Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Organizing Your Photos Using Picasa

Picasa is a gem of a program, all the more so since it is a free download offered by Google. Not only does it find all the images on your computer and organize them by date and  folder (or however you want to organize), it provides EXIF data for each photo, a histogram, allows you to tag and caption photos and perform more useful and increasingly sophisticated edits.

To download Picasa, go to http://www.picasa.com  and click the Download Picasa link.

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As soon as you install the program, it will begin to search your hard drive for images and load them into an image library.

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You will see the folders in which your images are stored on the left, and the images themselves appear in a library.

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Click on one of the photos. It will appear from a filmstrip-like row of photos at the top. On the left are tabs of edits, such as Commonly Needed Fixes, Lighting and Color Fixes, and three tabs of Image Processing filters that can be applied to change the look of your photos. Along the lower right hand corner are icons  including People, Places (Google Maps), Tags, and Properties - EXIF, or Exchangeable Image File Format data, which tells you where the picture is stored on your computer, the camera that took the picture and when, exposure, white balance used by the camera, etc.

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For example, the photo above can be cropped using automatic or manual controls.

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In this photo, Picasa allows you to compare a before and after photo with the edits you have done. Note the histogram in the lower left hand corner.

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The above photo is being tagged to categorize it. The tagging icon is found on the lower-right hand pane of Picasa. Simply type in categories you want to use, and they will be available for other photos as well.

I will be posting more about Picasa and what it can do in future blogs. Give it a try!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Editing Less-Than-Perfect Photos

In the picture of Honey Perfume rose beside a matching Japanese maple, below, I didn't take care to cut out dead flowers and dry-tipped leaves before taking the photo. Big mistake! As you can see, the photo is marred by these distracting elements. Still, I like the picture, and I don't have another one with this composition that I like as well.

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In the second picture, below, I used the Photoshop clone stamp to repair some of the damage, including the worst offenders in the foliage department, by replacing the burned leaf tips with green color and minimizing distracting marks. This one was also cropped a little on the right.

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Going the next step and getting rid of the fading rose blossoms would be a lot more difficult and time-consuming, though not necessarily resulting in a better-looking photo. I also brightened the photo, which brought some of the otherwise darkened background elements into clearer view, which wasn't necessarily what I wanted to happen. 

Returning back to the original size and darker background, I worked on a few more bad patches, resulting in  the photo below.

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The picture that remains is far from perfect, and it would have served me better to have snipped off the offending flowers and foliage and removed the distracting background elements. It would have taken a lot less time than it did to make repairs in Photoshop!

For a tutorial on how to repair photos in Photoshop using the Clone Stamp, go to http://www.digital-photography-tips.net/repair-photos.html

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lovely Whites

White flowers are deceptively innocent-looking. The perfect flowers for blending more aggressive colors in a harmonious border, the light-reflecting illuminators of the evening garden, white flowers--along with the bright yellows--advance closer to us while darker colors recede from us, making their presence known against the backdrop of all other hues on the chroma scale.

 Early spring Snowdrop anemone, the ever-spreading windflower anemones sylvestris, above. Cutting these back will encourage fall bloom. When allowed to go to seed, the puffballs will scatter themselves in shady moist areas

The orchid-white Thalia narcissus. These form steadily growing, ever-more beautiful clumps year by year.

White Snowcap, arabis caucasica, an early-blooming groundcover that provides a nice backdrop for the yellows and pinks of spring and provides green for the rest of the year

Perfect Memorial Day double white peony. 

