Night Lights in the Garden

Night Lights in the Garden is being held at The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens from February 1 to February 18, on Wednesdays through Saturdays.  The event was a beautiful display of lighting and color. The plants were awash in colorfully changing, theatrical lights.

Music played and bongos pulsated through the rainforest display. A little creative photographing above echoed the sounds all around. The tropical atmosphere was a delight as outside was cold and rainy.

Plants soared skyward in the dome.

The lighting was professionally designed and installed.

Each night has different entertainment and going more than once would not be out the question.  I was there as a member of the botanical gardens, but also as a photography group member. If you remember from my posts on Old Fort Niagara, our photography group meets at a location to photograph as a group, all of the members having a differing artistic approach. Many shot the interiors with a wide-angle or fish eye view. My approach here was to shoot closeups, but, not many individual plants were lighted. So I got a little creative with movement and mood.

We were required to stay on certain paths, so I thought bringing a macro lens was going to be a good idea. I like the results, but will show you the more open views with a different lens in a later post.

We were not allowed the use of tripods, and in this low light, that proves a bit tricky. I had a monopod, but that is still difficult to control keeping the camera very still during these longer exposures. Most of the images you see here had the camera set at a high ISO. I jumped between 1600 to 4000 depending on how well-lit was the display. Above, was a 4000 ISO image. The shutter was set at 1/50th and the aperture at f2.8. Below, the shutter dropped to 1/20th, and at these speeds, a tripod is really a necessity. Having the ISO so high let me have shutter speeds more reasonable in the range of 1/50 to 1/100 using the monopod.

For those of you that never changed the ISO and may not know how it functions, here is a short explanation. Simply, ISO is how sensitive the image sensor in the camera is to the amount of light present. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the image sensor and therefore the possibility to take pictures in low-light situations.

I was going for more artsy shots being a bit limited by the lens I was using. One of the professionals suggested I not use a 4000 ISO, but you can see my images really did need it in this setting. I had to weigh whether I wanted to sacrifice camera shake blur for less grain. I only want blur when I want to show motion, or sometimes for an artistic technique, like in my abstract images here. Blur is really a different consequence than that of the result of camera shake. My camera and lens are pretty fast, so I was pretty sure my images would be fine. I did not want to ignore his advice because he is really talented and knowledgeable. And most probably, better at working in these low light conditions than me.

Most images are pretty sharp at the higher ISO considering, but blown up, would be somewhat grainy. I was not shooting RAW (which helps in processing later), but jpeg fine. If you click them, twice, they get really large and you can see a bit of the grain.

I was using a Nikon Micro-NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G lens, which has an ED lens of superior sharpness. The lens is a 1:1 and what the eye sees, is basically what the camera sees as far as distance, and it focuses to infinity. Being a true macro lens, it also focuses to within 6 inches of the subject, great for flower closeups.

The water falls is very high, but I could not get back far enough with the macro lens to get more of the image. This lens has no zoom, so you are quite restricted in how you frame a shot. It makes you more aware how you are filling the frame.  Like above, I wanted the waterfall framed by the foliage, but you should have seen where I had to stand to get this shot. No, I was not I the planting beds, but was wedged in a corner very uncomfortably.

The above scene almost looks like an underwater scene. I entitled it Floating, like what jellyfish remind me of gliding along in the ocean.

These fan palms were truly beautiful and have so many colors!!! In this image above, a professional suggested I crop out the wall to the left. Actually it is not a wall, but a palm trunk. But he is right, it is a highlighted distraction, and one he could not identify, making it more of a problem to the photograph. What I thought anchored the side in my framing of the image, ended up being very distracting in print. Being in this photography group will help me quite a bit. I love the constructive criticism that they offer. It will also help you the readers too, because you will see from my mistakes what not to do.

This reminded me of a deep-sea dive. Something I would never do in a million years, but it is nice to imagine what it would be like. The dancing lights were moving, and I just used a two second to three second long exposure for these abstract images. The larger areas of light were actually kids with a ‘light’ necklace. If you look close in the image above, you can barely see one of the kids on the left. Eerie isn’t it?

I did shoot some macro images of the flowers of the nighttime gardens, even though they were just receiving ambient light and not directly lit. This softens the photo generally as light washes the surface.  The light was not sufficient for most, but too much for some. In those you see the hot spots in the photographs, like in the blue, ‘petunia-like image’ below. It is not a petunia by the way, but a small Amaryllis since the show was going on simultaneously.

