THRU THE LENS BRIGHTLY

Stacy Bass’ garden photos blossom into book

Stacy Bass finds great satisfaction in capturing the essence of a garden, no matter its style.

The Westport photographer says she wants her work to evoke “what it was like to share that space.”

And her photographs – gathered in the new book “In the Garden” (Melcher Media) – do just that.

You’ll pause to appreciate the simple beauty of a dewdrop edging off the petal of a black-eyed Susan, delight in the rustic charm of wild-rose bushes nestling into a meadow’s well-worn fence and sense the drama that a sculpted head of Saturn brings to a grove of rhododendrons and hostas.

“I really tried to vary (the shots) so that the viewer could have the chance to see very different things,” Bass says.

In total, she has gathered dozens of artistic and inspiring glimpses into 18 of Connecticut’s private gardens, with the 224-page book serving as a meandering tour through stops that include Westport, New Canaan, Darien, Greenwich and Fairfield’s Greenfield Hill.

And the personality of each garden, whether it be a manicured study in French style or a low-key country ramble, comes through in the images that Bass was determined to capture at dawn. Despite having to get up at 4 a.m., pack equipment and drive in the dark, Bass says it was a special time.

“There’s something about being by myself in a beautiful space in the morning with my equipment. It’s magic.”

Bass, a fine-art and editorial photographer who specializes in gardens, interiors and architecture, estimates she has photographed 60 to 70 gardens in her career, some of which she went back to for the book.

“I don’t want to call it a ‘best of,’ … but it is a ‘best of,’” she says.

The shoots

Bass first encountered many of the gardens through work on specialty and lifestyle publications and advertising assignments.

Her approach was always the same: “I try not to look at the scouting shots, because there’s something about having that gut reaction to when the sun comes up.”

Essays by Suzanne Gannon introduce each garden, offering the perfect balance between meeting those behind the creations and exploring the gardens’ highlights.

Some of the gardeners had professional training, while others are avid amateurs. And for every sprawling property explored, there’s a peek into a quarter-acre showpiece.

Bass says the book is already connecting with hard-core gardeners, those in the design field and even those who simply like a pretty picture. “It’s nice, because it’s appealing to people for different reasons.”

And Bass, who credits designer Andy Omel with helping shape the book, is able to look back with pride at a sometimes stressful endeavor.

Laughing, she shares that it was a lot of excitement mixed with a “tiny bit of paranoia that the boat from China (bearing the final product) would crash and sink,” with her books landing at the bottom of the sea.

A career choice

Bass, who grew up in Westport, says her father was an amateur photographer who collected all kinds of equipment.

“I’m telling you there was more equipment in that cabinet than anyone should have. He had all these lenses and stacks of films. I think I was fascinated with all the trappings of photography.”

As a young girl, she’d take pictures at camp, not worrying “Is this a good picture?” but to simply preserve memories. She became more serious about it during her days at Barnard College, eventually making a deal with her parents to put law school on hold to pursue photography.

“We agreed that I would try it for a year out of college,” and she went on to study at the Maine Photographic Workshops, where she was further sparked. “It made me really want to do this.”

Despite early critical success, Bass soon realized it would not be an economically viable career. So next came New York University School of Law, a brief time practicing and then applying her legal skills to working for a motion-picture and television company.

She took photographs along the way, and once her youngest child, now 11, went off to kindergarten, Bass realized she was “looking to go back to what I really love.”

She created a website that caught the attention of an art director who first assigned Bass to shoot a garden.

Other assignments followed and “Before I knew it, I was the garden photography person….I’m OK with that. I am a garden photographer, but I’m not only a garden photographer.”

Bass embraces her career and is proud her children – she and husband Howard Bass, a partner at Ernst & Young in Manhattan, are raising four – have seen her succeed.

“I think it’s really important to show kids that creative careers are worth pursuing. I don’t think it’s a message they get anywhere else.”

And as Bass now juggles assignments with lectures and book signings, she has yet another new task – overseeing the creation of her own garden.

“My hope is that sometime this summer, I will schedule to shoot my own garden – and I will get up at dawn, too.”

We’d expect nothing less.

For more information on Bass and “In the Garden,” visit StacyBassPhotography.com.

Stacy Bass shares a few trade secrets:

Lighting

Of course, you can’t always control the quality of the light when you are shooting, but being aware of the light and the light source can make a big difference.

• Try to avoid shooting at noon or in bright sunlight – the shadows can be severe and will affect exposure.

• If you have the chance to position your subject, it is usually best to shoot with the sun or the light behind you—like it’s shining onto the subject.

• Don’t be afraid to use a tripod to take advantage of a beautiful scene before there is enough light to hand-hold the camera.

Framing

This is the most important thing about taking a great picture, and you can improve your own compositions if you follow these easy tips:

• Before you press the shutter, take an extra second to look at each of the four corners of the frame and make sure there aren’t any unwanted elements in your shot.

• Make a conscious decision about what you want to include and what you want to exclude.  This may mean zooming in on your lens or adjusting your position relative to the subject.

Focus

There is a tendency to place the subject in the center of the frame and to place the focus there, too. Camera technology is so advanced, even on phones, that there is no need to be so rigid.

• Placing the focus off-center or someplace unexpected in the frame can give the image more strength and impact.

Extra tip

* Keep shooting. One of the absolute best things about digital photography is that there is no such thing as wasted film. Use the camera’s playback mode to see what you are capturing and make adjustments accordingly. Take lots of pictures and then give yourself the chance to edit the best ones after you upload them to your computer. Sometimes the shot that ends up the most interesting is not the one you planned to take.

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