Cheerful white Shasta daisies bloom mid-summer

 Indispensable, ever-blooming white rose shrubs

Tall, fragrant, incomparable David phlox

The sparkling Hibiscus Syriacus Double White Rose of Sharon blooms in the heat of July

 One of the best of the hardy salvia nemora, Snow Hill blooms from early summer through until fall

A late summer compositae, the sturdy fragrant white echinacea

The sheer bright reflectiveness of white flowers makes them an easy subject for photography.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Indoor Flower Displays

The images below, from Apartment Therapy's How-To on displaying cut flowers, are a case study in indoor flower photography. You may come upon beautiful cut flower arrangements you can't resist photographing, or you may be an expert flower arranger yourself.  As you take photographs, pay close attention to the following:

Light source. In this photo, the bright light shines from straight above, making the defined shadows a large part of the color and shape of the composition. Be careful of white balance when using indoor lighting, especially fluorescent or incandescent light, which can lend a green or yellow cast to your photos.

The angle of the shot. This angle is low with the square vase turned with its corner toward the camera, giving more interest than a straight-sided shot.

Depth of field. I love this composition -- the colors and textures and shiny aqua and amber glass. I wonder about using a wider depth of field and how that would affect the clarity of the objects and thus the final effect of the photograph.

Pulling out from a closeup. Bringing the rustic table and chairs into the picture gives context to the simple vase of tulips. Again, a bright source of light from the window enhances the ambient light and emphasizes the contrast of light and shadow.

Coming in closer. Even if the shot ends up cutting some of the edges out, keeping the two main objects close to one another and keeping the camera close (or cropping for the same effect) gives an immediacy to this photo.

See  10 Easy Ways to Display Cut Flowers from Apartment Therapy website for more ideas.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Violets & Purples Through the Season

One of the calmest and most blending of colors, the violets, lavenders and purples of the (mostly) shade garden suggest cool thoughts even on the hottest of summer days. Although violet-purple is a common flower color in the spring, it is surprising to add up all the lavender-hued flowers throughout the growing season:

One of the earliest of spring bloomers, Sweet Violets, Viola Odorata, grow and spread in my lawn, untouched by the lawnmower blades. These little beauties seem to like the sun, then disappear as it grows warmer. Pick a few of them to enjoy the scent, but the fragrance is short-lived, since the ionones, or rose ketones that give violets their scent, will numb your nose! 

I tried many photos of this plant, but finally had to get down flat on the ground to get a decent shot.

Bigger and more aggressive than the sweet violets, the Viola Riviniana, dog-violet, or the more harmonious-sounding Wood Violet, spreads its lovely color every nook and cranny and lawn and empty patch of soil it can fling its voluminous seeds to. These form clumps that are hard to remove! But we forgive them in the spring, just to see that color.

Purple rock cress, the spring Aubrieta that forms a mat of flowers accompanying narcissus and daffodil. The foliage makes a nice tidy green ground cover the rest of the season.

Common violas, which have intermingled and hybridized and flung themselves around the spring border with delight. These miniature lavender pansies grew between rocks in my driveway all summer long, fortunately shaded and well watered during the heat of the day. 

  Campanula, the bellflowers that form such interesting rock garden and border plants.

Lilacs, queen of the late spring garden

 Salvia and Lavender, two of the spiky purple plants. These are reliable in hot dry weather with a long season of bloom.

Velvety royal purple iris multiply quickly and form tight dense rhizomes. Since these are sun-loving plants, and these darker shades need the bright light of mid-day to photograph to capture the color intensity, it is often difficult to photograph them without having problems with brightness and contrast. These were taken on a cloudy day.

 Purple cardinal flower, Lobelia Cardinalis, likes its feet wet and filtered shade in the afternoon. These form spectacular clumps of tall spikes that need staking, or else they fold up accordion-fashion along the ground.

Adenophora lilifolia, the often-weedy Ladybells give much-needed color to the late summer shade garden. They are easy to pull up once they bloom, when the leaves wilt and turn brown in a rather unappealing way. A slender, tall plant like this is difficult to photograph since the flower color doesn't stand out. This photo was adjusted for color saturation.

Purple spires of the butterfly bush. Cut these bushes down to the ground in the spring like a large perennial. These grow in filtered shade for me. Another plant that is hard to do justice to in a photograph, especially the taller varieties.