Some of the flowers were very translucent, but you could not step in the beds to get the best shots of them.

And this is where the event was held. It is such a beautiful building. I will take you back here again soon in the daylight. Did this post remind you of my Avatar post? I would love to visit such a richly colorful place.

See Green Apples for making this classy digital matte. It is done on a white matte instead of black, but really it is a nice way to show off your images.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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31 Responses to Night Lights in the Garden

  1. Thanks so much for the photos as well as all of the info regarding the circumstances and settings of the shots!!!

  2. Jess says:

    The whole thing is exactly like a deep sea dive…you took the words I was thinking right out of my head!

  3. Victor Ho says:

    Considering the limitations of the venue, your photos came out very well. The color balance was certainly interesting, with monotones and duotones. Good work.

  4. Indie says:

    How fun to be in a photography club and get some great advice! My favorite pic is the red and black one with the fan palm leaves. Such great shape.
    Your Avatar post was impressive. It would be so incredible to visit such a richly lush and vibrant place.

  5. What a fun event, and it sounds like your photography group is a great experience, too. Great shots!

  6. Masha says:

    This must have been a really fun event. The pictures you took are surprisingly high quality given such low light.

  7. Wow I loved your “deep sea dive” plant photos. What fun. You got superb results. I don’t know what half of the settings on my camera are, I am resolved to learn more this year. Thanks for sharing:~)

  8. tina says:

    Avatar is exactly what this post remind me of! So richly colored and beautiful. You are a wonderful photographer and I do appreciate your lessons on photography. I was wondering what ISO was too so now I know. Now if I could just figure out how to adjust it….

    I’m looking forward to meeting you at the fling.

  9. andrea says:

    Your lens is really great giving you very sharp pictures in those circumstances. And your hands are so steady, i might not be able to use a monopod without shakes to right and left. Looking at plants like these feels like we really are in the Avatar country.

  10. elaine says:

    Wow – amazing pictures – must have been an exciting challenge

  11. It did remind me of Avatar – all the deep blues and neon affect that the lights gave the plants. Thanks for the tips on the ISO settings. Great job once again.

  12. HolleyGarden says:

    What a beautiful display! Not at all what I expected from just your title. So much more beautiful and theatrical than just a few lights in the garden! I love it! This is really fun. I can see this as a new trend!

  13. Those were some of the coolest shots Donna…the creativity, color, textures, motion….you need to start selling these and other somehow…

  14. lula says:

    And this is the reason why I wrote in my post about you being versatile, I am recomending your blog.

  15. b-a-g says:

    Stunning images. Usually I just press the button, but reading your blog makes me wonder what more my camera can do.

  16. Kala says:

    Gorgeous colors and exposure in these images.

  17. TufaGirl says:

    What a fun event. And WOW, your photos are stunning and as usual you make it look so easy.

  18. These are amazing photos. I am in awe of the colors and textures…

  19. Wow! What great effect! I love seeing things in a different light. Hey, I think that’s a pun. How cool you get together as group to photograph. Hmmm, maybe I should start a painters group that only paints gardens? Someday I would like to have a super camera and learn all about it. Great imagery. I love the close ups but also the textures of the leaves and the “moody moves.”

  20. looks like you’ve jumped into the world of photography with 7 league boots Donna. Sounds understated to say I thought these were professional posters and an insult to your talent and understanding. Great place, great shots, and great blog post as usual 🙂

  21. Cynthia says:

    I really like the vivid colors of these photos – beautiful!

  22. These shots did remind me of Avatar but real. the last photo of the outside of the building with the glowing blue dome is really something.

  23. Just gotta say – I thought your pix were posters from the gift shop!! WOW!!! I’m just happy when my garden pix don’t include a pooping dog. 🙂

  24. debsgarden says:

    Your photos are works of art. Bongo drums and colorful lights in the dark – what an inspiration! It must have been a lot of fun, and it is great that you and your photography friends could share it as a group.

  25. jakesprinter says:

    Great entry ,beautiful

  26. Cat says:

    Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing the information about your settings. That helps a lot as I’m trying to learn more about shooting in varying light conditions. Looks like a fun way to spend a winter evening.

  27. What a magical way to spend some time – I love the other-world feel to your photos.

  28. trailblazer1 says:

    They would have to drag me away, kicking and . . . your photos are art. Thank you.

  29. Christine says:

    You’re incredibly talented Donna! These photos are amazing. Thanks for sharing and telling us how its done.

  30. Thank you Donna! These shots are fantastic! I especially like palms!

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