Garden Visit: RHS Harlow Carr photography course

Regular readers may remember we live fairly close to RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate and I go sometimes to seek garden inspiration. Recently, however, I visited in search of a different type of creative inspiration. I went on my first photography course – in photographing plants and flowers with a mobile phone. I enjoy taking the photos for the blog, but I have been feeling for a while that perhaps I could do more to refine them, to really capture the essence of the garden, the cats and the other elements of our day to day lives.

I had a great day. We spent the morning in the light and airy purpose-built education centre with our tutor, Steve Gosling, who is primarily a landscape gardener but who illustrated his presentation with some stunning flower photos. We learned how to really focus in (pun intended!) on what we want our pictures to say and a little about the theory of composition. Then, with all that new information under our belt, we were set free around the garden to put some of it into practice.

At first, I found it totally overwhelming. Harlow Carr is so beautiful, has so many stunning plants and displays that it was hard to really see what was there. Even when I started to single out some plants that I thought might be good subjects, they were usually part of a larger flower bed, meaning that the background was too busy to get a good shot. Although three hours seemed like a crazily long time to spend photographing flowers, the first hour disappeared with very little to show for it. I spent some time desperately trying to capture the colours in a bed of primulas but every shot looked dull and had a fellow photographer in the background, who was trying to do exactly the same thing. In the end, I moved on and decided to get closer to individual plants to see if I would have more success. As I grew more confident, I took more pictures and started to review them more analytically than I normally do. Instead of getting frustrated that the photos would have been better if I had been closer, I went back and took them again. And again. And again. Two hours later, I had lots of average and below average photos on my phone and one or two that I was secretly quite proud of.

Tall yellow and pink flowers with a stone bridge in the background
I got my picture of the primulas in the end but it still wasn’t quite the shot I was aiming for

For the rest of the afternoon, we went back to the classroom and were introduced to some apps for editing and sharing our pictures. This was a whole new area for me. Before any photo goes on this blog, I crop it (because I haven’t usually isolated the original to what I actually want to show – who knows, maybe I won’t need to do that any more!) and I sharpen it a little in the basic editing software that comes as standard on my PC. However, I have now been introduced to the wonders of Snapseed, which enables users to transform their photos into images with a radically different feel from the original. I can see many hours of playing over the next few weeks and beyond!

Part of me (irrationally) feels that using some of the filters and tools on Snapseed is “cheating” in some way. Can I claim credit for taking a great picture if it has been brightened, blurred or sharpened, manipulated and transformed into a sepia or 70s-style image? The other part of me knows that the image is still mine and the manipulation is a form of creativity all of its own. Perhaps it depends if I am trying to show you in practical terms what we have done in the kitchen garden this week or trying to create art?

Whichever it is, here are a few of the photos I took, either on the day or at home afterwards that I thought I would share. I hope you enjoy them and that my photographs continue to improve with practice.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day. Steve was a patient and knowledgeable tutor and I can recommend both the course and a visit to RHS Harlow Carr, which has something new to see whenever you go.

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