Aster Frikartii, with some of the largest, most daisy-like blooms of all the perennial asters. Well-behaved with an eye-catching color that blends with every other color. Blooms for several months in later summer in full sun. A prime perennial plant. 

Common perennial aster that blooms in September and beyond. These plants cross-pollinate and pop up all over the sunny  border in little green shrubs that eventually form a sea of lilac-pink, pink, lavender, and darker purple-blue. Cut them back half way in mid-June to keep them from getting completely out of control. Perennial asters can be the mainstay of the autumn garden, often blooming long past first frost, and growing where chrysanthemums are too tender to endure.

I've tried to grow the quilly lavender-blue fleabane  Erigeron for a number of years now, and it's finally made  itself at home in my front border in semi-shade. With a long blooming season, a nice-looking, if somewhat floppy plant, perfect, fat little yellow centers, and this pretty blending color, it was worth the effort.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Growing Lilies

Lilies are the elegant ladies of the garden. They grow tall, often needing staking, with slender green leaves, bounteous buds, and spectacular blooms. The only problem with lilies (other than the fact that burrowing animals consider them a delicacy) is that their season of bloom is over too soon.

Lilies are wonderful companions to flowers of the midsummer garden. Here a profusion of orange lilies combine with white Shasta daisies and blue bachelor's buttons for a brilliant display.

Fragrant white Oriental lilies growing along the fence, shaded by fruit trees. These bloom during July 4th festivities. They do bend toward the sun, but still bloom beautifully.

Shorter, orange, upward-facing and non-fragrant Asiatic lilies make a strong statement in the June garden. Lilies can bloom from May through August, depending on the variety. The Asiastics are vigorous growers in many colors and heights.

Pink lilies in the summer border. Some areas of the garden are bothered by gophers, voles, pigs, and mice, which love lily bulbs. If you are bothered by these pests, you may have to use mesh bags when you plant, or dose the area with castor oil in the fall.

Frilly shorter lilies set off by the Sweet Caroline purple ipomoea and purple heliotrope in a collection of potted plants. Lilies will benefit from a handful of bone meal at the bottom of the planting hole. Make sure the soil does not stay dry too long.

 The famous Stargazer lily

Let the bulb clumps grow and you will have a spectacular display

There is nothing shy and demure about lilies, no matter what color they may be. When you plant them, you are creating an instant focal point, so take care where you plant them! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Growing Sunflowers

Sunflowers, along with hollyhocks, are the prototypical country flower. They are so tall and need so much room to grow, that you need a large yard to accommodate them. But if you possibly can, they are a wonder, and much admired. I have had livestock truck drivers slow down their heavy trucks in order to appreciate a row of shaggy-petaled blooms along the front yard fence.

Buttercream yellow--my favorite shade for sunflowers

I'm not talking about growing sunflowers for seeds. Those plants are gigantic and don't always present themselves well, especially when they are ripening! But if you like the bright-hued, fence-leaning Helianthus, just planting a few seeds will reward you with an hedge of dark green, coarse-leaved, thick-stemmed, sunny faced compositae.

Giant, floppy, and utterly charming

I usually start my seeds indoors, because they will take awhile to get started, and I occasionally have trouble with damping off or hungry bugs. With the newer, colorful varieties, I set them outside along the fences in holes about two or three feet apart, and protect the shoots with cut-off paper cups with the bottoms taken out. Then I dig a trench that goes the length of the fence to irrigate them.

Eye-catching orange

The plants are drought-resistant, but only after they have established themselves. They will grow rapidly when the weather warms up. I usually plant several extra, because invariably one or two won't make it, and there will be a hole in the noble row of sunflowers that needs filling. They may drop seeds that sprout the next spring, but eventually, over several years, they will revert to the original golden yellow color.

Golden sunshine

A threesome against the fence post

Brilliant tangerine poking through the barbed wire

Plush chocolate against the buttercream

Interesting variegated color combination

Wild sunflower, backlit against the afternoon sky

A wild sunflower threesome