A Day At Butchart Gardens
... Admitting to Garden Envy


It's Winter Festival time at Butchart gardens December 1 to January 6

I'm heading to the Gardens this month for their amazing Christmas festival.

I've been to this magnificent garden spring and summer and took part in the winter hoopla only in my imagination.  This year, just try to keep me away.

Check it out here and get there if you possibly can... before January 6.

Find more on their winter fun here.

Don't drop in to Butchart Gardens in Victoria... unless you want to  be astonished and spellbound by the beauty and diversity of this ambrosial display garden. 

This garden will tease all of your 5 senses (as well as wear out your camera batteries...

... so bring spares.)

As if it weren't enough, the gardens aren't the only draw. The gift shop is inside the front entrance, off Waterwheel Square. 

Never a worry about snacks and meals... there are several restaurants to fuel up at while you putter about the gardens. An absolute must... make a reservation for afternoon tea before you're off and running. You can do that right off of the Square. 

Keep your camera out while you're in the Dining Room and the Blue Poppy Restaurant. I did a juggling act with my photography, tea and meals. The staff were quite happy to accommodate multitasking picture takers.

Since we're on a tour of the gardens, the official website has a map you might want to check out to orient yourself.  Choose your language and download a PDF. 

The indoor perennial displays change often during the year.  No matter when you go, it's a colourful, camera-ready stop on your tour. 

The Blue Poppy Restaurant banners are good subjects for photos. Lots of vertical lines with the windows and receding lines leading off into the distance. 

Need a review of photographic composition? Keep going back to the basics to make better images. 

Ever tried taking panorama photos?  Great with a DSLR on a tripod but even better with your cell phone camera!  The iPhone has a native app to capture panoramas but, OMGosh there are so many apps you can download to get amazing panos.  

Get a small taste of what you can do with your cell phone camera.

Afternoon delight... 'de-light-full'! While the sun is bent down to kiss the horizon, its aura turns gold. This is when the world becomes a magical place for photographers.

For the warmest, sweetest light, get yourself up and out in the early morning or evening. Take your camera along with you since this is the light that they also adore.

Rose are always a big draw in any garden. Butchart Gardens formal rose garden is always spectacular.  This view is well photographed by millions of spellbound tourists but it's just one scene in the phenomenal rose garden.

While you're in the formal rose garden, get close-up photos of the elegant roses as well as landscape shots. And turn your camera for vertical pictures as well as the usual horizontal shots.

This is by no means a complete round of the magnificent Butchart Gardens. 

But keep going to see how I edited some of the images.  It might give you a few ideas for your own photos when you visit this amazing garden.

The Artistic Touch - Photo Editing

 I love the digital darkroom.  Just as much as I loved the darkroom with chemical baths and negatives. Yep, a die-hard… held on to slide film and chemicals for eons before I opened my heart to the digital revolution. I keep a foot in both worlds!

Want to give your pictures a little extra zip? Learn some basic photo editing. Bet you can't stop with basic....

...that's right, you know you want to push those pixels to the edge. So...

Download a free or bargain-priced model and play.. Crop, boost the saturation, change the white balance. And just play!


A Touch of Sun

Once upon a time, a photographer took a picture that had the most horrid sun flare streaming across her otherwise incredible landscape image. "My beautiful image is ruined", she cried!

Today, if she hadn't trashed that image, it might have sold a thousand times over and been a favourite in her online portfolio. Times they are a' changin'! Sun spots and flares are acceptable and even sought after today.

If you peruse the best sellers on microstock sites like iStock or Shutterstock, you'll see that sun flare has ratcheted up its game. For now, take advantage and play with it in your photo editing.

Meet Annebelle, the bronze mare close by the Rose Carousel at Butchart Gardens. The sun was streaming in from the upper right and it softens the metal on her back and rump. Isn't she a proud little horse? I love this photo.   

The sun beams are natural with no major photo editing. 

Annebelle's lovely portrait gave me an idea for a photo I shot just a bit later from the lookout over the Sunken Garden.

This is an image of the sunken garden from the upper walk. There's an impressive view of the garden below.

I bought some sun flare files to add to my Photoshop bag of tricks. Though, this photo already had a sun flare, I added more to it.

I got my set of sunflare files,  Into the Light from Craft & Vision. I love all their products and I don't get paid to say so!

Just a touch more sun, not a lot... it evened out the light and gave the look and feel I wanted. 

