True Confessions - Some of My Photos...

I read recently on the Gardening Gone Wild blog that some of the pictures in garden magazines are ‘staged’ or stuffed with blooms to make the gardens appear fuller, bigger, better than they are in real life.

We all knew that was the case, so don’t be all shocked.

I’ll confess that I've staged something in my garden before, just once, to get a picture for my blog. I staged some pictures of some butterflies to make it appear that my garden was an absolute butterfly haven.

Perhaps you missed those pictures from June 2006? If so, here’s one of them.

And then I went a little overboard and made it look like there were all kinds of butterflies on my peonies.
But this close up shows that I still need to work on my technique.

What do you think? Did I fool anyone?

Have you ever staged a picture in your garden for your blog? Added more flowers to make the garden look fuller? Staged fake butterflies on flowers? Borrowed all your neighbor's flowers to put in your garden to make it appear more colorful?

If so, it’s time to confess!

But don't get any ideas about staging your garden for the next Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day coming up next week already.

The idea of bloom day is not to try to be better than then next garden blogger. It is to showcase and highlight differences in gardens around the world, all photographed on about the same day. And even if you have no blooms in your garden because it is now cold and cloudy where you are, I'm sure there is something of interest in your November gardens that you can post as "bloom".

No excuses, everyone should post for bloom day next week with as much or as little as is really blooming in our real gardens!

Note: No actual butterflies were harmed, injured, or actually involved in the pictures I took.


  1. I love it. That is pretty funny!

    As far as staging for the garden photos, I'm guilty of weeding ONLY what can be seen in the picture of whatever I'm photographing. Needless to say, there are usually several out of place, clean, weed-free patches in my otherwise weedy garden.

    Good post, as usual.

  2. Not being the best photographer I can barely remember to take photos let alone stage them...but I admit to pinching off leaves that look beat if they are close to the flower I'm trying to get. And holding branches back with flowers that were past their prime to get a shot of the good one.

  3. That is really funny.

    I have trimmed back other plants to get them out of the picture and pulled off leaves and stems.

    And sometimes I have placed a piece of black cardboard behind the plant to give a better background.

  4. Oh Carol I thought this was so funny then I read other comments. At first I didn't think that deadheading or holding some imperfect blossom out of the way or pulling a few weeds before photoing a space was staging. I guess it is. So I am GUILTY.

    For a garden party I placed clippers, hat and gloves on a bench to make it look interesting. I think I took a picture of that. However that was before blogging.

  5. Since most of my plants are in containers, I have a few times moved a container to get better light. And since I carry my camera with me as I work in the garden, I am often inspired to take a photo while I'm weeding or deadheading -- so is that really staging?

  6. I have done everything Marc, Leslie, and Bill have done--except the black paper. And I have also dragged toys and other miscellany out of the picture. Of course, there's also cropping the photo after you've taken it, and then photoshopping.

    I watched an editor from Fine Gardening photograph my garden for my article "Digging Up a Garden's History." She didn't do any staging, but she was very particular about light and always used a tripod. I think she did trim the occasion wayward stem--after asking my permission first. The thing that impressed me the most is she took pictures from angles I had never considered, and I hardly recognized the resulting photographs as coming from my garden.

  7. This is very funny, and I toddled over to the original post. I guess i'm sort of naive, because I just assumed that maybe gardens were groomed, (well weeded, etc) for garden mag shots, but not stuffed! I can tell you this--any photos I take of gardens, mine or others, whether for here in my blog or for publication in my various client magazines and papers, etc are the real thing.
    I don't have what you'd call a competitive streak, either. I love growing stuff because I love growing thins, and encouraging others to do the same. I expect I'll have two different things for bloom day next week--johnny jump ups and a foxglove that decided to start flowering again!

  8. carol, you are funny... paperclipping butterflies! i must be really naive when it comes to this b/c i am even surprised that magazines fake their snaps. i just always imagined folks making sure everything is "just right" prior to a photo shoot.

    i definitely concentrate on photographing the desirables and not the uglies in my garden.

    i like bill's idea of the black background... i might steal that one if i need to at some point.

