What are you trying to say?

At college my tutors were always asking me “What are you trying to say?” I had no idea what they were talking about back then. I wasn’t really trying to say anything… or so I thought! I just wanted to learn how to take better photographs. Gradually I began to understand what it was that they were getting at.

Tall-HeleniumThey wanted to know what made me tick. They asked me questions to make me think.
Why didn’t I want to produce dark, mysterious photos like my fellow students?
Why didn’t I want to produce clever intriguing pictures with a hidden meaning?
I firmly believe that whatever you focus on in life you get more of. So there was no way that I would ever be focusing on dark and dreary subjects… no matter what they said.

Finally I figured it out. I like things to be simple and straightforward. I like to see how things really are. I feel compelled to make everything I photograph look light and bright and beautiful. Because it is. I am fascinated by almost everything in the garden from the tiniest insect to the tallest tree.

The world is a beautiful place and this is the way I see things.  I look closely at the details and I am always amazed. Each season it’s the same. I never tire of watching the fresh lime green leaves unfurl in spring, then bright blooms open wide for the summer and gradually fade to beige in autumn. Raindrops and frost add a touch of sparkle to me not dreariness.

That’s how I approach each blog post now. I take the photos that I need to illustrate the main point I want to make. These Helenium flowers are fading fast now. Some of the flowers have withered and seed heads are forming. From a distance it’s not clear exactly what’s going on here. It’s all a bit of a jumble so we need to focus on the detail I think.


In this case my message is… Look at these beautiful seed heads! It’s so easy to tidy up the garden too quickly after your plants have finished flowering. If you do cut them back now you may miss some wonderful things…

  • The seeds will develop and as they ripen they gradually fade from dark brown to gold.
  • Insects and spiders make their homes right inside the protective seed case or string their web from one dried stalk to another.
  • Small mammals and birds eat the seeds. You probably won’t see mice and voles in the daytime but you will easily spot garden birds feeding.


When I took the photos of the Helenium seedheads I also took several very different shots of the same plants. So I could have selected a photo to say: Look at the way the sun lights up these Helenium flowers.


or Heleniums are brilliant for attracting beneficial insects like Hoverflies and Bees into your garden.


or even Heleniums look brilliant growing alongside bright pink Asters.


It’s up to us to take the pictures that we need to add weight to our words. Just by moving around one clump of Helenium flowers I was able to take all these images. Every direction I turned produced a completely unique shot, the light came from a different direction and the background colour changed too.

Love GillianDo your photos help you to convey your message to the world? After all that’s why we blog isn’t it? I would be very interested to find out your views about the photos you take and the role they play on your site. So now it’s my turn to ask you a question. What are you trying to say?

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting.  Gillian 🙂




19 thoughts on “What are you trying to say?

  1. I agree with you–it’s all in point of view. For example, if I look at those flowers that have finished blooming and see them as food for birds, I see something completely different than “dead” flowers. Isn’t that wonderful? Thanks for bringing this to light.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Susan. Every healthy garden needs dead and decaying plants. Sounds gross but look closely and it’s beautiful!

  2. I often ask myself the same question while I’m setting up a shot. When I see something beautiful, I want to capture it to share with others. Most natural beauty is ephemeral, so it may not to be quite the same again.
    Your photos really convey great beauty!

    1. You are quite right about getting the shot as soon as you can Eliza. The minute you turn your back the light has changed and the moment has gone. Sometimes I just stand and look at something because I know that if I rush off for my camera everything will have changed when I come back. It’s lovely to enjoy the moment isn’t it?

      1. Absolutely, I sometimes purposely leave my camera behind to force myself to just ‘be’ in the moment and appreciate life without distracting myself trying to ‘preserve’ it.

  3. my neighbour asked doubtfully – do you put all the weeds you pull out back on the garden?
    Yes, as mulch, which the hadedas pick over, from one end of the garden to the other.

    1. I must confess that I do burn some of my weeds Diana. I compost the annuals but if I find something I don’t want to spread around then I get the brazier out.

  4. Firstly, your photos are always beautiful. These, especially, but your question(s) are good. What are we saying and why? In my case, I want to profile mostly, though not exclusively, native plants. Other than “good shots”, I’m not going for photos that are especially artsy. I have neither the skill, nor training for that. As for the seed heads, not only did you provide beauty with the photos, you gave information about why a gardener should keep plants that provide food for those who rely on the garden–you did your job well.

    1. Thanks very much for your thoughtful reply Tina. I think it is much easier to take good pictures if you know what you are aiming for!

  5. Heleniums do die rather gracefully don’t they? I try to leave my seed heads as long as I can, but they often end up going rather soggy and awful looking so I end up cutting them down. I agree with looking at the details – my macro lens, which was a present from my children, really opened my eyes to a whole new level of beauty in the plant and insect worlds. I hadn’t really appreciated I was trying to say anything, but your tutors were correct – a photograph is just another means of communication, one particularly good at showing beautiful things if that is what we choose to use it for.

    1. Dead heading is a personal choice Annette. My Dad would be out there right now snipping everything right down to ground level if I would let him. He likes a nice clean tidy border and shudders at my wildflowers/weeds! I like to leave them as possible… as long as they are still attractive to me.

  6. This is a great post, full of timely reminders and beautifully illustrated. Your images are eloquent, I think they convey your passion for the world around and I like the way your focus on the fine details that might otherwise be overlooked. I wish I had the skill to capture such nuances half as well as you do. I’m delighted that so many people appreciate the beauty and benefits of ‘spent’ perennials.

  7. You make an excellent point about storytelling and how effective experimenting with different angles or ways of looking at your subject can be. I’m trying to do that a little more myself.

    Rather than using my pictures to illustrate my writing, I feel more as if it’s the other way round – that I often write around pictures I want to share. I’ve never been active on Facebook but I’ve been gradually lured into blogging by my interest in flower photography. When I write a post that is driven by the idea rather than the picture, I never seem to have a picture to illustrate it anyway!

    1. Thanks Susan. I don’t think it matters exactly how we produce articles for our blogs. Everyone has their own way of doing things and that’s fine. In fact that’s what makes it very interesting to visit other blogs! I wrote this post mainly because I’ve started a weekly blog event and we’re going to focus on what’s Looking Good. I’m hoping that by looking closely at something we feel strongly about we will want to convey a message and that should improve our photography skills in the process.

      1. No you’re right – I’d hate for us to all be the same. I love the images you’ve chosen for your headers – the daisies and grass one is delicious and do I spot ‘The Pilgrim’ is the yellow rose?

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