Tag Archives: photography

From Volunteer to Intern

Written by Josefina Pacheco

Before volunteering at Alcatraz, I worked at a summer camp in Maine that emphasized teaching ecology and sustainability to elementary and middle school aged students. After ten weeks of running around in the sun and eating lobster every Thursday I found myself asking the question that many college students find themselves asking after graduation, “So, now what?”. I began searching for jobs in the Bay Area and soon discovered that I needed more experience. A friend of mine suggested to look for an internship using volunteer.org; this is where I found the post about volunteering on Alcatraz. I thought to myself I could help with gardening (one of my favorite activities), volunteer (this means experience), and look for jobs at the same time. It seemed like a win-win situation.

One of the first sights of the Golden Gate Bridge after a rainy day while volunteering on Alcatraz. Photo by Josefina Pacheco.

 

I contacted Shelagh about volunteering in September 2016. In early October, I was given the unique opportunity to apply for the intern position at Alcatraz. After a cover letter, resume, and interview I became Alcatraz’s newest intern. As an intern I now get to go on the ferry five days of the week (yay!). Twice a week I work with the volunteers which usually starts off with answering the question “So, what are we doing today?”. I then quickly take attendance and work alongside the volunteers for the day’s project for the remainder of the morning. On the other days of the week, I work one-on-one with Shelagh. The day’s schedule varies day by day but some of the more notable ‘behind the scenes’ projects include: learning to prune roses, learning to transfer seedlings to planting pots, propagating succulents, assist with leading volunteer groups, and taking pictures of the watercolor paintings from the Alcatraz Florilegium next to the actual flowers from Alcatraz. Additionally as an intern, I’m learning in greater depth about gardening and plant maintenance in general, along with gardening specifically on Alcatraz and its history.

A watercolor painting of a chasmanthe from the Alcatraz Florilegium next to a chasmanthe near the West Side Lawn. (The notable Gardens of Alcatraz burgundy sweatshirt can be seen attempting to blend in with the background). Photo by Shelagh Fritz.

 

 

To help learn the names of the plants of Alcatraz I take pictures of them and then add their names to the image. For example here is an image of muscari which is often called grape hyacinth in Officers’ Row. Photo taken and edited by Josefina Pacheco.

 

What many people don’t know is that as an intern one gets a stipend and housing at (one of the most breathtaking places) the Marin Headlands. At the Headlands, other interns from other parts of the Park live there as well. To help meet even more interns, specifically those in the Presidio, there are monthly intern swaps. At a swap, interns get to go to another park site and volunteer there for a day (so far I’ve only participated in the Milagra Ridge intern swap where I planted native grasses). To further enhance your knowledge there are Park Academy Classes held a couple times a month. The topics range from botany to fire management to leadership training. Being able to meet new people, volunteer at different parks, and learn more about whatever topic you want to learn more about makes this an incredible experience.

A stunning sunrise at the Marin Headlands on February 1. Photo by Josefina Pacheco.

At first I was a little nervous about the transition from volunteer to intern but everyone (staff and volunteers) have been really helpful and supportive, so thank you and I’m looking forward to seeing the gardens through the seasons!

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Creating a Photo Florilegium

Most people are familiar with the idea of a portrait – usually it brings to mind a picture of a person that captures a close up of their face and maybe tells something about the person’s personality or life. It turns out you can also do portraits for plants! Last week, I had the opportunity to go to a talk at the Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross to learn how to build a Photo Florilegium from Saxon Holt and David Perry.

 

Florilegia (plural of florilegium) were started by Victorians to document a specific collection of plants, usually painted with watercolors. The illustrations would be bound in a book and later became popular as framed prints. With the Alcatraz Florilegium in its final year, I was curious to see what a photo Florilegium is and hopefully pick up some tips for taking better photos of the gardens and plants.

The Alcatraz Florilegium captures the collection of plants on Alcatraz.

The Alcatraz Florilegium captures the collection of plants on Alcatraz.

First to speak was Saxon Holt, a renowned plant photographer who has several e-books and bestsellers. A successful garden photographer for over 40 years, Saxon had plenty to share with us.

 

Saxon is perfecting a technique called ‘extraction’. Done in Photoshop, close-up shots of a plant are taken. Usually a number of exposures are taken to get a portion of the plant entirely in focus with sharp edges. The plant is brought forward out of the background. This technique has many cool details that are missing in a typical hand painted illustration.

Ribes sanguineum, California Currant, flowering native shrub by Saxon Holt

Ribes sanguineum, California Currant, flowering native shrub by Saxon Holt

First, a photograph captures the plant where the gardener chose to put it, with the colors in the background and showing the plant in context with its surroundings. Second, a photograph only records a moment in time. The portrait captured is never going to look exactly like that again. With the ease of recording GPS coordinates, it is relatively simple for anyone to return again and again to the same plant to capture stages of the plant’s life – creating a true portrait of the plant.

 

One feature of the Alcatraz Florilegium

Iris 'King's Ransom' illustrated by Catherine Dellor shows the plant as it grows in the gardens with the fading leaves.

Iris ‘King’s Ransom’ illustrated by Catherine Dellor shows the plant as it grows in the gardens with the fading leaves.

illustrations that I’m drawn to is when artists paint the brown tips on leaves, rust and when the plants are setting seed and going dormant. This is truly how the plants are.

 

David Perry next spoke on tips for taking plant portraits. One point David was quick to say was that you do not need an expensive camera to take great photos. The main thing is to have the eye to know a good shot.

 

Mug shot of Pelargonoium 'Prince Bismark' provides a close-up but tells nothing about plant other than it is bright pink. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Mug shot of Pelargonoium ‘Prince Bismark’ provides a close-up but tells nothing about plant other than it is bright pink. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Think of photographing plants as you would people, keep in mind that you want to tell a story. David explained that a common problem when taking photos is that most people take pictures of nouns (snapping pictures of a tree, flower or a landscape). What are lacking are verbs, adjectives and prepositions. Brushing up on grammar school, this simply means don’t take mug shots of plants. Take photos that say something.

 

 

 

 

Tips from David made perfect sense:

-Look up / Look Down – people tend to take photos of what’s in their view. With the average height of people being between 5’3” and 6’3”, most photos are from this perspective.

-First / Last light of the day is best – the best light is already gone by the time people are putting the second cream in your coffee. Stick around after sunset for the best light. White flowers almost will glow in this fading light.

-Keep going back – show different moods of the same plant in different light, seasons, capture the telling detail of the plant.

-Be mindful of what’s in the background – avoid getting houses, and you can also create your own background with sheets of patterned paper for close-ups.

-Photo apps that David likes – camera+, handyphoto, overphoto, and mextures. All of these are a few dollars each and are fun to play with.

 

David also said ‘it’s not fair to let the plant do all the work’. He recalls being intimidated by ‘how pretty she was’ when referring to Rose ‘Felicite Hardy’.

 

Listening to these energized photographers, it was easy to see why they are so passionate about plants and photography. Gardeners are passionate to plant and to care for a garden, and now another step is to take photos of the plants you have chosen to be a part of your garden – creating a Photo Florilegium of a garden that is unique from any other garden.

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