This was late afternoon or early evening at Butchart Gardens and the sunken garden was in dark shadow... impossible to shoot with the contast. I took 5 or 6 pictures at incremental exposures and merged them in Photoshop HDR Pro.

That lightened up the shadows and gave an excellent exposure. Four of the images were enough.

But, what is HDR ?


HDR Photographs of Butchart Gardens
... High Dynamic Range Images

Your camera can't capture the range of light to dark that your eyes can. Which is why, so often, WYS isn't WYG**!  

** WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)

When you take a picture on a bright and sunny day, the image doesn't show a lovely blue sky... it's all yucky white, blank space.  The "things" like trees and flowers or people might look properly exposed.

Or, the sky is perfect and the rest is just a dense black shadow.  

You have to choose if you're going to expose for the lights or the darks but you can't have both!

... Except, you can! What you need to do is put your camera on a tripod, figure out your "average" exposure and take 1 or 2 stops darker than what you calculated and then 1 or 2 stops lighter.  

It's absolutely imperative that your camera doesn't move. 

Run straight home and load those 3 to 5 images onto your hard drive, fire up Photoshop (or another program that will merge your images into an HDR.  Wait a minute or two, make your adjustments when Photoshop offers. If you like the image, hit save.  Voila.... you've captured a large range of light that wouldn't be possible without HDR software.


The Sunken Garden at Butchart Gardens is a challenging place to photograph with the diversity of light and dark areas.  A good place to experiment with HDR.

Get both horizontal and vertical shots.  In this landscape, the vertical was more challenging because of the tall trees alight in the sun.


In the first  HDR image, I used the overhanging tree in the foreground to frame the picture.

In this vertical shot, trees also frame the very bright trees behind, in the centre.

Tip: Framing a subject is a good idea to hide very bright skies that will look white in your image. In my case, the dark trees are a nice contrast to the very bright trees behind them.

Need to brush up your composition skills?

Black and White Photography
.... Faux Infrared & a bright moonbridge

This photo of the bridge in the Japanese Garden is in colour. Always take your photos in colour even if you think it'll look great in black and white. That way, you still have the choice if you prefer one over the other.

In the transformation to black and white, I used an Infrared Film preset. Infrared film creates gorgeously unpredictable results and is temperamental to use. But it's incredibly fun and waiting for the film to come back from the lab is almost excruciating with the anticipation of what the film recorded.  

There are digital ways to predict a possible look though it's not the same glowing result.  It's still fun to conjecture and manipulate pixels!

Another reason is that you'll lose much of the tonality if you throw away all the shades and hues.  Did you ever notice how small your file is once you convert to black and white?  You lose a lot of information.  Keep your original file and work with copies.  

Originals are always sacrosanct... guard them and back them up!


Textures Are Terrific

Apricot gelato... that's what the colour of this begonia reminds me of.  Yummy!

It's afternoon tea time in the Dining Room. The light is perfect and I'm doing a balancing act with my late afternoon tea and my photography. 

It's a time squeeze I'm all too happy to handle!

A few months after I edited it, I decided to try a  texture layer.

It's a soft, gentle image so not a good candidate for a grungy, dark layer. Your thoughts?

The same peach begonia image with several texture layers. I used a pebbly, circular patterned texture... a photo of temple roof in Thailand. 

I placed the file over the photo, used a screen blend mode and reduced the opacity to 20%.  i masked the flower to 10%

I added 2 more textures, one a canvas and the other an oil painting layer.

I've been adopting the "painterly" look in my photos and love it! You don't have to be real, you know. Be anything you want!

Wrapping It Up

Occasionally, I sit in Waterwheel Square, just as you enter Butchart Gardens, to plan out my day.  Usually I've already committed to my goals and besides, I'm raring to go when I first arrive. 

But, after many hours walking, photographing and pleasantly weary, I'll sit and have a tea in the Square before leaving. Maybe my way of hanging back, disappointed that it's over... at least for now.

It's a nice area to find a bench, relax for a few moments... double check my photos with my list and double check that all the images I planned on are there. Nothing worse than getting back to the hotel and realizing I missed a crucial photo. 

Butchart Gardens is an absolute must to visit. Put aside an entire day and stay into the night for the fireworks display if you can. Don't try to get through this garden in an hour or two! 

Get online and have an idea of what pictures you'd like to get and carry your list with you.  Use the link at the top to download a map so you can plan your day.  

Then thoroughly enjoy the garden and your afternoon tea.



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