Duke Gardens, a Pocket Rebel, and a brush with the “Law”

Duke Gardens Misadventures

It’s been forever since my last post.

So my family and I spent this past weekend with some friends in North Carolina. We went back to Duke Gardens because it’s beautiful, full of lush well-maintained landscapes, beautiful flowers, and neatly cut grass…in other words, the exact opposite of our yard back home.

This past week I literally sold off all of my Canon gear (well…the one Canon camera body, one Canon flash, and one lens I owned). If I was smart, I would have at least waited until after this past weekend to sell my gear so I would have everything I needed to take some portraits at the gardens.

Well I wasn’t (smart), so I didn’t have my fancy “full frame” camera and my Canon “L” lens with a 1.2 aperture. To be honest, I was tired of lugging it around. I was bored. I needed a change. You shouldn’t get bored with a hobby….then it’s no longer a hobby. It’s a chore. All I had was my Canon EOS M “pocket rebel”.

Anyway…back on track… My wife wanted some more family pictures. Unfortunately on this post there will not be any family pictures of us. My little EOS M didn’t have a remote shutter, so I was left setting a self timer and running back and forth from behind the camera to my wife and son to get in the picture. Needless to say I looked either like a blur, or out of breath from running back and forth. Those pictures have been doomed to the recycling bin.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from the pocket rebel as far as portraits. Granted it uses the same sensor and tech as some of Canon’s other DSLR offerings, but I had mainly only used it for quick pics when a sh*tty cell phone pic won’t do. I was about to find out…

My setup for these shots was pretty simple; a single light source (apart from the getting hotter by the minute Sun), a light stand/boom, a 60″ umbrella, and a couple of flashes.


I had each Yongnuo YN560 flash set to 1/8 power, effectively giving me the equivalent of a single flash on 1/4 power, but with faster recycling times. The Sun was behind the subjects, so I didn’t have to worry about squinty eyes or harsh shadows. The pocket rebel had a 22mm lens (35mm equivalent) set to f/5.6, ISO 200, 1/160s shutter speed.


Meet the Growing Pearsons. One of my wife’s best friends, who’s husband is also a photo hobbyist like myself, and daughter whom my son is in love with lol.

The gardens were crowded, and I can’t blame anyone for wanting to be outside. It was a beautiful day. There were on-lookers standing around looking at what was going on. Some of which had big DSLRs with rather long lenses. Needless to say I heard some giggles and saw lots of smiles. I can only assume they were laughing at my choice of camera. Whatever.

Next up were the kiddies…

oops…this one was taken at 1/100s. I was still chimping my exposure 🙂

My son likes hamming it up for the camera…

And a big flirt…

That’s my boy. 😉


So we packed up all of our stuff and went onward looking for another spot for a photo op.

We walked.


and walked…


and walked…


Finally we needed a break. Hauling everything around was laborious, not to mention two toddlers in tow in the sweltering heat.


My brush with the “Law”

I setup to take some shots there, but within minutes, a Duke Gardens Rent-a-Cop (or so I now call her) raced over to where we were shooting. I mean man…she must have been going a full 8 miles per hour in that golf cart. The only thing that would have been more impressive is if she would have pulled up in a Segway a la Paul Blart. She asked whether I had a permit to take pictures. I was polite and told her I was taking family pictures (of course as I’m saying this, I’m doing a one-legged balancing act off a flower pot so I could get a shot of my wife and son looking up at me. In any case, she explained to me there are portrait policies at the gardens. I could either get a 1 day pass for $100, or become a member photographer for the paltry sum of $450 for the year. 😮

After my stern talking to, she said she would overlook this “incident”. Two minutes later as I’m packing up, she comes whizzing back, eyeballing me as she’s driving by to make sure I’m packing up all my lighting gear.


I decided to employ another tactic…

A big umbrella and a light stand would just be a dead giveaway. However, people use flashes, and people use monopods. I decided to make a “flash on a stick”. I took my monopod, attached a single flash, and a 45 degree grid. I could carry and hold it in one hand while shooting with the other. Quick and easy.

We again wandered around until we found a semi-secluded path. The bright sun was in full force, but the trees were hampering its plans to wash out my shot. There were still people walking around admiring the foliage, but the paths didn’t look large enough to accommodate Robocop’s speed wagon.



Both shots taken with a single, gridded flash set to 1/2 power on a monopod.

I can’t blame Duke Gardens’ staff for scolding me. I should have done my research as to what is permitted in the gardens as far as photography is concerned. I didn’t think twice since we had already ventured out there once last year. I now know better (and better places to hide and boldly go where no golf cart has gone before).

2 thoughts on “Duke Gardens, a Pocket Rebel, and a brush with the “Law”

  1. Hey Phillip 🙂 Great shots and nicely setup site. I am an ex-pro and now hobbyist too. I think your light balancing is very natural looking and the kids, well, those are a pair of real cute kids (look happy too). I also wanted to comment on your permit thoughts… I respectfully disagree Phillip. If you were a pro doing a wedding or what have you then fine, but if it is a public park (tax dollars) and I am taking personal photos then I have already paid (IMHO). I had a similar encounter here in one of our inner city parks and when I checked, it is only ‘Pro’ work that requires the permit – personal does not. I went back and scolded the rent-a-cop.

    Keep up the shooting Phillip 🙂 & thanks for sharing both your work & technique.


    1. Thank you for the compliment. Yes, I agree about the fact that I wasn’t taking paid photos, just family photos, but I didn’t want to stir anything up, especially since I was just visiting and live in Virginia. I was picturing myself having a court date in North Carolina and that would have been quite a commute lol. I just checked out your site, and I really enjoyed the Land and Seascapes. Before I became a father, I really enjoyed landscapes/cityscapes, but kind of fell into more portraiture after my son was born… especially since he was my main subject. 🙂

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