About the Photos on this Site

First of all, I'd like to thank the many people who have emailed me with feedback about this web page. I really appreciate your taking the time to do so and it makes me feel that the time spent maintaining the page is worthwhile if there are folks out there enjoying it. I'm certainly not doing it for monetary gain and have even turned down at least one offer that might have given me some. I don't want any billboards along my little cyberspace garden paths!

Many of you have made comments about the photos and asked about them, so I decided to put up this page with information about how they were done... what equipment and software I've used, etc. It might be of interest and even help to those who are also doing web pages. I feel a bit like a phony even saying that, because I am not an expert on this subject! I only know that what I've done seems to have gotten a positive response so I'm going to share it for what it's worth.


The camera

The camera used for most of the pictures when the page first went up (used for most of the garden tour pictures) was nothing special. It is an aim-and-shoot Fuji DL-400 TELE. For an aim-and-shoot it's pretty nice but has the usual limitations of being preset. The zoom feature is nice for long shots and I've come to appreciate that more since I've lately been using a manual camera that belongs to my son, Robert. I used to own and love an old Olympus manual camera and have mourned it since it "died." I like being able to set the shutter speeds and field of focus the way I want and having a preview button is really nice also. Most of the new single-reflex cameras have lots of automatic features but I loved the simplicity and quality of that old camera. The used camera Robert bought and is now letting me use is a Canon FTb and it is almost identical to our old Olympus.

Addendum (5 September 1998): Since I last wrote about cameras, I've been using Robert's (our second son) other camera...a Canon EOS Rebel. It's a fully automatic camera that has an override if you want to do it all manually. Well...I've played with it for a bit and have to say that it's wonderful, even if it IS an automatic! It has so much flexibility and is easy to use once you figure out what all the settings are for. I also like the manual zoom feature since you can compose your photo more easily and do a certain amount of "cropping" at the time of the shot. I'm seriously considering buying one for myself. He took the manual camera on his trip to Europe (better in no flash situations) and I was forced to learn to use this other camera of his if I wanted pictures and fell in love with it.


The exposures

I've found that the biggest difference in a ho-hum picture and one that is vibrant is a matter of lighting. Of course, the composition needs to be attractive and I try to avoid ugly backgrounds (which around here can be difficult with hoses, old cars, junk piles, etc.!). The experts say that the best garden pictures are gotten in the first couple of hours after sunrise and the last couple before the sun sets. They are certainly correct and the photos I've taken over the years have borne that out. I will usually notice a scenario that is really nice while working outside during the day or walking around and try to run out and capture it when the lighting is better for that spot in the yard...usually very late afternoon or those fleeting minutes about half an hour before the sun hits the horizon (I'm a night owl and don't usually see what's going on right after sunrise!). Shaded portions of the garden give you a bit more leeway if the whole area is in the shade, but the middle of the day when the sun is overhead should always be avoided if possible. The next factor is where the source of the light is in relation to your subject. If I have a choice of light coming from behind me, from the front or the side, I will usually take side lighting first and backlighting second. It really illuminates the flowers. You usually walk around your subject and look at it through the viewfinder to figure out what looks the nicest...giving consideration to lighting and composition.

The film used for most of the pictures we've taken the past few years has either been Fuji 100 speed or of late, Kirkland (made by Agfa for Costco) 200 speed. I buy this because it's cheap! (...and the quality is okay.) I have had most of the processing done by Costco also instead of taking it for high cost-high class processing by Kodak or someone else. If I were a serious photographer, I'd spend the money on this, but I can't justify it with my level of ability and the many children we have in the family (and their attendant needs). The lower speed film will give you richer colors for landscape and garden photography than will 400 speed which is better if you are filming your son's soccer game.

All the garden pictures taken with the manual camera are shot at either 125 or 250 shutter speed.


The software and scanner

Some of you have asked if I used a digital camera and I have not and know little about them. After getting back photos and screening them for the best ones, they are scanned and adjusted with Photoshop (I have a Macintosh computer). The earliest pictures were originally scanned on my brother-in-law's low end Mustek scanner and there was usually a lot of tweaking to be done with the software afterward to get them to look more like the original. During this past year, Robert (my son) bought a nice UMAX Astra 1200S to use for art school and he was good enough to let me use that (meant a lot of trips up and down the stairs...outdoors...that's another story). I've really wanted to have my own scanner and thought about getting one like his because it was wonderful, but recently bought the lower end model for $100 less. The scans are not quite as nice, but for my needs it's fine and it's sure been handy to have it by the computer. It is a UMAX Astra 610S.


After scanning

The pictures are previewed and scanned at 150 dpi. After scanning each image (I just do my scanning from within the Photoshop program) they are brought into Photoshop where I will crop them, sharpen them (usually use "Unsharp Mask"), adjust the levels (mostly the no-brainer approach by hitting the "auto" button unless I don't like how that looks) and up the brightness slightly (mainly because I think that most PC users see the photos more darkly than the way they look on the Mac). After the photo looks okay, I adjust the image size...first setting the physical size the way I want (usually 3.5 to 4.5 inches wide for the web page, being sure to maintain the proportions of the photo in the specs) and then changing the dpi from 150 to 72 for monitor display. After that, they are saved in JPEG format using "High" quality, or for some photos that aren't very pretty but need to illustrate something (like the mole mounds) I will use "medium" quality. This makes the file sizes smaller, and the smaller you can make them the better and faster they will load. I don't like going lower than "high" quality for pictures that really matter though, because you can see the drop in color quality and sharpness. If you decide to make lots of changes to your photos later, you are better to start over or work from a saved TIFF or PICT (Mac) file (uncompressed). Each time you open and resave a JPEG you end up losing bits of information (since you are repeatedly compressing an already compressed file) and eventually your graphic will suffer. When people are viewing your website the JPEGs can be downloaded repeatedly off off your server without any problem, but when you are working on them in your graphic program on the computer, you want to do the JPEG (compressed) save the very last thing and keep the file uncompressed until you have done all your adjustments.


Color accuracy

I try to make the pictures look as much like the original subject as I can, even if it means taking OUT some of the color from the scanned image. This seems to be a problem with reds and pinks and often I'll have to lower the saturation a bit until it looks like the real thing. I wish some seed catalogs would do the same because it can be a real disappointment when someone orders a flowering plant expecting it to look like the picture when the saturation on said photo was altered to the point of it being fraudulent! The other colors I have to fiddle with are some shades of blue that never really come out blue in the pictures (usually blues with a lot of violet in them and not on the turquoise or aqua side). To make them actually look blue, I will have to adjust the hue in Photoshop until I can get them as close to the original color as possible. I don't always succeed in making the pictures totally accurate, but I always try.

Well...that's probably just about all I know about photographs for web pages!


-Kathy Miller