In the flower garden

Modern equipment makes photographing things very easy

I have a love hate relationship with my garden. With a couple of acres of flowers, lawns and trees it would be disingenuous to say that upkeep is trivial. Far from it. And it’s not something you can delegate to one of the local butchers who poses as a ‘Landscape Maintenance’ expert. If the fellow cares to turn up at all, it’s hung over and wanting to discuss the inane arcana of some sporting event, likely as not. His equipment will almost certainly suffer one of its many routine breakdowns and he seems to think that his high school education, or lack thereof, makes his time worth $100 an hour. Bloody hell, it took me fifteen years in school and ten in the work place before I made that sort of money. So you can understand when I gag at the thought of this person and his like earning $200,000 a year. This sort of thing simply has to stop. Thank goodness for all those fine Hispanic immigrants keeping prices down. Indeed, on reflection, I have learned ten times more from the Hispanics who help me with the vineyard than I have from Whitey who buys my crop and makes it into wine. Plus their $10 per hour rate sounds about right to me.

The result is that I look after my own garden. One hour every morning and one every evening keeps things shipshape and puts one more psychoanalyst out of business, which can only be a good thing. But the work can be hard and the frustrations are many, mostly involved with fighting a collection of moles, weeds, ground squirrels and various other invaders seeking to lay things low. Just like real life, I suppose. The majority is comprised of unproductive hangers on.

Working on the garden is very much like managing money. Short term decisions may yield quick results but overall quality and returns are invariably compromised. Good work done today repays the effort a year or two down the road. So now I am beginning to reap the benefits of much missionary work invested in the garden over the past two years. Walking around the estate of an evening, Border Terrier in tow, the prevailing emotion experienced in surveying the results is one of simple, unalloyed joy. Unlike photography, however, the tools used for gardening really have changed little over the centuries. Sure, we fat, lazy Americans use power tools wherever possible, but when it comes to planting or weeding, good old fashioned sweat equity is the only investment that yields returns.

Every year about this time I make a few pictures of the garden and place them on our family web site. This serves a couple of purposes. First, it allows the historian in me to survey rates of progress. Second, it helps with overall design, as a picture viewed in the cold light of day on a computer screen tends to make for more objective assessment than a casual ramble around the property.

No, I am not about to bore you with images of flowers. For the most part, pictures of flowers and babies are things to share with your childern’s grandparents, not with those friends with the pained, slightly impatient smiles. But banging away the other day with the EOS 5D with that superb 200mm ‘L’ lens, I couldn’t help thinking how wonderfully accommodating modern camera technology has become. There are so few technical things to think about that all one’s concentration can be devoted to the task of composition. No need to worry about focus, camera shake, exposure, film choice or processing.

So before I knew it I had a couple of film rolls’ worth of snaps of the blooms in the garden on our web site, each sharp as can be and exposed just so. Now try doing that with the equipment available some twenty years ago. Of course you could do it just as well, but you would have to use a great deal of film to get the same results. And you wouldn’t have those for several days. And how exactly would you propose to have no grain in your 400 ISO film snaps, especially when you need all the film speed you can get to guarantee short shutter speeds in the prevailing breeze? The same breeze that makes the estate the haven it is on a warm California evening.

Young people coming into the photography avocation today are very fortunate not to have to struggle with all that gobbledegook about technique. Just bang away and learn from your mistakes – that’s a far faster learning method than anything in a book on technique. A fast feedback loop, if you like. And would my modern pictures be any the worse had I not spent 40 years using film? No, not at all. The learning of those years can be condensed into days with good modern equipment.

Canon EOS 5D, 200mm at f/3.5, ISO 400, hand held in the wind, probably 1/2000th or less