An illuminating experience at Alnwick Garden

PUBLISHED: 08:33 24 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:37 20 February 2013

Taken during Linda Rutenberg’s Alnwick Garden workshop

Taken during Linda Rutenberg’s Alnwick Garden workshop

When most of us have put our cameras away for the night and are settling down to sleep, Canadian photographer Linda Rutenberg is heading out into a nocturnal world. Andrew Smith joined one of her photographic workshops under darkness at Alnwick Garde

When invited to join one of the worlds top photographers for a masterclass of nightime photography at Alnwick Garden, I imagined wed be capturing beautifully floodlit scenes of the Grand Cascade, fountains and water features and maybe some sinister goings on in the twilight of the Poison Garden.
What transpired was altogether more mysterious and, well, illuminating.
Linda Rutenberg has published 15 beautiful books of her work, the most recent being The English Garden at Night, photographed in 2008 at locations including Kew, Wisley, The Eden Project and Alnwick Garden.

Where Lindas work differs from that of many night-time photographers, who drench their scenes in light from all manner of angles and sources, is that Linda relies on the diffused beam of a single torch. Its difficult to believe it can work, but it does, and those of us with cameras that allowed for manual control of shutter speeds left with some surprising and very pleasing pictures.
Linda, born in Montreal where she still lives, has been a lecturer and freelance photographer for 30 years. She has specialised in photographing cities, mainly in America and Canada and, for the past five years, has turned her attention to gardens, particularly gardens at night.
After initially visiting Alnwick to photograph the Garden for her book, Linda returned this June following a period as Artist in Residence at the Eden Project in Cornwall, to host a series of night-time workshops.
During a tutorial of an hour or so waiting for darkness to fall, she explained her technique, using her own photographs with great candour to show what worked and what didnt.
Her essential companion during her forays into the garden after dark is her husband, Roger Leeon. Roger is her lighting man - he holds the torch.
And actually, to say Roger holds the torch is to understate almost libellously what he actually does do to create Lindas beautiful images. As we who tried to emulate the creative duo discovered, Roger literally paints the picture with torchlight.
For the technically-minded, Linda sets her Nikon cameras to shoot on time exposures of between 10 or 20 seconds to up to 15 minutes. To the uninitiated, that means the shutter is left open for a long period of time to allow the image to record on the sensor.
It is during this time of a few seconds or several minutes that Roger paints the picture with his torch, dodging light all over the scene and lingering on the elements of the picture that need to be the most illumination.
With a wealth of advice ringing in our ears, we were escorted into the Alnwick Garden, the incredibly beautiful creation of the Duchess of Northumberland, to try our hands at taking photographs by torchlight in what seemed to the naked eye like total darkness.
The first thing that strikes you is that with an exposure of several seconds, even the blackest-looking sky can be recorded as a deep blue or maybe a warm orange glow if light from streetlights is polluting the scene.
Then the colours, textures and beauty of the plants and flowers themselves takes on an entirely different quality in the subdued torchlight, picking out shape and form as never seen in daylight.
While my images certainly would not grace a coffee-table book, I include a few hopefully to give encouragement to others that, with practice - and a good lighting assistant - it is possible to open up a new world of photography after dark. And I include some images courtesy of Linda Rutenberg, to show just what can be achieved when skill, experience and talent really combine to create a photograph.

For more information about Linda,
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