  9. I haven't staged anything, but I do try to get the best angle and the best light when taking pictures. I also Photoshop to enhance the pictures or crop them.

    I saw snow flurries yesterday, Carol. I'm not ready for winter.

  10. Love the butterflies, Carol. But what do you mean---they aren't real??

    I did feel naive while reading Saxon's post, which you refer to. No, I didn't realize the extent to which the beautiful garden photographs in magazines are faked.

    Needless to say, nothing that dramatic happened in my garden during the recent TV shoot. Camera angles were carefully considered, and I'm sure there was a tight focus on the good stuff (ignoring the not so good), and yes, I'd added a couple of grasses the week before to fill in a bare spot. But had I known I could simply stuff cut flowers into my garden for a fuller effect . . . Man, I wasted that opportunity!

  11. Shocked, Carol, I'm shocked! No wonder I feel my garden is inferior. So glad you 'fessed up, though I must say I don't remember that post!

  12. I once saw a picture in a magazine that had the wrong flowers for the plant in the picture. It was a tropical garden so they couldn't fool me. It was soo staged.

    My pictures on the other hand are what you see is what you get. The snipping of spent blooms, removal of dead twigs and leaves and other minor arranging or photo editing that most of us would do is "fluffing" not staging. Good composition in a shot is one of the most important parts of a good picture. Get that right and the other flaws are not so much trouble.

    And by the way Carol you are a hoot!

  13. I have never staged a photo of my garden, but I have made fake butterflies before. I got a wooden butterfly "windchime" from someone. It didn't make any noise, but the butterflies were pretty. So I took all the butterflies off and stuck them on wire which I then stuck in the ground all around my garden. My garden looked like a butterfly haven!

    Where did you get your butterflies?

  14. OH, Carol, you are a riot! That photo with the paper clip holding the butterfly made me choke on my juice.

    No, I have never really staged anything for a photo - but, I did buy a bunch of pastic lily pads for the pond once. They were as pretty and as effective as your paper butterflies :o)

  15. Nope, no staging although I am very good at moving myself around so that the composition is clean.

    I've gotten in some very strange positions which I am sure make my neighbors wonder about my sanity.

  16. Oh, gracious, Carol--that series of photos was just too funny!

    I've been trying to stay out of the garden-photography "expose," but I'll confess to being stunned at the claims floating around that many published garden photos are faked. I've been working in garden-book publishing for 17 years and have been involved in countless photos shoots for both books and magazines, with nearly a dozen different photographers. Yes, they play with lighting, angles, focus, and other technical aspects, as well as dead-leafing and dead-heading. But basically, we don't have the time or budget to create or enhance gardens just for photos. We don't see a need for it, either: There are plenty of gifted gardeners who create stunning plantings that don't need to be enhanced. The idea of having to fake photos makes me sad. I think we gardeners are able to appreciate images of real gardens, even if (or perhaps especially when) they are not perfect.

  17. Carol, I posted right before I went to bed,while in bed my mind was on this post about staging pictures. I realized I had forgotten about the fall leaf picture that is on my blog. The leaf was on the ground and I placed it on the stump to get a better shot. So I guess I am guilty of staging a shot.I also strategically placed the butterfly that emerged in my house on flowers in my craft room to get better, prettier pictures. So those were staged too. Those incidents were the only two I could think of.

  18. Love the phony butterflies! I've never even thought to stage any garden shots, although I've dead-leafed and tightly framed shots to exclude things, such as the telephone pole. Maybe I should start trying to do some creative staging - where can I get some of those butterflies? :)

  19. Never staged. Sometimes tidied up prior to the photo op, but what you see is what is there.

    Not fooled by the blue monarch, no I wasn't! too funny

  20. Marc... Thanks, and I think weeding before taking pictures isn't the same thing as adding to the picture to create something that isn't really there.

    Leslie... I thnk we all primp our gardens a bit before we take pictures.

    Bill... Hmmm... a black piece of paper to make the plants stand out? I assume that just makes the plants look better, like waiting for the right light or doing a little photoshopping.

