Photographic Impressionism in Monet’s Garden

Inspired by New Zealand-based impressionist photographer Eva Polak’s recent presentation to the club, I looked back in my photo archives to one of my first attempts at impressionist photography, at Monet’s Garden in 2013.

That Spring in Paris was very wet, but we chose a relatively sunny day to visit Giverny, the small village where Claude Monet and his garden lived. The gardens are not huge but are quite beautifully laid-out. I began my day just doing some straight photography of the flowers but quickly realized that a tulip is a tulip is a tulip and is therefore much the same, whether in France, Holland or the US. I’ve photographed flowers in many places around the world and without an environmental setting, there is little to distinguish one floral location from another one. So, a more creative approach was called for.

I began by mounting a neutral density filter on my lens. ND filters cut the amount of light coming into a camera’s sensor or film. This allows for long exposures in bright sunlight without overexposure. The effects can be quite dreamy with blurred clouds, mist-like surf, and silky-smooth waterfalls. To achieve those effects one must mount the camera on a tripod so that everything else that is not in motion, remains tack sharp. In Monet’s Garden I wanted a different look. Instead of mounting the camera on a tripod, I hand-held it for several-to-many seconds of exposure whilst moving it slowly about. Sometimes — since I was working with a zoom lenses — I would slowly rack the focal length in or out. The intent was to create photographic impressionism. I tried many different movement techniques, positions, and of course different flowers and arrangements. 

It was not clear what I would end up with until later that evening when I began processing the files. Many of the images were either too blurry or too boring (or both) but a small handful held promise. With further processing — including some multi-exposure stacking — a small body of images emerged from that shoot. These then are a sampling of my “impressions” of Monet’s Garden. No post-process software filters or painterly effects were applied, though I do that on occasion and often quite like the results.

I am pretty certain that were Claude Monet alive today he would be painting, rather than creating “photo impressions.” His work was and is very tactile and there is something very physical about using brush and palette knife, canvas and paints. Yes, he would still be a painter. But, I am not, and so this is my photographic nod to his genius.

Jeff Clay
WCC Board Chair

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