Tulips, tulips, tulips…

A few days ago, with the temperature soaring in the high twenties, I stopped by the  Canadian Tulip Festival at Dow’s Lake for a few hours with a good friend.

I’ve lived in and around Ottawa (Canada’s capital city) for more than 30 years and I’ve always eagerly awaited this vibrant festival and the wide swaths of colour that adorn the city for weeks while the 1 million tulips are in bloom.

2017 is the 65th anniversary of the festival — one of the largest events of its kind in the world — and this year it coincides with Canada’s 150th birthday. The festival celebrates Ottawa’s official flower as a symbol of international friendship and peace.

As well as tulip displays, the festival also includes music performances, speakers and exhibits of international cuisine as well as fireworks.

In 1945, the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa to thank Canadians having sheltered Princess Juliana and her daughters for three years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, in the Second World War. The festival started as a way to showcase this wonderful gift.

The tulips — over 300,000 of them planted by the lake alone — were incredibly diverse in colour and appearance, so much so that some did not even look like tulips. A special feature this year is the Canada 150 tulip bred to look like the Canadian flag.

The people out enjoying the tulip displays were enthusiastic, light-hearted and equally diverse. As well as Ottawans, more than a half a million visitors are drawn to the festival every year. Almost everyone was snapping pictures of the tulips and having their pictures taken among the tulips. It was a joy to behold.

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The soft ones…

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If you don’t feel the pointed things in life, you’ll soon take the soft ones for granted.

 

John Everson

Be open…

doorwayWhen it comes to advice on photography, there is no shortage out there — and in the hopes of improving my photography, I’ve read and watched a tremendous amount of it. You too?

But one piece of advice — from the incomparable photographer Jay Maisel, who I’ve mentioned before (see some great quotes here) — has always resonated with me, and so tends to rest there in my unconscious every time I go out into the world with my camera.

Be open. 

That’s it, that’s all.

Don’t go out looking for something specific to shoot — be receptive and willing to let that something come to you.

This is what happened to me recently when I was visiting a friend, who has, with her partner, created a magical garden in a minuscule space in the city.

The garden is as much vertical as it is horizontal, with climbing vines everywhere, producing amazing veggies and flowers throughout the growing season.

At this time of year, the arbour drips with concord grapes and the musky rich smell is intoxicating as you enter the gate.

grapes

I had in my mind that I wanted to capture the whole thing with my camera, and I busily set about shooting this view and that view. I took pictures of squashes, jalapeño peppers, nicotiana, cosmos, morning glory vines and much more… It was all truly lovely.

cosmos heart leavessq

I was losing the light so I noticed myself moving very quickly, not wanting to miss anything. But I had this feeling that I wasn’t connecting enough to this beautiful space. My preconceived notions were getting in the way.

How many times does that happen to me — to you?

So I deliberately slowed down and let the expectations go. I walked through the garden again at a slower pace, really taking in what was there. I tried to stop looking for the view I thought I should be capturing and just left myself open.

That’s when I saw the seedheads on the dill. I hadn’t noticed them at all before — they were brown and blended into the background   — kinda of mousy — not showy at all. I had been more fixated on the brighter colours and bolder shapes.

magical seedheadsrgb

But, this time they captured me. Their delicate, intricate beauty became evident when I paid them the attention they deserved.

And they turned out to be magical, even luminescent, in the fading light of the garden.

As well as a great reminder of some of the best advice ever.

seedhead

Peonies…

I planted peonies in my new garden last year. Peonies were one of my favourite flowers as a kid.  I remember them fondly from our garden in the West Island of Montreal. We had lilac bushes, crabapple trees and plum trees. We had irises too. Oh yes, and tulips and daffodils. Marigolds also, I think.

peony garden portrait

This was shot at F 2.2. I wanted a shallow depth of field in order to focus on the bloom. After doing basic conversion in Camera Raw, I added an adjustment layer of Colour Lookup and added Filmlook for, well, the look of film.

But it was the peonies that won my heart for having both a delicate frilled beauty and an unforgettable fragrance, which heralded early summer and its longer, languid days. And peonies had such a short life too — they were a sweet reminder that many good things in life are fleeting, so paying attention and having appreciation is in order.

When I first saw the peonies unfurl to the sun this year, I ran out with my camera to capture them in situ. I quickly bent to have a sniff. I could not believe the scent — it was even better than I remembered. Not sweet or sickly — just perfect. I inhaled deeply. Then I went to work shooting them in the garden.

I like this one, which was shot from above, just because it’s a bit different. I used the adjustment brush to try to bring out the rain drops on the bloom.

After that, I brought one in and placed it in a clear vase. It was still wet from the rain. I took shots from many angles with different apertures, all against a white background, trying to pay attention to the composition. I was going for something pure and simple. Trying to convey the spirit of the peony.

Then I moved the vase into the kitchen so it was backed by my window to the back yard. I made some images in the golden morning light, again with different apertures, but mostly large because I didn’t really want the peonies to have to fight for attention with the back yard!

Once I was finished shooting, I began to process the raw images. I  use Adobe Camera Raw to start with and then for some of the images I played with my new favourite tool in Photoshop, Colour Lookup.

 

This was shot at F 3.2 so it’s crisper and more of the flower is in focus than at larger apertures. Here I wanted to emphasize the golden light in the background.

I don’t very often convert my flower images to black and white unless they are very contrasty. I thought I would see how a more dreamy image turned out. I like it — it’s moody — but in general, I think peonies are better in colour!

peony framed

This was shot at F 2 so it’s really quite painterly and dreamy. It evokes memories of summer as a kid, when we spent almost all our time outside — in the fields and playgrounds and backyards.  We’d come in for supper and be greeted with the scent of peonies in a vase on the table.


In the sweetness of friendship…

iris

Textures thanks to French Kiss

 

In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Khalil Gibran

 

June abounds with the birthdays and anniversaries of so many friends and family. So as we go through the month celebrating all of you, I’ll think about all the laughter and pleasures we’ve shared over time and look forward to more.

These beautiful irises are now planted in our front yard, the kind gift of family members with seriously green thumbs.  When we moved to our new home three years ago, we left behind a garden that had taken years to develop, filled with all kinds of flowers and foliage, shrubs and trees. I do miss my irises and my peonies and my magnolia tree and my climbing vines and all the rest of the plants I carefully researched, selected and planted. I miss my quiet and soothing vine-covered meditation garden, my water feature and my granite bench.

But that was then. This is now. It’s time to start again…We began to plant and landscape last year and we added a plum tree, a ginkgo, lilacs and an espaliered apple tree. We planted blueberry and currant bushes and rhubarb. And our vegetable garden will be full of healthy brightly coloured vegetables just as it was for the past two years.

We continue to develop our outdoor space this summer. I’m yearning for more flowers…but they will come…and the irises are a great beginning.