The whole world is a garden?…. by Charles Hawes

August 16, 2013

in Book Reviews, Reviews

We appeared (Charles and me) in an exhibition at the National Botanic Garden of Wales (shut up, you at the back there…) and so went to the launch. At the launch we also saw an exhibition of (some rather lurid, – rather like my efforts on this site – some excellent) pictures from the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition. Charles told me there would be a book of the pictures – so I asked him to review it. And he agreed, so here it is. The pictures interestingly look less lurid in the book, I think, but the reasons are no doubt technical.

Anne Wareham, editor

August 2013 Veddw copyright Anne Wareham 039 International Garden Photographer of the Year collection 6 book cover for thinkingardens

The book. With reviewer’s markers.

Review of International Garden Photographer of the Year – Collection 6 by Charles Hawes:

As the title gives away, this is the 6th year in which the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition (henceforth to be referred to as IGPOTY) has taken place. This square format paperback contains what the organisers considered to be the best images (that is to say the prize winners and those that were Highly Commended, Commended or Finalists) of the thousands of entries they received. (They are coy about just how many thousands of entries that was).

If you were expecting a volume of gorgeous photographs of gardens from around the world you might be a little disappointed. Of the 300 or so images in the book, less than 40 are of what most people would think of as gardens.

Sea Thrift, north Cornwall ALL_Overall Winner Colin Roberts  IGPOTY on thinkingardens

Overall Winner, Colin Roberts, Sea Thrift Flowers

Although IGPOTY  was born in the stable of the UK based Professional Garden Photographers Association, its Chief Executive and Co-founder Philip Smith realised early on in its life that in order to attract a wider audience and as wide a participation as possible, the competition needed to have a broader focus than just gardens. It’s now very much broader.

The entries are classified into  “Wildflower Landscapes”,  “Wildlife In The Garden”, “The Beauty of Plants”, Greening the City”, The Bountiful Earth, “Beautiful Gardens” (they are all beautiful, of course), “Breathing Spaces”,  “Trees, Woods and Forests” and (just in case anyone feels left out), “Young Garden Photographer of The Year”.  Use your imagination and if your interest is in photographing any aspect of the ‘natural’ world your snap could be accepted into one of these.

National Botanic Garden of Wales, March 2012. Sun rising at the Echo Spot. Copyright Charles Hawes for thinkingardens

Failed entry by Charles Hawes. Unatmospheric. National Botanic Garden of Wales,

These are not “snaps” though. As Andrew Lawson points out in his Foreword to the collection.  For Andrew, the images demonstrate that to reach the kind of standard to be judged favourably by the assessing panel of experts, the photographer must take time and prepare the shoot; appreciate the plant in all its growth stages (I can’t agree with him about this), understand the garden in all its moods (nope, don’t agree with that either) and know how the weather will affect the images, what time of day it is best to photograph, and  (after a few other musts) have a determination to get the perfect shot. Phew. No pressure then. Andrew is clearly doing his best to talk the competition up!

First Plant Portraits Mandy Disher Cosmos atrosanguieus 'Choa Mocha' Ist place plant portraits IGPOTY

First in Plant Portraits Mandy Disher, Cosmos atrosanguieus ‘Choa Mocha’

You might add to Andrew’s list, get yourself a decent camera and a tripod. Philip Smith says in his introduction, and as the millions of images posted daily on Flikr, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter demonstrates,  “Anybody can take photographs now”, but only one image in this book was taken on a Smartphone. A handful  were taken with compact cameras but the overwhelming majority were taken on fairly expensive digital SLR cameras that would be classified as for “enthusiasts” or professionals.  So although getting good gear might not win you prizes, having good equipment clearly helps.

Veddw House Garden, Monmouthshire, Wales. Designed and created by Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. July. The Reflecting Pool and Hedge Garden with view to the Coppice. Yew Hedges (Taxus baccata) for thinkingardens

Anther failed entry. Technical. The reproduction of these pics here is mine and not to be trusted either.

The other thing that clearly helps is for you to get yourself adept at using Photoshop (the image manipulation software for any aspiring processional). For the majority of the images included the photographer has offered some notes about the image and how it was produced (the camera and the work that they did on the image).  So that slightly blurred foot of the mole emerging from his heap was not his movement but was added by the photographer. And that sweet shot of the mouse having its supper amongst apples was, in fact, made up of two separate images that had been cleverly merged.  (It could be his pet mouse under strict direction.)

