Each month, we sit down with one of our favorite photographers for a snapshot interview of the person behind the lens. This time, professional photographer Saxon Holt shares inspiration and advice that’s seen him through decades of nature photography, dozens of books and thousands of photos licensed to publishers.
What inspired you to become a nature photographer?
Originally I was inspired to do nature photography by the great black and white landscape work of Ansel Adams and Brett Weston. But because I am a gardener and have always loved plants, I found myself photographing wildflowers and ecosystems, which led to my own niche as a garden photographer. What inspires me today are the possibilities gardeners have to bring nature into their lives. Through my work photographing nature in real life and successful gardens for books and magazines, I really hope to inspire other gardeners.
What does photography give back to you?
Photography not only gives me an excuse to get outdoors to explore plants and nature, it gives me something to share with others. I believe gardens are important, life-enhancing and earth-enhancing, and they need to be shared. Photography allows me to share and contribute. It gives me a voice.
What inspires you, or what is your favorite thing to photograph?
Obviously I love plants and am continually amazed at their variety and adaptability. I really like to find gardens that are well adapted to their site and are sustainable (given a certain amount of ongoing labor, of course). I know this is an overused term but it is an important concept about efficiencies and conservation of resources that we all need to better understand. A garden that is both beautiful and sustainable inspires me. It is my favorite thing to photograph because I can learn from it myself, and then pass it along with pictures.
Do you have a favorite technique or effect, and if so, why do you find it compelling?
In my personal work, I play around with many Photoshop filters and artistic effects, but this is genuinely play and I have mastered none. In my professional work, I like using wide-angle lenses that can show the garden as landscape. As a gardener myself, I am frustrated by stories that include only close-ups of flowers, so I strive to work with wide lenses.
I do like to silhouette details of plants, usually flowers or leaves, isolating them on white background like a botanic print. I call it my photobotanic process, inspired by the great 19th century botanical artist Redouté. This technique forces both the photographer and viewer to really study the image and understand the key parts of the plants. Here is a link to how I created a series of rose portraits with this technique: http://www.photobotanic.com/galleries/p_index.html.
Do you have a few tips to share with aspiring photographers?
Take the time to fill the frame of your camera only with the information that helps you tell your story. Think about what it is that you are seeing, what it is that inspires you and then compose your image around one idea. Often this means getting closer to your subject or zooming in. Don’t waste the space you have within the frame.
Be aware of the light and stay away from harsh contrasts. It is almost an absolute rule never to shoot nature subjects in midday sun. The two or so hours before sunset and after sunrise offer sweet light. Overcast days are also great for garden photography.
What is your favorite camera feature or piece of equipment, and why?
I almost always use a tripod because I know this improves my composition. It forces me to slow down and really think about what I am seeing.
As to camera features, most cameras these days are phenomenally accurate once you decide on focus and exposure. But note I said “once you decide.” I am usually wanting as much depth of field as I can get, so I use the manual control features of the camera to set my exposure, taking full advantage of my camera’s focusing matrix to pinpoint where I want the sharpest point.
What’s in the future for you?
I have been a garden photographer for nearly 30 years and have done dozens of books and licensed thousands of photos to publishers. But now publishing is changing rapidly and print media is giving way to online publishing. There are new ways to communicate and I am developing a self-publishing platform with my PhotoBotanic brand where I will be selling photo stories and e-books directly to gardeners. I am also organizing my photography workshops as an e-book: The PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop.