Wednesday, July 18, 2018

2018 How to Take Awesome Photos of Peonies (or Any Other Flower)

So you want to know the secrets of how to take awesome photos of peony flowers? Well, they're not really secrets, but here goes... Here are my top 7 tips for taking awesome peony pics. The stuff on this list isn't really covert, classified information only for professionals, it's more like how to train your eye to look for the right things. Take a look at the two photos that are side by side below. Those are the exact same bloom, taken just moments apart. Want to learn more? Read on...

How to Take Awesome Photos of Peonies

1. Sun - Lighting is the number one factor in getting a great outdoor shot. You can use a flash, but often times, the final product will come out looking artificial and not quite right. The light from your camera's flash tends towards the blue end of white (cool light), whereas the sun tends towards the yellow side of white (warm light). The sun's warm white lighting makes your flower photos seem more natural, more welcoming, and much less artificial! Come out mid morning, mid day, and/or mid afternoon to catch the best sunlight with much fewer shadows. Early morning or late afternoon sun will cast far more shadows on your subject, and/or you may have inadequate lighting altogether, requiring a flash.


Peony 'Lemon Dream'
Photo Taken in Partial Shade

Peony 'Lemon Dream'
Photo Taken in Sun

2. Focus - The second most important factor in obtaining a great flower photo is focus. Focus, Focus, Focus - It's often repeated because it really is that important. If you find the most perfect flower in the whole world, but your camera is focused on the grass or mulch or flower foliage in the background, you might as well have not even taken the photo. You can focus your camera either manually or automatically if you have a DSLR camera or automatically if you have a point and shoot camera, but the key is to focus. Auto focus can work - as long as the subject is what's in focus. If you are using the auto focus feature, most cameras (either point and shoot or DSLR) will have something on the screen that alerts you as to what the camera is focusing on, right before the shot is taken (like a box around the subject in focus or some points that light up on the screen showing what parts of the shot are in focus). Many times if you press the shutter button only halfway down, you have the opportunity to focus (and refocus if it's incorrect) before you depress the shutter button fully to take the shot. Sometimes if you press the shutter all the way down too quickly, the camera is either not focused at all (resulting in a very blurry image) or focused on the wrong thing (resulting in the wrong thing being in focus and a blurry or slightly blurry subject).

3. Flower - Primp it! This may not be a flower exhibition, but if you're going to the trouble to take a nice photo, you want your flower to look its best. If you notice anything on the surface of your flower that will detract from the photo, remove it. There could be debris, dirt, grass, or whatever sitting on your nice flower. Don't leave it on the blossom. Blow it off or pick it off. There could also be ants, bees, worms, or whatever other type of creature on your flower. Unless you are taking a picture with the insects intentionally, then you need to either wait until they're gone or flick them off (if it's safe to do so). There nothing like having a beauty of a flower with a giant fly on one of the petals. Shoo those bugs away!

4. Background - Background is often forgotten when taking photos. Ever see a beautiful flower shot with a cinder block or landscape fabric or irrigation hose or bucket or shovel or (fill in the blank) in the background? (And you just can't help but think how much more beautiful the photo would be without said item in it.) Well, that's what background is all about. It sounds easy - just make sure the background is nice, but we are all guilty (myself included) of taking a photo with a less than stellar background. If you are taking outdoor flower photos, here's a tip to remember: Green is nice, hands and fingers (and arms!) are not. If you must prop a flower up in order to take its picture, please, please, please prop it up with something other than your hand (or arm), preferably something natural and something that does not show in the photo. Sometimes when photographing peonies, I will prop up the flower I want to photograph on another one of the peony's own stems. Sometimes the flowers are really uncooperative. So another option is to use a bamboo stick (or just any other stick from outside) to prop up the flower. Sticks are great because they can be broken and made to any custom length needed. They can also be easily hidden in the foliage. I usually try to make the stick a length that is just tall enough to support the bloom. One end of the stick rests on the ground, the other end rests just underneath the heavy bloom.

5. Angle - This one is a little more advanced, but worth it when you see the results you can create. Ever see a photographer step up on step stool to take a photograph? That step stool is all about the angle. Sometime adjusting your height or your position, relative to the subject, can make all the difference. The thing you are looking for in the angle may vary depending on your subject, but for flowers I am looking for the best symmetry (without sacrificing the Background - see #4). Find the best angle that creates the best symmetry. You many have to crouch down or stand overhead and aim your camera straight down. You may have to walk all around your subject until you find just the right spot to take the photo. Your flower may not be perfectly round, but if you change the angle enough, you may find a shot that makes it look pretty round. Or your flower may be shaped in more of an oval or oblong shape. Then the key is to try to balance the flower in the frame either horizontally or vertically.

6. Timing - This one is sometimes hard for me too (especially since I work 5 out of 7 days of the week), but when you can, try to Take your photos of the freshest flowers - first day blooms if possible. The first (or sometimes second) day flowers will be much more full of life than older flowers on the plant. Also some older blossoms tend to fade. You want to make sure that the flower you are photographing is full of water and not wilted. So this one kind of relates to #1 because you do need good sun for your flowers, but just be aware that some peonies will wilt faster as the day goes on (darker colors like reds, dark pinks, or dark purples). So make sure you try to photograph your darker colored blooms earlier in the day if possible. Also if your area has been especially dry and hot, then it might be a good idea to try to take all of your photographs in the morning to avoid wilted, tired looking peony blooms.

7. Multiples - Finally, take lots of photos! We're not on film anymore. So you can just about take as many photos as you'd like. Memory cards are pretty cheap nowadays. So upgrading to one that will hold more photos shouldn't be a problem. Take multiple shots of the same flower, and I don't mean like 3 or 4, I mean like 10. If you have a shot you really want to get right, take 10 of them. It's not like you have a person or animal for a subject, you have a flower. I don't think it's in a hurry to go anywhere. So you really do have the luxury (that you don't have with people or pets) to Take multiples of the exact same shot. Most of the time (over 50% of the time), when I review them later on my computer, my last shot is my best one. So take your time to get the perfect shot. The reason you're taking so many shots is not to publish all of them, it's to publish the best one. So make sure to take the time later to review and compare your multiple shots to find the best one.

I know this is a lot to remember, but the more you practice these things, the more like second nature they will become. You won't have to intentionally think about each of these things, they will kind of become programmed in. Even on a good day, it probably won't be possible to get every one of the things on this list right for every single shot (see #7 Multiples). Just remember, the most important thing is to have fun! And to share your love of peonies with the world!!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

2018 Peony 'Topeka Garnet' Does it Again


Peony 'Topeka Garnet' 2018

Peony 'Topeka Garnet' performed so well in my garden this year, I just couldn't help but share it again. It was just named a Southern Peony Best Performer last year in 2017, and it is very well deserved. This peony has steadily increased in size and blooms every year it has been in my garden. The picture above is what it did in my garden this year, 2018, and the picture below was from last year, 2017. You can see there is a huge difference in both the size and the number of blooms, with unbelievable growth in the last year! There was such a astounding difference in the photos, that I just had to add this year's photo to the Peony 'Topeka Garnet' Southern Peony Best Performer page. This peony went from 3 stems in in 2013, to 7 stems in 2014, to 10 stems in 2015, to 12 stems in 2016, to 15 stems in 2017, to now 22 stems this year in 2018! The number of blooms on it was amazing. I love it when there is more bloom on the bush than there is green, and Peony 'Topeka Garnet' definitely delivered - with 29 gorgeous, red blooms this year!


Peony 'Topeka Garnet' 2017

Saturday, July 7, 2018

2018 RHS Colours 200 Peony Varieties' Bloom Colors Categorized


Tree Peony 'Angel Emily'
RHS Dark Pink Violet

I was able to "capture" 28 more peony bloom colors this year, bringing the total number of blooms evaluated for color up to 200. I think it is pretty exciting to be able to capture so many colors of so many unique peonies, and I can't wait to see what colors will appear next year. With so many new and unique bloom colors coming out these days, it is exciting to see how peonies are transforming and expanding their range of colors. I expect to continue to see more in the orange, purple, and yellow ranges as peonies continue to be hybridized and registered.


Tree Peony 'White Phoenix'
RHS White

This year I added 2 new color categories for peony colors I've cataloged, RHS Dark Pink Violet 77B for Tree Peony 'Angel Emily' and RHS Light Yellow Brown 158D for 'Yao's Yellow' ('Yao Huang' 姚黃). Each year, I continue to add new RHS colors and new cultivars to existing RHS Color categories. If you haven't yet seen our Peony Colors page, you should definitely check it out, especially if you really want to purchase a peony of a particular color. This can be useful if you are working on a garden design with contrasting or complementary colors or if you are just simply looking for one of your favorite colors in a peony bloom. You can also try growing early, late, and mid blooming varieties of a particular peony color to keep your favorite color of peony blooms coming all season long!


Tree Peony 'Yao's Yellow' ('Yao Huang' 姚黃)
RHS Light Yellow Brown

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

2018 American Peony Society Convention Auction


Kop Tretheway's "Everything Peony Collection" Part 3

There were 113 items in the American Peony Society 2018 Annual Auction this year. The item with the highest bid of $240 went to a first edition copy of "The Book of the Peony" by Mrs. Edward (Alice) Harding. I would love to have a copy of this book, and a first edition would be even better, but $240 was a little too high for me. I hope the winning bidder enjoys the book! The lowest price item in the auction was $10 for 2 peony tea towels and some peony fabric. However there were also several peony roots that went for $15 and $20 as well (with shipping included) - which was quite the steal! If you have not yet been to an APS Convention, you are really missing out!


Michel Design Works Glass Peony Tray
Kop Tretheway's "Everything Peony Collection" Part 3

I won three items in the auction this year. Peony 'Allan Rogers' is the first item, which is a white double peony, grown from a seedling from Bill Siedl, but I see now that it is a short plant. Since short plants don't usually grow very well for me, I'm not sure how it is going to do here. So we'll see about that one. The second item is Peony 'KC Red', a rare find that is also a new registration for 2018, a red tree double peony registered by Seidl/Bremer. This tree peony is supposedly very beautiful and very fertile, so hopefully a good plant for breeding. The third item (and my favorite) is a set of peony bath items donated by Kent Tretheway. These items belonged to his late wife, Kop Tretheway - what a nice way to honor her memory. The lot I won was entitled, Kop Tretheway's "Everything Peony Collection" Part 3. It included a Michel Design Works glass peony tray/soap dish, Michel Design Works peony hand creams, and Michel Design Works peony coasters. There was also a bar of Castelbel peony soap. As you can see I am already putting the glass tray to good use - as a jewelry tray, and I love it!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

2018 American Peony Society Convention Banquet


2018 APS Banquet Coffee & Dessert
Lemon Blueberry Bars

The best thing about the American Peony Society Banquet this year? Dessert! We had scrumptious bars of lemon, blueberry (and maybe cream cheese?) for dessert this year, and they were delicious! I (unfortunately) had to help myself to two of them! Yum! Dinner was tasty as well with salmon, beef, green leaf salad, fingerling potatoes, rice with onions, and baby broccoli. It seemed everyone enjoyed the meal (and dessert) while we listened in on the annual APS Member Meeting. Our outgoing President, Scott Parker, conducted the meeting. Several new APS Directors were nominated and elected. The results of the APS Flower Exhibtion were announced, and all of the rosette ribbons were presented to each recipient in person.

2018 APS Banquet Buffet


Adelman Peony Gardens
Wins 2018 APS Sweepstakes Award

Jim and Carol Adelman of Adelman Peony Gardens won the 2018 APS Sweepstakes Award this year, which is awarded to the entrant with the most blue ribbons in the entire show. They won 29 blue 1st Place Ribbons. They also earned rosettes for Reserve Champion (blue/light blue ribbon) for Peony 'Old Faithful', Allan Rogers Memorial Award (red/white ribbon), Best Intersectional Award (yellow/white ribbon), and the Ben Gowen Memorial Award (green/light green ribbon). I'd love to see their award wall after they've finished framing all of their ribbons! Therese Sprauer of Brooks Gardens won the Grand Champion rosette ribbon for 2018 Peony 'Lavon' APS 2018 Best in Show.
APS Rosette Ribbons
More than a Handful!
Jim & Carol Adelman
Look Very Happy!


Scott Parker, APS President, Looks on as Carol Adelman
Presents Linette Sorrentino
with the Bertrand H. Farr Lifetime Achievement Award

Another great personal award was presented during the APS Banquet to Linette Sorrentino for her "years of unmatched and exemplary" service to the APS especially in the areas of "floral exhibitions, fund raising, educational programs and workshops, ... mentorship of new members, and her promotion of Paeonia". Linette seemed very surprised and emotionally touched when her award was announced, even sharing a hug with the presenter, Carol Adelman. What a sweet moment!

Carol and Linette Share a Hug


Carol Reads the Inscription
of the Lifetime Achievement Award

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Southern Peony Wins 2 Artistic Design Ribbons at APS Convention


APS Artistic Design 1st Place
"The Pearl"

Well, there weren't any rosettes ribbons for me this year, but I did manage to eek out a 1st Place and 2nd Place ribbon in the two categories I entered in the Artistic Design Section of the American Peony Society Annual Exhibition. I must say, though, that I owe a large chunk of my awards to Mike Miller since he let me use the materials he'd meticulously curated from a local thrift shop. Since he was only allowed to enter 3 design categories, he let me use his remaining materials to enter "The Pearl" category. I did however select my own flowers from what all designers were allowed to use (the leftovers from the flower exhibition), and I also selected the greenery to go with it (from what Mike had sourced from local roadsides). He happened to have some blackberry brambles with small, green buds. To my eye these perfectly emulated tiny pearls and suited my arrangement for "The Pearl" category well.
APS Artistic Design 2nd Place
"Pittock Mansion"
APS Artistic Design 1st Place
"The Pearl"

My other arrangement was for the "Pittock Mansion" category. I figured for a Mansion you need big. So I tried to go as big as I could with what flowers and greenery was left over, but the size of my arrangement paled in comparison to Mike's 1st Place winning arrangement in the category (and Grand Champion Design), 2018 First Time Entrant, Mike Miller, Sweeps APS Peony Floral Arrangement Competition, which was awesome! Truth be told, the only reason I even won a 1st Place ribbon in "The Pearl" category was because there was no entry from Mike to compete with. All in all entering these designs into the APS Artistic Design categories was lots of fun. It was very surprising to win any ribbon at all (this being my first time ever entering an artistic design), and a 1st Place ribbon was even more exciting. I look forward to participating in the APS Exhibition in this way in future years, even when I don't have my own flowers to enter into the cut flower exhibit!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

2018 First Time Entrant, Mike Miller, Sweeps APS Peony Floral Arrangement Competition


Mike Miller of Great Seal Peony Farm
Wins APS Artistic Design Reserve Champion

Much to my (and everyone else's) surprise, a first time exhibitor in the Artistic Design section won all 3 Artistic Design Rosette ribbons awarded in the American Peony Society 2018 Flower Exhibition. That winner is Mike Miller of Great Seal Peony Farm in Ohio. He's no rookie to the APS Flower Exhibition, but this is his first foray into the design competition. I took the opportunity to speak with him about his artistic floral design winnings.


Mike Miller of Great Seal Peony Farm
Wins APS Artistic Design Novice Design Award


Mike Miller of Great Seal Peony Farm
Wins APS Artistic Design Grand Champion

How did it feel to win all 3 APS rosette ribbons in the Artistic Design peony floral arrangement categories (Grand Champion, Reserve Champion, and Best Novice Design)?

"Finding out that I had won all of the top 3 design awards was exciting and embarrassing at the same time. I was happy to win but also embarrassed that I took the awards away from others that had been competing for several years."

Were you surprised to find out that you won?

"I was very surprised when I first learned of receiving the top honors."

How does it encourage you in your peony growing and exhibitions?

"I am encouraged to try entering again in future conventions. This was my first year to enter the design classes. In a normal year I am too busy entering peonies in the commercial division classes and have never had enough time to do any designing. I was not able to take peonies this year to enter and therefore allowed me the time to enter the design classes. I am looking forward to a balance in future shows of entering peonies in their classes and doing more of the design classes."


APS Artistic Design Reserve Champion
"Tilikum Crossing"

Mike is so humble and so deserving. It really speaks to his creativity and attention to detail with the materials he used and the planning he put into creating on-point designs for each of the categories he entered. Mike told me that he visited a local thrift store after arriving in Oregon to find the containers and design elements for each of his arrangements. With the design categories in mind, he carefully selected pieces and accents that would fit each theme. Each year the APS creates categories with themes from the Exhibtion's locale. This year was no different, with each category reflecting features of Portland, Oregon.

Mike's "Tilikum Crossing" entry is anchored by two metal vases of varying height, mirroring Portland's Tilikum Crossing bridge's two towers. It also incorporates woody materials at the top of the arrangement emulating the bridge's cables and a ribbon connecting the two towers to form the "bridge". His "Tilikum Crossing" entry won First Place in its category, and it won the APS Artistic Design Reserve Champion rosette ribbon (the 2nd highest design award in the show).


APS Artistic Design Novice Design Award
"Union Station"

Mike's "Union Station" entry (my favorite) was anchored by a clock vase, just as Portland's Union Station is anchored by a towering clock tower, perfect! The use of color in this design is what really draws me to this entry, and of course all of the intersectional peonies don't hurt either! His "Union Station" entry won First Place in its category, and it won the APS Artistic Design Novice Design Award rosette ribbon.

Mike's "Pittock Mansion" entry was by far the largest and grandest entry on the show table - the scale and grandeur of the design definitely befitting a mansion. Even the vase was perfect - the intricrate, gilded design of the large vase belonged in the grand home of a wealthy industrialist investor. His "Pittock Mansion" entry won First Place in its category, and it won the APS Artistic Design Grand Champion rosette ribbon (the highest design award in the show). Congratulations, Mike!


APS Artistic Design Grand Champion
"Pittock Mansion"