Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Back to School: Vision On

My attempt at creative flower photography

I've shown you lots of pictures over the past few weeks, hence my choice of title for today's post - I'm reminded of Vision On's Gallery section if you can remember back that far.

The final lesson of the photography course was about developing technique and vision, and Clive Nichols specifically talked about:
  • Looking at plants from different or unusual angles, especially an insect's viewpoint
  • The colour wheel and finding complementary backgrounds in nature
  • Use of wide and narrow lens apertures to achieve soft or pin-point subject focus respectively
  • Using movement creatively - either naturally (i.e. windy conditions) or man-made (via the camera)
  • Looking out for other creative opportunities, such as shadows, and finding good plant combinations to photograph

There was also a tiny section on simple post photoshoot processing; students looking for in-depth guidance on this topic, or the use of additional lighting should look elsewhere. This course focuses on plant forms and how to achieve naturalistic results ('scuse pun - purely intentional). There's very little discussion of general garden shots, but the techniques covered can be applied to those too.

I prefer my camera to do the work most of the time and I tend to shoot 'straight', so it was great to go and have a play with my camera's controls and do a little post shoot processing for a change. As usual I had to submit 3 photos for my final assignment, though I couldn't resist sneaking in a cheeky fourth this time.

How did I get on?

It was great to have the opportunity to stop and have a think about my photography, where it's heading, and have the excuse to go out and have a play. Before I started, Ronnie raised concerns about the long equipment list for this course. I've shown it can be done without all the bells and whistles as I managed with just my DSLR camera, an 18-55mm lens, plus a bit of improvisation.

The key thing is to have the courage to step away from your camera's Programme (P) button, be creative, and get to know your camera's controls. The Aperture (A) button in particular is your friend when it comes to flower and plant photography. 

How's your motivation for self-study? It needs to be high for you to get the most out of the course. Most of the time is taken up with thinking about photography, taking photographs, then the selection and self-critique of them. I had around 2 hours tuition (videos + reading Clive's critiques), but I took around 24 hours to complete everything, spread over the 4 weeks. 

Also be prepared for no-one taking the course at the same time. Much is made of the online classroom on My Garden School's website, but the course still goes ahead if there's only one student (the maximum is 20). If you need someone to constantly chivvy you along, or you like to chat with your fellow-students, then you may need to look at attending one of the photography workshops available at various gardens instead.

Note that if you can't complete the assignments within the time period, you cannot carry any of them over to a future running of the course.

As I've finished the course, it's time for my end of term report:

Full marks

  • Tuition and feedback from one of the world's top garden photographers and Clive is a good tutor
  • A detailed analysis and critique of Clive's own photographs - I'd say looking at photos is just as important for developing your photography as going out and taking them
  • It's an online course so students can choose the best time to study which suits them, and this can be varied from week to week
  • No travel costs involved - unless a student chooses to travel outside their neighbourhood to complete their assignments
  • The videos are available to replay for a year after the course is completed and there's a full set of course notes available to download for later consultation 

Could do better

  • Technical glitches with the website throughout the course - it should have been tested more thoroughly prior to its relaunch ahead of us starting our studies
  • There is still room for improvement with the website - some of the design is clunky and the 25 minute lessons can take a while to download even if you're on superfast broadband like me. I've already given more detailed feedback to My Garden School
  • My Garden School needs to think about how to improve the experience for lone students, or how interaction can be encouraged when students are reluctant to chat online
  • If I was a paying student, I'd like a couple of extra weeks tuition at current prices 

My thanks to My Garden School for the opportunity to review one of their wide range of courses on offer. I'm continuing with my photography posts for a little while longer as Clive has kindly agreed to be a VP VIP, so look out for my interview with him soon.

You may also like

Previous posts:

Other student reports:
  • Alison on Toby Musgrave's garden history course
  • Andrew's first thoughts on Harriet Rycroft's container course; plus Ronnie's first experience of the same course
  • Happy Mouffetard's first and second reports on Noel Kingsbury's planting design with perennials
  • New commenter Angela's review of Alex Mitchell's edible gardening made easy


  1. Another set of wonderful photos that one day I may hope to achieve. You have certainly learned a new practical and technical skill, you can apply to all your photography.

    Looking forward to reading your interview with Clive, and thank you for mentioning my review too.

    Angela - Garden Tea Cakes and Me

    1. Thanks Angela, I've enjoyed having a play. I'm only too pleased to add your link - it's good to be able to show prospective students reviews from a wide range of courses.

  2. I think the model is one that would work well for me, but I think I would want to find a local buddy to do the course at the same time as, so that we could swap notes and encourage one another. Great to be able to learn from such an accomplished photographer, particularly one focused on a particular area of interest rather than a more general course. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I would have liked a local buddy too Janet, thank goodness for blogging buddies to discuss this course. Another option with a local buddy would be to hire a local professional photographer for a day's photoshoot and tuition.

  3. Getting students to take part in online conversations is always a problem. I used to deliver courses on the subject of using computers in classrooms and we found it very difficult to get any of the students to join in and have online conversations. Maybe it's a lack of confidence or maybe it's the lack of time

    1. I've had varying experiences Sue - I think both of your points are factors. It's worked well at the OU, but then there are plenty of people keen to learn and want to exchange ideas and experiences. It almost didn't work when I studied with KLC, but we found coming together at a set time each week really helped. I think numbers involved is a factor too, online forums don't tend to work that well until there's quite a lot of people signed up, plus a few people willing to kick off discussions..


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