have 8300 pictures in the photo archive for this blog.  By no means did I work this hard to take them.  I have my camera with me all the time.  When the light, the plant, or the composition intrigues me, I snap.  My pictures are snapshots of a certain place and time.  What was going on here was the creation of an image that takes a garden to another level.  Nothing was happening here by accident.

He seemed pleased by what was going on-that’s all that mattered.  I have been involved in some photo shoots over the years.  I will confess I planted cut roses on a climbing rose for a photographer.  Do I mind this?  Absolutely not.  Every gardener hopes for a perfect moment.  Magazines do too.  A beautiful photograph can do much more to encourage me to garden than a list of must do’s and don’ts.    

I was relieved to arrive at one location that we both agreed needed nothing in the way of props.  I do dislike adding something to a landscape not intended and put in place by a client, but I also understand this is not about them, or me.  It is about an image that will enchant someone who has never been here before.


Though I am enchanted by this garden, I feel certain Bob’s photograph will be an object of beauty, all its own. I would venture to say he will transcend the subject and weather, and the existing conditions to create an image of note.  They send him all over the country to photograph for them-they do not do this without good reason.