I don’t have a problem with image manipulation. Photography is about producing images that, in this competition at least, are pleasing to the eye, not about recording “reality”.  But I simply do not believe the light hand that the majority of the photographers claim to have used to produce the images that we are presented with.

First in Wildlife in the garden Colin Varndell Damselflies on garden pond on thinkingardens

First in Wildlife in the garden Colin Varndell Damselflies on garden pond

Images are produced by cameras in one of two formats; JPEG and Raw.  The JPEG files that your camera produces have already been subject to a very sophisticated computer programme built into the camera to give the image that you see on your computer screen. When you set a camera up the settings of this programme have defaults but nearly all the cameras used to produce these images also have a very wide range of options that will change, potentially quite dramatically, the resultant image .

National Botanic Garden of Wales, March 2012.Llyn Uchaf Copyright Charles Hawes for thinkingardens

ANOTHER Charles Hawes failure! Unatmospheric again. National Botanic Garden of Wales.

None of the image notes state if they were produced from the “in camera” JPEGS or what the settings were. But most enthusiasts and professionals do not use these “in camera” JPEGs for publication. They use the raw format, which is the basic information that the camera sensors record, and they then process those images themselves to end up producing the JPEG.  A raw file reproduced without such “post capture processing” would not look very good.   When I work on a raw image there must be at least 10 separate processes that I consider and my make changes to before I produce the final JPEG. White Balance, Exposure, Highlights and Shadows, Contrast, and several other factors may all get tweaked before I am happy with the final image. You don’t enter images into a highly competitive environment without very careful adjustment.

Dennis Frates  Penstemon sunrise  Crater Lake National Park, Oregon on thinkingardens

Or was this the winner? (who knows?) Dennis Frates Penstemon sunrise Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

I believe that most of the images will have started off as raw files that the photographer has then worked on, and necessarily so,  but when someone I know to be a professional states in the notes that there have been “no digital alterations”, I  think that they are not being truthful.  So that beautiful overall winning picture of Penstemons clinging to a rock, lit by a stunning sunrise over Crater Lake in the USA was not just the result of the photographer working hard to be at exactly the right place at the right time but was (by his own account) created from several separate images and, in my view, had quite a bit of work done to it before it got onto the page.

First in People in the Garden Brad Mailer on thinkingardens

First in People in the Garden Brad Mailer ‘Garden Jumper’

So who is this book for?  One of the stated aims of the book is to “inspire”. There are many beautiful images in this book and I could imagine that someone new to photography could well be inspired to get out there and take their interest further. For me perhaps the most striking images are those where a fair amount of work went into the construction of the image in the computer – Andrzej Bochenski’s extraordinary lake panorama with its outsized dingy being, perhaps my favourite.

Veddw House Garden, Monmouthshire, Wales. Designed and created by Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. July. View from the Ruin over the Hedge Garden to the house and landscape.Yew Hedges (Taxus baccata)

Failed with this one too….expect he’ll give up and go down the garden to eat worms.

But another aim of the collection is that the viewer might “learn”  from the images and I think it fails in this respect as there simply isn’t enough information presented about the how the images were produced.

One of the potentially rather good things about entering the competition is that entrants can ask for feedback about their entries. I entered six images.  The feedback was quite blunt. Of the three pics I entered of the National Botanic Garden of Wales it was suggested that they were “lacking in atmosphere”.  I was a bit taken aback by that. (see some of the pictures on this page, ed.)

And of the three pics of Veddw, which were “enjoyed much more” the criticisms were more technical and I could see their point. The final comment really did feel like a slap on the wrist, though: “The judges expected more from such an eminent photographer…”. Ouch!

Charles Hawes.

Website  and in GAP photos

International Garden photographer of the Year collection 6 on Amazon

087 Charles Hawes






Veddw House Garden, Monmouthshire, Wales. Designed and created by Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. July. The Reflecting Pool and Hedge Garden with view to the Coppice. Copyright Charles Hawes for thinkingardens

Yet ANOTHER failed entry. I’d say the problem was repetition….?

