a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

Macro in a mason jar

Gardening Gone Wild is running one of its monthly photography competitions. The rules are here – but basically, as the name suggests, the competition encourages people to take close-up garden-related images using a glass mason jar, and thus to experiment with composition, background and light.

Not having a garden or a mason jar, or indeed a camera (hubby having taken ours on a jaunt to Helsinki), the odds were rather against me. But I foraged in the local park for beech leaves and in our kitchen cupboards for walnuts. Then I borrowed the little point-and-shoot that Santa has just brought our daughter, and dug out a Bonne Maman jam jar…

The exercise proved to be great fun, and I ended up taking about a hundred photos, examining each batch closely for successes and flaws, and then trying to learn and apply the lessons they offered.

And the results?

Well, the ancient, knobbly walnuts had seemed a good idea, but they proved too big and unwieldy for such a close-up shot; the tawny beech leaves were much better, even though they were rather recalcitrant and insisted on twisting and curling into unwanted shapes. The images worked best with something interesting outside the jar to distort and blur in the glass, but it was all too easy to leave unwanted glimpses of the table below. In the end though, my biggest problem was the light. Taking the shots inside near a window, in dull daylight, I found that, no matter what I tried, light seemed to bounce off the glass and create unwanted flashes and reflections.

So in frustration I tried some frosted glass – actually a tall thin drinking tumbler with an inconvenient polar bear etched on the side. And that gave a very different, rather pleasing effect. The beech leaves looked crisp and distinct against the blurry glass, but I realised that something more circular would work better in the bottom of the narrow container.

So those walnuts came back out of the cupboard, I floated one on a little puddle of water and – snap – the best shot of the day.
walnut in tumbler


25 comments on “Macro in a mason jar

  1. Darla
    January 19, 2011

    I too took way too many photos and ended up confusing myself. This is a splendid capture, I love the depth of it.

  2. lifeshighway
    January 19, 2011

    yum, looks like a walnut floating in a pool honey (only more worldly). Lovely results.

  3. Angelyn
    January 20, 2011

    Way cool! I love the soft undulations surrounding the walnut. And if you had not explained your process (and if I didn’t know what the contest was about), I would have seen this image and thought “how striking, simple and beautiful.” The photos you shared of the beech leaves are also well done. (I bet you get your own camera soon!)

  4. aerie-el
    January 20, 2011

    That is a very cool shot. I can see it as the image on a poster for a sci-fi movie or perhaps one with something to do with quantum physics. Surreal. Really.

  5. theclothshed
    January 20, 2011

    Great photo of the floating walnut in its little shell boat!
    Must try that….
    Julie x

  6. Lula
    January 20, 2011

    Imagination to overcome frustration sometimes is surprising. Very artistic and cool image! Lula

    • Lula (onbotanicalphotography.blogspot.com)
      February 3, 2011


  7. Annelie
    January 21, 2011

    Love, love, love the floating walnut!
    I tried a few floating things but, the mason jar was just too big and the subject would float to the edge and not stay in the middle. Now I know what the solution is. 🙂
    Good luck!


  8. landscapelover
    January 21, 2011

    Thanks to everyone for your kind words. I like my walnut image too, although it is rather simple compared to some of the beautiful, sophisticated photos being submitted in the competition. My vote, for what it’s worth, goes to Annelie’s stunning tulip in the snow.

  9. I envy your willingness to jump right in on something new like this with such excellent results. That’s the way to learn. I am still recovering from the tough learning curve of starting my blog.

  10. Toni - Signature Gardens
    January 23, 2011

    Very cool picture of the walnut! I had some frustration with things in the bottom of the jar rolling off to the side because of the bump in the bottom of the jar. You and Cat from Whimsical Gardener mentioned putting water in the jar to float the object. Such a great idea!!! I can’t wait to try it this summer when I have some blooms 🙂 Best wishes on the contest. For some reason my entry is not showing up on the site just yet.

  11. Annelie
    January 23, 2011

    I just came back to peak at your blog again when I saw your nice words. That just warmed my heart and made my day. Thank you!
    I took a look at the entries this afternoon, and I have to say, some really good ones have been added. The walnut is still up at the top though.
    Has been so much fun to see what people come up with and to discover new blogs.


  12. Garden Walk Garden Talk
    January 24, 2011

    You entry is really a nice simple shot. It turned out great. Best of luck because it is one of the best.

  13. Malinda
    January 24, 2011

    You’re walnut is beautiful. I love the soft earthy tones – and the texture in the glass. What a great shot. You’re blog looks lovely and professional as always!

  14. grwhryrpltd
    January 24, 2011

    jill, all of your images are stunning! i wasn’t aware of your blog until entering this contest… what a pleasure to meet you. i’ll be back to read more about your work and travels.
    andrea @grwhryrpltd

  15. personalgardencoach
    January 24, 2011

    Absolutely gorgeous- I bet you’re the winner!! Best of luck. 🙂

  16. Jan (Thanks for today.)
    January 25, 2011

    I really am fascinated by the simplicity of the subject yet complexity and interest that have resulted with your photo! It’s very cool;-)

  17. Pingback: Winners for Picture This – January 2011

  18. Annelie
    January 28, 2011


    You really deserve it, the picture is fantastic!


  19. grwhryrpltd
    January 28, 2011

    congratulations jill! your image was a favorite of mine too, well done!

  20. fransorin
    January 29, 2011


    Congratulations! I’m delighted that you participated and won the contest. Please keep on coming back for me. We have a great February line up. Warmly, Fran

  21. Ginny
    January 29, 2011

    Congratulations on your gold award! Fantastic images!

  22. landscapelover
    January 29, 2011

    Thanks again for everyone’s kind words and congratulations. I am amazed but delighted that the ‘lonely walnut’ came up trumps.

  23. Diana
    February 3, 2011

    wonderful simplicity and a great photo!

  24. sequoiagardens
    February 5, 2011

    Ah! I was busy enjoying the info about the competition on GGW, loved the winning entry (I’d not followed the competition beyond the actual announcement this month) and only when I clicked on the blog title did I realise the winner is one of my newest friends in the garden-blogging world! Congratulations! All the more memorable for being a compromise situation all the way; confirms that oten restrictions help rather than hinder us! Jack Holloway

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This entry was posted on January 19, 2011 by in Gardens and tagged , .

Discover other landscape lover articles on these sites:

On Botanical Photography
Soiled and Seeded
Along Life's Highway

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