Last year about this time I got wind of a new botanical garden that is being built in Naples, Florida. Having been to Selby Gardens in Sarasota, Florida, I wanted to make the trip down and see what they were up to. Summers here in Florida are brutally hot and humid. It’s kind of like having your own sauna right outside your door. Knowing this, I made sure to take plenty of water and put on the sunscreen. I generally don’t like going out in the 90+ degree heat, however this being a new garden, I figured that I wouldn’t be out in the sun that long. This was also going to be a great test of technique as I would be there in the middle of the day in the harsh sunlight.

I packed the car and I was off. Not being familiar with the Naples area, Lola (the Garmin) patiently guided me through the traffic. When I was going down the main road to the garden, they had already had signs on the light poles and were marketing it quite well. I pulled into the driveway and found a parking spot. I grabbed my camera and TRIPOD and headed into the lobby. I looked around to see what they had to offer thus far. I waited in line and paid the fee. Now, just for the record, I’m holding my TRIPOD. I asked if I was allowed to use it and I was told that I was as long as I wasn’t obstructing any of the walkways. Fair enough, however I have been led by misinformation before. I entered the garden and looked around.

The gardens are laid out in seven different areas. Each garden is themed with a specific motif. I first came to the butterfly enclosure that was located in the main area. The staff that work there is very friendly and knowledgeable. There were butterflies everywhere and they had a cocoon center set up for butterflies that were still in transformation. I followed one particular butterfly, as he seemed to stay at a certain location. This would be my best bet for capturing a butterfly really close. I got my camera ready to go and zoomed my 18mm-200mm lens all the way out to get as much detail as possible. When he landed, I rattled off a few frames and he moved again. I was patient as he came back and landed in the same place. I took a few more and here is the best one out of the series.

Stopping for a rest.

I got lucky as the screen actually worked as a diffuser and softened the harsh light. I left the butterfly enclosure and I continued down the walkway. I came across these huge sunflowers. I hunched down and I visualized the blue sky behind them. I thought this might even make a great background for something. I took a few photos, and I wasn’t really happy with the result. The center was to dark for my taste and I wanted to bring out the detail of the center of the flower. I didn’t have any complicated lighting gear with me, so what was I to do? I used the pop up flash. I’m not a big fan of the pop up flash, however in this case it worked out great. Here is the thing that you need to know, I was really close to the flower. This is what made the flash effective. If I had been further back, there wouldn’t have been enough flash power to reach the flower.

Beautiful sunflowers.

As I continued up the path, I noticed this big fountain. At the time when I was there, this was one of their biggest features. It’s about two in the afternoon and the sun is not letting me catch a break. I wanted to capture all of the details in this feature. Also, to make matters more interesting, there is a piece of artwork at the top. I can’t light this whole area, so I pulled the HDR wrench out of my photographer’s toolbox. Making sure that I wasn’t in the way, I set up my tripod and set the camera up for bracketed exposures. I used the 18mm end of my lens this time to get as much of the scene in as possible. Here you can see the finished HDR. As some of my regular readers probably know, I like the more natural looking HDR’s versus the creative look, but hey, to each their own.

A fountain runs through it.

I made my way to the top of the fountain to look at the artwork. It is a mosaic tile piece that had a lot of thought and time put in it. I looked toward the front of the fountain and I saw these water lilies. The colors on these flowers were really vibrant and they were in great shape considering being out in the hot sun. I took a few photos and again, I was less than satisfied. I had to get crafty again. I underexposed the scene just a bit and added some fill flash to get the final result.

Lilly on my mind.

Not all of the gardens were complete when I was there, however in the Caribbean Garden there was a structure that was built for weary passersby’s to sit and rest in the shade. This building looked as if it came right out of the islands. There were also stone pillars that lined the path and vines had started to grow on them. I walked around the path and wanted to get a photo of this brilliant colored building. As before, I set up my tripod and set the camera up for another HDR shot. In this photo, you can see they also have some kind of game set up. I would assume that this is what they play in the islands?

Anyone for jerk chicken?

One of the last stops that I made was in the Children’s Garden. They had built a tree house and some interactive fountains for the kids to play in. The kid in me wanted to go in the tree house, but being 6’ 4” and slightly over my recommended body mass index, I thought this might not be a great idea. There are some winding pathways that go over a stream of water and there is even a place to go under a small waterfall. If you’re like me and kids give you a headache, you may want to steer clear of this one. This was where the HDR technology was really going to help. I wanted to get the detail inside of the tree houses. A single exposure here would have been difficult to capture all of the range in the scene.

The new Swiss Family Robinson condo.

If you get a chance to stop by the Naples Botanical Gardens I would recommend it. They have massive amount of property to grow into so I’m sure that this will be a spectacle when it’s all completed. I have not been there in a year so I can’t report on some of the new features that I’m sure that they have.

Going to a place like this, helps you reinforce your basic photography problem solving skills. If you can get some great images during the middle of the day, you can photograph anywhere at anytime.

Until Next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


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