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.