It’s the holiday season and our feeds are currently stuffed with gorgeous filtered photos and fifteen second videos warmed with soft music – all with one clear and focused goal: to make us buy and follow, follow and buy. Keep your wits about you.

It’s a tricky season in the best of years, but at the end of the soul-suck that is 2020, we are more than a little ready to believe that others are handling life/garden/finances/decor/gift giving/holiday baking and of course, personal hygiene, a great deal better than we are.

Though I have a deep aversion to the terms influencer and follower, I am not averse to the concept of advertising. It is a necessity, and when done well it is memorable. Whether you are a baker or a gardener, or living in 1520 or 2020, you must let people know what you’re flogging and the quality of that which you flog.  If your croissants make men go weak at the knees, you need to tell more men about them. If your rare houseplants cause hearts to skip a beat, more hearts should be exposed.   

However, as consumers consuming more frequent (and sometimes less obvious) #ads all the time, it’s a matter of self-preservation that we keep them firmly in perspective.

I’m a tad cynical and always have been, so may I offer a few thoughts to those who are refreshingly less so — those who may be battling with the feeling this year that everyone is operating at 110% – except of course, you.

Understand how a camera angle can enhance…and distort.

A skilled photographer, an excellent camera, and a good angle can make something that is very simple, simply miraculous. This is a wonderful skill, and we benefit from it, however….

(and here I’ll cheat and use words I’ve previously written on the subject):

“[A camera] can change the ordinary to the extraordinary in a fraction of a second…I’ve stood in gardens that haven’t thrilled me and seen drop-dead gorgeous photographs of the same garden on the same day at the same hour. I’ve seen photographers on their stomachs in mud capturing the intricacies of a single bloom when the actual garden or greenhouse that surrounded it was a chaotic mess.

Such knowledge and experience is incredibly powerful…I can appreciate a photo for its artistic merits, attention to detail, and ability to stir emotional response, but I also know that any other assumptions I make about it are probably false.”

camellia art shot

It is extraordinary how a camera can take a simple camellia blossom and make it even better.

Thankfully there are some excellent photographers out there that are not afraid to show us the back-end realities of their shots and help restore our perspective, even while creating great art.  I cannot express what a public service these brave souls are doing by sharing photo sessions like this one from Tampa, Florida photographer Chris Hernandez:

The Shot:

Art Photo of girl in puddle

Photo credit: Chris Hernandez

The Production of The Shot:

back end production process for photos

Photo credit: Chris Hernandez

Did it occur to you the last time you sat crosslegged in a dirty puddle two feet off the road how mystically beautiful you were at the time?

Probably not.

Photos and videos should inspire, delight and encourage. Let them. Just as long as you always remember that everybody has a back-end and yours looks pretty similar to theirs.

Familiarize yourself with the concept (and ease) of using photo and video filters

A few years ago, a serious plant friend posted a garden scene and her accompanying trademark snark on Instagram, with the tag #nofilter.  I, being old and technologically naïve, texted her to say that my #nofilter usually involved more profanity.  She, being young and vibrant, informed me that it meant she hadn’t enhanced the photo.  “Do you enhance your photos?!?” said I. Again, naively.

“Uh…yes.” was the reply.  The ‘duh’ was implied.

Her admission threw me, not only because she was a serious plant person who I figured wouldn’t do that (no idea why I assumed that BTW – plantspeople want to look great as much as the next person); but because I thought I could spot a doctored photo every time.  Yeah, turns out, not so much.

Instagram layout

It’s just toooooooo easy.

I’m a lot more cynical these days, and now know how to use crazy-quick tools like ‘Contrast’ and ‘Brightness’ in my own photos when trying to pause the fickle Ever-Scrolling Thumb – though I stop short at ‘Saturation’ and ‘Please make my skin look ten years younger.’

If it looks better than life, it probably isn’t.

Allow beautiful images to inspire your shopping, but consider the reality of how the product will be used.

I happen to be a huge fan of the handmade, waxed canvas waist aprons made by Paul Hansbarger for his relatively new Virginia-based company, Lineage. They are just as gorgeous and useful as they appear (I see he’s making full-length ones now), but the dusty, mud-spattered, high-use realities of my own apron is not going to sell a single item on his exquisite website. And even though I don’t look as good wearing it as the immaculate headless mannequin whose tiny waist modeled it for me in a street fair three years ago, it’s still just as useful.  

I’ve seen social media influencers wearing other stunning aprons and matching apparel and sweet little pairs of shoes while ostensibly caring for a garden, and I have lusted for those aprons, and apparel, and sweet pairs of shoes, but later realized that it’s not really about the items, it’s about the dream of looking that amazing when I’m gardening. And that simply ain’t happening around here. (Newsflash: it’s not really happening there either.) So I pick and choose based on the durability and usefulness of the product, not the fantasy I want to create with it. Thus: sweet little shoes – out. Waxed canvas apron: yes please.

Ads have always existed, and we’ve always tried to change our lives with the services and products that they coat in colored sugars and place before us. The difference today is perhaps only that we consume far more media than we ever have. And that media is GOOD. Very very good.

Gardeners are not immune. Like I said, keep your wits about you.