Mosaiculture – Capturing Images at Large Public Venues

With the prime holiday season just around the corner for many Photography Life readers, many of you will be facing challenges photographing at large, public venues. I thought it may be interesting to share some images I took at the Mosaiculture exhibit in Montreal last year, and some of the approaches I used at the event.

Mosaiculture (1)

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, ISO 800, 1/100, f/5.6

Many municipal gardens often feature examples of mosaiculture…sculptures made with flowers and plants…and they can be great opportunities to capture some unique images. I visited the international mosaiculture exhibit during a trip to Montreal in the fall of 2013. It featured a number of incredible works of plant art that were created for that event only. The size and scope of many of the pieces was simply mind-boggling. Over 4 million plants were used to create the various exhibits.

Mosaiculture (2)

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, ISO 800, 1/100, f/5.6

Mosaiculture (11)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 16mm, ISO 800, 1/80, f/9.0

Photographing exhibits of this nature can be quite a challenge as the lighting conditions during your visit can vary dramatically throughout the day. The exhibits themselves can also vary significantly in size and shape. And, quite often other visitors are very inconsiderate in terms of stepping in front of you, or jostling you at the moment you are trying to press the shutter.

Mosaiculture (3)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 21mm, ISO 800, 1/160, f/9.0

Exhibits like this draw huge crowds so the framing and timing of your images is critical to try and avoid having people in them. I had a number of instances where I had to wait for the precise moment when someone was walking down a pathway and would be hidden behind a tree or some other element for just a split second in order to get my shot.

Mosaiculture (4)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 24mm, ISO 800, 1/320, f/9.0

On the Saturday that I visited the Mosaicultures Exhibit in Montreal there were tens of thousands of other people at the Montreal Botanical Gardens viewing the various plant exhibits. At some of the more spectacular ones there were hundreds of people crammed three and four deep around them trying to get photographs. At these jam-packed exhibits I would try to assess its overall structure as I approached it from a distance and pick a few perspectives that I thought would yield the most interesting images…then line up in those general areas and gradually work myself into the best shooting positions possible.

Mosaiculture (5)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 35mm, ISO 800, 1/20, f/9.0

Anticipating the shooting conditions is important when trying to make the most of these kinds of large, public exhibits and venues. While many photographers favor the sharpness of prime lenses, events like these are best suited to zoom lenses as you will have limited vantage points from which to take your images and you’ll appreciate the framing flexibility zooms provide. I often take three zoom lenses with me for these kinds of events: a wide angle (16-35), a mid-zoom (24-85) and a telephoto (70-200 or 70-300). Many of the images in this article were taken at focal lengths under 24mm.

Mosaiculture (15)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 27mm, ISO 800, 1/50, f/9.0

Mosaiculture (6)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 26mm, ISO 800, 1/30, f/9.0

Smaller, mirrorless cameras can also be great to use at these kinds of events and venues as you add flexibility by stuffing a few lenses in jacket pockets… and having a lightweight camera is much less tiring. While the majority of my images in this article were taken with a D800, I did take a number of good, usable images with my Nikon 1 V2 during my visit to the event.

Mosaiculture (7)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 24mm, ISO 800, 1/250, f/9.0

Trying to use a tripod will likely be a frustrating experience at best, and many large public exhibits/venues like this will often ban the use of tripods altogether so it is wise to check in advance.

Mosaiculture (8)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 18mm, ISO 800, 1/320, f/9.0

It is worth the time to really ‘work the scene’ for some of the more spectacular exhibits as moving around it to capture different perspectives can yield a good variety of interesting images. Remember to change your body position as crouching down low can often yield unique vantage points and also help to get interesting foreground elements into your images.

Mosaiculture (14)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 26mm, ISO 800, 1/50, f/9.0

If you would like to see more images taken at Mosaiculture, follow this YouTube link.

Mosaiculture (10)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 35mm, ISO 800, 1/60, f/9.0

Mosaiculture (12)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 22mm, ISO 800, 1/30, f/9.0

Mosaiculture (9)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 35mm, ISO 800, 1/160, f/9.0

Mosaiculture (13)

NIKON D800 + 16-35mm f/4 @ 22mm, ISO 800, 1/250, f/9.0

What techniques do you use when photographing at large public events or when on holidays and you are trying to avoid getting people in your images?

Article and all images are Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved, no use, reproduction or duplication including electronic is allowed without written consent.


    • 1.1) Thomas Stirr
      April 15, 2014 at 9:53 pm

      Hello Ernesto,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article…. :)


  1. Profile photo of Rick Keller 2) Rick Keller
    April 15, 2014 at 9:44 pm


    Thank you very much for your article. This exhibit is phenomenal. What a magnificent work of vision and art! I’ve never seen anything like it. I would certainly love to share dinner with the designers of this masterpiece. :-)

    Your photos are beautiful and magnificently capture the ambience, wonders, and beauty of this unique exhibit. Bravo! I admire your spirit and determination to brave the crowds during your visit, though I do not envy the heavy gear that you hauled. Personally, I avoid crowds of this magnitude like the plague, but I just may make an exception for the Mosaiculture Exhibit. ;-)

    Your tips for photographing and maneuvering the pitfalls at such a venue are well taken. Personally, I do not care for zooms; but here you make a compelling case to carry one. I like the mid-range zoom and your telephoto choices (hopefully, not a heavy f/2.8 beast for static subjects such as these). As an alternative to hauling that bulky 16-35, I would recommend carrying a fast wide angle prime (such as a compact and light weight Nikkor Ais).

