The Postcard Shot of the Huntington’s Japanese Garden


My favorite composition and treatment

Mary and I are fortunate to live a few miles from three great public gardens – the Los Angeles Arboretum, the Descanso, and the Huntington Library and Gardens.  The Huntington is our favorite and we have been there at least a hundred times.  Here is how to make one of the iconic photos there – the Japanese Garden.

Look – My favorite way to enter the Japanese Garden is through the Rose Garden and walk down the steps (make sure to make a portrait of the guardian lions).  Walking down the steps you get a sweeping panoramic view of the entire garden. Some people like to stay on the steps, but I walk down to the road so I can shoot slightly “up.”  There is a lot going on here, so the “encyclopedia” shot is a panoramic, or a single shot with the bridge, pound, and temple.

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Here is a wide panoramic photo

See – I have made this photo, probably, 50 times or more.  One of the issues is always the light.  We usually go to the Huntington to make macros, so we want a cloudy day.  However, flat light usually does not make a great landscape.  I have also found that this garden is also strangely arranged to face dead-east.  We almost always are there in the morning, but not sunrise, so I sometimes get nice side lighting, but the sky is often times just plain white (not blue).  I often times go to HDR to try to get some of the sky and color detail back.

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Here is some nice side-lighting

Imagine – a typical response to these shooting issues is to go monotone or black and white.  Again, I have done this before, but can not get enough contrast.  I have not made an infrared photo yet (because we only go to the Huntington on cloudy days) because you really need bright direct sunlight.


HDR with a lot of contrast in the sky

Create – I decided to try and mimic an old postcard from film that was saved as a “keep sake” by one of my grandparents, only to be found by me.  I wanted it brownish and a little beat up.  I think this photo works and evokes that feeling in me of remembrance and nostalgia (see cover photo).


Panoramic with an old photo look and feel

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