Sunday, February 6, 2011

Beware of Photoshopped Images

It's that time of year again. The seed catalogs have been arriving for more than a month, and now the plant catalogs are filling the mailbox, too. These are like crack cocaine to a gardener, especially one who is sick and tired of winter and can't wait for spring to hurry up and get here.

There are always some wonderful new cultivars contained within the catalog pages. (As if the usual offerings aren't tempting enough.) I have my weaknesses - lots of them - so my eyes will sometimes glaze over as I see something that thrills me, then turn the page and there's another something.

Dianthus amurensis 'Siberian Blues' with Lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina)

But experience has taught me to proceed with caution. Those beautiful photographs in dazzling colors can really suck me in, especially if it's red or blue. But as a photographer, I know that red and blue can be very difficult to capture in their true hues. So catalog publishers will enhance the photo a bit. Sometimes a lot.

This is an issue that's been discussed at great length among gardeners for years. We've all been a victim of misrepresentation by these altered images at some point or another. My first experience with this was when I saw Dianthus amurensis 'Siberian Blues' advertised several years ago. The photo showed a lovely deep blue flower and the description seemed to back it up, that it was indeed blue. I fell for it.

Dianthus amurensis 'Siberian Blues'

While I do love my 'Siberian Blues' dianthus, it isn't blue. It's a lovely shade of lavender, which may tend toward the blue end of the spectrum in cooler weather, but it definitely isn't blue.

So how do we avoid a situation like this? Here's what I do. I march myself right on over to Dave's Garden and I do a search for the exact plant I'm looking at. Nearly 100% of the time, other gardeners have posted photos of the plant in their own gardens. Real photos by real gardeners.

Many times there are helpful comments posted by gardeners, too, as to how it grows, any problems they may have, etc. Just checking plants out there has saved me money and disappointment.

Comment by gardener teachnkids re: 'Siberian Blues' - "I was disappointed in its color, not because it isn't a pretty color, but because I was expecting a blue flower as the catalogue picture showed. The pictures on Dave's Garden do a great job of showing the true color."

Have you ever been excited by a plant's photo, only to order it and be disappointed because it didn't look like you thought it would?


garden girl said...

Groan. . . definitely Kylee -- most notably by Agastache 'Blue Danube' when it was new. I believed the catalog, not just the photo, but the description too. It's a nice plant, but the gray-blue blooms are a pale shadow of the vivid true blue in the catalog's photo. I learned the lesson, and do some digging as you suggest, if it's something new or something I haven't seen in person before.

Anonymous said...

So true, as an expert Photoshop user myself, I can spot an over-saturated image a mile away. But remember many bloggers use Photoshop (and many poorly I might add) to enhance their image bumping up contrast and color. So your best shot is see how a plant performs in your area at test gardens and parks. Even home gardens too.

Kylee Baumle said...

garden girl ~ Yes, we have to do our homework, don't we? ;-) ~ This is true. But not so easy to see it en vivo when you live in an area such as mine, and especially if you're wanting to see something specific or something new. Those who live in or near major metro areas or near large nurseries have that advantage.

There are other ways to research it online - simply googling it and looking at it in several locations gives you a better chance of getting an overall more accurate picture of it.

Tessa @ Blunders with Shoots, Blossoms 'n Roots said...

Out of any color in a catalog it seems to me that blue is the most inaccurate. I am partial to blue to! I've been disappointed many times. I try to ignore the images, but it is really hard to do that.

Happy almost spring!

meemsnyc said...

This is such a great tip. Thanks for letting us newbies know.

Lona said...

I am ashamed to mention all of the times I have fell for the true blue flower or the red bloom. LOL!Dave's would be a great place to check them out before buying.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

After I lost a blue flowering hyssop that had lived a number of years in the garden, I replaced it with one that was also supposed to be a blue one, but was disappointed that it was pinkish purple. I guess that's not a case of the wrong color shown in a catalog, but a label that was wrong. I don't remember if there was a photo on the label.

I did searches of the plants I chose from the Baker's Creek catalog, and ended up at Dave's site, too.

Jennah Watters said...

I'm always on the lookout for that. When we were house-hunting, I recognized a house we had seen in listings earlier. Except this time, someone had photoshopped in:

-large evergreen trees
-a new, clean roof
-an American flag, blowing in the breeze

The flag just killed me. I still wish I'd saved a screenshot!

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