    With such daunting crowds and facility restrictions, I could not imagine hauling a tripod. As an alternative, if needed, I would suggest to consider a monopod, which may prove equally advantageous for a telephoto lens and may be acceptable to the facility. (Ansel Adams himself even used one and endorse it in his book, “The Camera”)

    Thomas, thanks again for sharing your experience and tips with us. Someday, I’d love to bear witness to a magnificent exhibit such as this one.

    Happy Spring, and Cheers!


    • 2.1) Thomas Stirr
      April 15, 2014 at 10:05 pm

      Hi Rick,

      Thanks very much for your comments….much appreciated!

      The event had exhibits from a number of countries around the world, and it took months for each of the teams to assemble their individual exhibits…then keep them growing and looking great while they were on display for several months and being viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.

      My telephoto zoom is the Nikkor 70-200 f/4 which is considerably lighter than the f/2.8 beast. I have a 28mm f/1.8 but left it at home in favour of my 16-35 f/4….and it lucky that I did as many of these shots were taken between 16mm and 21mm due to the huge size of some of these exhibits.

      I’m not sure where Mosaiculture will be held in 2014 as this event in global in nature and changes cities each year. Prior to 2013 the last time it was in Montreal was over 10 years ago. If this event ever comes anywhere close to you….I’d highly recommend making the effort to attend.


  2. 3) Joe Schmitt
    April 16, 2014 at 6:22 am

    Beautiful photos! Thank you for sharing.

    • 3.1) Thomas Stirr
      April 16, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      Hi Joe,

      Glad you enjoyed them!


  3. Profile photo of Mike Banks 4) Mike Banks
    April 16, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Thomas, beautifully done. I’m sure the original photographs are better than they are reproduced here. I envy your patience with the crowds in order to get your captures human free. The original colors must be breathtaking.

    Here in Richmond, Virginia, we have the Ginter Garden attraction. (Voted one of the 10 best in the USA). I use it at different times of the year to produce many of my saleable flower photographs for interior designers that do hotels and office space. I pay a professional fee which gets me into the garden with any and all equipment I can get on my rolling cart and at times when the garden is closed to the public. (A limited time frame).

    During regular attraction times I usually take two members of my local camera club to act as guards to direct onlookers around my set up. This also creates impromptu instructional lectures for the visitors who have questions regarding what I’m doing. I’ve received many thanks from Ginter Garden staff for accommodating the visitors. I really don’t mind as long as I’m not involved in concentrating on a particular shot at the moment. Should that be the case, I just simply ask for patience or one of my friends from the club will try to respond to the question.

    I would just like to thank you again for sharing your work and let you know…again…how much I admire your patience to produce your art.

    • 4.1) Thomas Stirr
      April 16, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      Hi Mike,

      I’ll have to investigate the Ginter Garden….my wife is an avid gardener and she has been ‘suggesting’ that we plan some short trips this year to visit a few.

      :-)….I guess my ‘patience’ at Mosaiculture was more a function of just trying to capture a few shots for my wife as keepsakes of the visit, rather than putting any kind of ‘professional pressure’ on myself to capture any commercially viable images.

      What’s the professional fee at Ginter Garden?


      • Profile photo of Mike Banks 4.1.1) Mike Banks
        April 17, 2014 at 9:01 am

        Tom, I am in touch with Ginter Garden folks and apparently the rules have changed. One for the better. General admission is only $11 per person and tirpods are now permitted; as well as on camera flash or off camera flash should it not be connected to a stand. (I guess this is where my Voice Activated Light Stand, my wife, comes in). The rule with tripods is simply they cannot block walkways or entries. A reasonable request.

        Special accommodations for photographers wanting to photograph a particular display or event can be arranged by calling 804.262.9887 x345 or x224. Fees for this arrangement are $150 per first 1 1/2 hours and $50 each additional hour. BIG CHANGE IN FEES. In the past, a fee of $45 would get a photographer into the garden and that photographer could bring in two assistants with gear. I’m being told that problems with certain professional photographers making demands upon other visitors have caused this change. At least, as a visitor, bringing in a tripod along with a reasonable amount of camera gear is permitted on a regular basis in all exhibits and if an exhibit has a special fee the ability for photography is not diminished for visitors.

        I am awaiting for a call back from the woman I am used to dealing with for any further information regarding this change and will get back to you here with that info.

        • Thomas Stirr
          April 17, 2014 at 12:27 pm

          Hi Mike,

          Thanks for the additional information….much appreciated!


  4. 5) John
    April 16, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Thank you for sharing your comments about this great event we had last summer. Living in Montreal I was previliged to experince the event twice last summer.

    I admire how you were able to capture your images “people free”.

    Thanks you for suggestions when going to these type of events.