    Lisa at Greenbow... I don't think you are guilty of anything just because you tidy up the garden before you take a picture. And putting out a few items for a garden party, that sounds nice!

    Heather... Nah, moving a container to better lighting, that's not really staging, in my opinion.

    Kathy... I bet it was fun to watch the garden photographer working her magic. Is this a new article you have coming out or has it already been published?

    Jodi... You definitely are one who encourages us all to grow different plants! I think all I'm going to have for bloom day is pansies, maybe an orchid inside if it hurries up. But don't tell anyone, I want it to be a surprise next week.

    Meems... I didn't know if you could see the paperclip or not ;-0
    We all want to show off our gardens in our blogs, unless of course the post is about the 'uglies'.

    Robin's Nesting Place... Snow flurries?! I'm not ready for winter yet. Make it stop!

    Pam/digging... Caught me with the fake butterflies! And your garden would never need to be 'stuffed' to look good!

    LostRoses... If you are referring to my earlier post with the butterflies, you had to be reading my blog back in June of 2006 to catch that one. I hope I haven't ruined my reputation with you with my 'butterflies'.

    Christopher C. NC... "Fluffing", that's the perfect word to describe the weeding, deadheading and other minor adjustments we make to get decent pictures. Thanks for the nice comment!

    Sylvana... I got my butterflies at Michael's.

    Mary... Plastic lily pads? Do you still have them? You should put a picture of them on your blog for us to see if we can tell them from real lilies.

    Me... I'm always out taking pictures, too, and wonder what the neighbors think. But I'm outside all the time so I'm probably just part of the landscape to them at this point. "Look away, neighbors, nothing to see over here!"

    Nan Ondra... I think you are right that most gardeners appreciate real gardens, flaws and all. I don't mind if benches, container plants, garden ornaments are added to a picture to make the garden look more inviting. I don't like the idea that plants were added that will then be removed!

    Robin's Nesting Place... sounds more like fluffing to me!

    Mr. McGregor's Daughter... Phony butterflies? Whatever do you mean? I got that at Michael's...

    Healingmagichands... What, you've never seen blue monarch butterflies? Me, either, except my fake ones.

    Thanks all for joining in the conversation and adding your confessions. Glad you all liked my butterfly pictures, too.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  21. Carol, I was reading your posts back then but I can't remember last month much less June of '06. As for ruining your reputation with if! I may have been Queen of Scots but you are the Garden Queen!

  22. I've been known to hold branches out of the way or even hold onto a stem to steady it if it is particularly windy. Most of the time I'm guilty of the opposite of staging. AFTER I take the photos, I realize that I should have weeded, deadheaded, trimmed etc.!

  23. OK, time for my true confession. We have silk birds of paradise flowers stuck in with our real ones! They are right next to a patio and guests have NEVER noticed -- unless we've pointed it out to them! We got the idea from friends that had a large yard and used silk flowers along the back flower beds' edges for a graduation party! So glad they told us their secret. ;-)

    However, now that I'm taking my gardening hobby more seriously, out with the silk, in with only the organic! I think you've shamed me into taking action!

  24. LostRoses... Aw, gee, shucks, thanks for the nice comment.

    OldRoses... And then do you go ahead and weed and deadhead after the picture was taken?

    Linda... You are the only one to admit to putting silk flowers in your garden! Too funny!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  25. Hahaha,

    One of my neighbors does a lot of gardening with silk flowers. Her Daff have been in full bloom for years.

    I haven't added anything to my pics but I do make sure to get in close and crop my photos or set a plant in front of a background to cover the ugliness behind it.

  26. I laughed out loud reading this post! And some of the comments, too!

    I'm a documentary filmmaker, and for those of you who don't believe the garden "touch ups" in magazines, I can tell you some stories about the documentary film world... but I won't ruin it for you ; ).

    I've stood on chairs and laid on the ground, cleared a few dead leaves, and done some brightening in Photoshop, but that's it! I seriously wonder what my neighbors think, as I'm always out with the camera, and have taken several flash photos after the sun went down. I'm sure they think I'm nuts.


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