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Amy August 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm

I have entered the IGPOTY a couple of times. I heartily agree with Charles’ review of the contest. I find it hard to believe the “light of hand” approach claimed by many of the photographers. Nevertheless, the images produced and awarded are gorgeous and inspirational, if perhaps unattainable anytime soon for the amateur photographer. The feedback promised by the organizers was delivered, but the same feedback comment was given to all my entry categories. I have decided to save the entry fee and not participate in IGPOTY. I now only enter contests with no entry fee, and have been pleased by receiving some (sometime very) amateur awards. It’s fun. Thanks, Charles, for writing – & publishing!! – what can not be a unique opinion on IGPOTY.

Maddie Thornhill August 19, 2013 at 11:58 am

We appeared (Charles and me)????

Charles appeared – yes.
I appeared – yes.
Me appeared – never heard of that one before.

Hey ho….maybe it was done on Photoshop. Is nothing sacred?

annewareham August 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm

You are right, of course.’I’ sounds poncy though. Have we got a language change here, or am I just out on a limb?

Richard Loader August 17, 2013 at 6:05 pm

I know Colin Varndell well enough to be 100% sure that his Damsel fly shot is NOT Photoshopped. It’s an insult to suggest that the image is a fake, it’s the result of a level of patience and skill that few photographers attain.

annewareham August 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Doesn’t Charles point out that ‘Photoshopped’ is a term that doesn’t really make sense, unless you suggest that it’s a raw file? That’s how I understand this whole thing. So that part of a photographer’s skill now is how he handles the picture as well as how he takes it?

Richard Loader August 17, 2013 at 8:28 pm

I was referring to the comment by ‘John’, clearly implying that the Damselfly image has been faked.
The term ‘Photoshopped’ is generally understood to mean significantly altered from the original – that’s not the same as exported or extracted from RAW.

annewareham August 17, 2013 at 8:59 pm

It may mean different things to different people and therefore it’s not very helpful? We may need to refine our terms to critique digital photographs?

landscapelover August 18, 2013 at 11:11 am

Yes, I was surprised how many of the exhibition images were in fact created by merging two or more photos together. It felt at first like fakery but I think, as Anne says, we need to accept that in fact digital images can’t be divided neatly into either true or fake. They are all manipulated, by what the photographer chooses to include in the shot, when he/she takes it, choice of camera, lens and settings, and how the image is processed afterwards. The US garden photographer Saxon Holt frequently reminds his students that ‘the camera always lies.’

Paul Steer August 17, 2013 at 11:24 am

Please don’t eat worms.

Valerie Lapthorne August 17, 2013 at 10:43 am

Thank you for being a good sport and including you own entries, and your feedback, Charles. Perhaps we should have a “Not good enough for IGPOTY” exhibition. I do enjoy the IGPOTY books and trying to work out what the entrants didn’t admit to in post processing, and I did get some gentle feedback, so I shall be having another bash next year.

landscapelover August 17, 2013 at 5:12 am

I saw some of the winning photos in an exhibition this summer on the South Bank (and liked the idea that the exhibition travels round the country so lots of people can see the images ‘in the flesh’).
It would have been helpful to display the feedback from the judges at the exhibition. The overall winner had a note that the judges were unanimous in choosing it – but why? If one of the aims is to help people learn about landscape photography, then explaining which elements had marked the winners out as special would be very useful.

Tristan Gregory August 16, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Easy – until you know how.

John August 16, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Commiserations Charles. Perhaps you should have added some fake mist to the lake shot and changed the angle of that jet trail in your first photo! The pool at Veddw has become such an iconic shot that you really needed to add something different like red dye or a shark’s fin.

The damselfly photo looks about as real as the plates of cake Anne forces onto her garden visitors and IMO is a real waste of Photoshop (indeed, it would be a waste of MS Paint!). It may be my failing eyesight but the lighting direction in the garden jumper photo seems to be a bit muddled – the lines on the ground and the light on the body seem to come from different directions. The cosmos would make a nice notecard but it’s not a photograph; it’s a composition.

But your photograph over the roof of the house intrigues me. It may be Anne’s “editing” but on my screen from the house to the river Severn in the background it looks more like a painting than a photograph. I think it would look quite good on a stretched canvas.

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