    • 5.1) Thomas Stirr
      April 17, 2014 at 3:31 am

      Hi John,

      I would have loved to have attended the event additional times…it was truly spectacular! Thanks for your comments.


  5. 6) Ted McGee
    April 16, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    There are venues that have people always wandering into the picture. One thing I will do is take several photos of the same thing, watching where people are standing. I can usually get enough images where people are standing in different places so that when I open the images as layers in Photoshop I can erase or mask out people in one area letting the exhibit show through a layer underneath. This works best if on a tripod or monopod, but could still work if you can hold relatively still for a minute or two so that your camera is close enough for Photoshop to align the images.

    • 6.1) Thomas Stirr
      April 17, 2014 at 3:34 am

      Hi Ted,

      That is an interesting approach….how long would it take you to work on a typical image using that technique? I realize that each scene is different depending on the number of people you are trying to erase or mask….so just an estimated average time would be useful.

      Thanks for sharing!


      • 6.1.1) Ted McGee
        April 17, 2014 at 5:42 am


        I start the process in Lightroom. I pick one photo and process as much as I can or need to in Lightroom. Then I select the other photos in the group and synchronize the settings so that all the photos have the same post processing. From there I “Edit in > Open as Layers in Photoshop”. The time I spend in Photoshop can be just a minute or two or perhaps 10, depending on how many photos I have. The fewer the better. Some of my photo sets may only consist of 2 photos, so I am done in just a minute. If I have more, say four for example. I turn off two of the layers, mask out as many people as I can from the remaining two, then merge those two to a single layer. Then I turn on one of the remaining layers, along with the merged layer, mask some more, merge, then turn on the last layer to complete the masking and merging. This takes a little longer and some study as well as trial and error so this may take 5 to 10 minutes.

        The images from this album on my website provide a good example of this technique. Gibbs Gardens near Atlanta, GA is jammed with people on any given day. These photos were taken during the daffodil festival and there were hundreds of people all over the garden. The gazebo next to the pond, for example, had people all around, but there were times when no one was in the gazebo and other times when no one was standing at certain spots around the pond. There is another one of a bridge with a trail leading up a hill of daffodils. There was always someone in the photo, but there was a time when no one was on the bridge and different areas of the trail were clear. That was a four picture set. A photographer standing next to me said he wished he could get the photo without people. I told him what I was doing and he gave it a go, but I don’t know how he made out.!stone_walk_gibbs_gardens_

        • Thomas Stirr
          April 17, 2014 at 6:54 am

          Hi Ted,

          Thank you very much for sharing your technique and the link! I’m sure many readers will find them helpful.


  6. Profile photo of rajesh 7) rajesh
    April 17, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Nice pictures

    • 7.1) Thomas Stirr
      April 17, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks Rajesh…glad you like them.


  7. April 17, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    I visit and photograph many public venues all the time and have previously tried to exclude people from the shot. But recently, I find that including people strategically adds a human interaction with the venue and also offers some scale. And many of these places ask to use my images in their leaflets and newsletters, and they always chose the ones with people int them. I suppose it sells the idea of the place being somewhere to visit :)

    Recent examples:

    • 8.1) Thomas Stirr
      May 1, 2014 at 11:25 am

      Hi Alpha Whiskey….

      Thanks for sharing the link….great images! Did you use a neutral density filter for the waterfall image?


      • 8.1.1) Alpha Whiskey Photography
        May 1, 2014 at 3:12 pm

        Hi Tom,

        Normally I would use an ND filter, but didn’t have one on the day, so I used a polarising filter and a narrow aperture to get a slow shutter speed.

        Thanks a lot,

        • Thomas Stirr
          May 1, 2014 at 3:46 pm

          Hi AW,

          Great tip to use the polarizer and a narrow aperture.


  8. 9) Marvin Miller
    May 1, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Very nicely done. I went to this event with my little Fuji Point and Shoot, and then decided afterwards to buy a real Nikon camera. I’d really like to know what settings and lenses you used for the different photos you took.

    • 9.1) Thomas Stirr
      May 1, 2014 at 11:21 am

      Hi Marvin,

      Images 1 & 2 were done with a Nikon 1 V2 using the 1 Nikon 30-110 f/3.8-5.6 telephoto lens. Both shots were at f/5.6, 110mm (297 efov), 1/100th, ISO800.

      Images 3 through 15 were all taken with a Nikon D800 using the Nikkor 16-35 f/4 VR. I was shooting in Aperture priority @ f/9 for all images. All images were at ISO800. Shutter speed and focal lengths varied as follows:

      Image 3: 1/80, 16mm
      Image 4: 1/160, 21mm
      Image 5: 1/320, 24mm
      Image 6: 1/20, 35mm
      Image 7, 1/50, 27mm
      Image 8, 1/30, 26mm
      Image 9, 1/250, 24mm
      Image 10, 1/320, 18mm
      Image 11, 1/50, 26mm
      Image 12, 1/60, 35mm
      Image 13, 1/30, 22mm
      Image 14, 1/160, 35mm
      Image 15, 1/250, 22mm

      Hope this has helped.


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