20 Garden Photography Tips

Garden Photography Tips – 20 tips and my thoughts on each of them!

Photography in general has been a hobby of mine since I got my first SLR for High School graduation.  I took a class in Garden photography tip tricks dark room processing and have been in love with the process of photography ever since.  Now I shoot digitally with a full frame Nikon D800 and my iPhone, but I still love the process… its just in front of a computer and not in a wet lab!  And really, the photography itself hasn’t changed too much… the goal is still getting it right before you capture the image in the camera.  And so most of the “rules” and strategy of good photography is still the same.  And for most of us who will never sell our photographs or have a show in New York, what’s important is OUR pleasure in the process and the satisfaction of seeing our final images.

Add my love of gardening with photography and well, I have probably close to a terabyte of just garden and

landscape photography.  Just a few of my garden photographs are scrolling above… hope you like them!  How I process and organize all those images (Lightroom) is a subject for another post.  In this post I have collected, in no particular order, some of the best pieces of advice I have for gardeners and lovers of gardens when doing garden photography.  It is not exhaustive and I could go on and on, so if you have further suggestions please comment below with additional suggestions to make your garden photography shine!

  1. Look at great garden photography and think about how they took the shot and what’s pleasing to you.  What time of day was the shot, what were the angles, what was the depth of field, did they use the rule of thirds orold cameras photography garden another rule or did they break “the rules”, was this a close up, how do they present color, is there a detail you find pleasing or is there a simple lack of detail. Figure out what you like in garden photography and that will translate into your pictures of gardens… seek out that pleasing color combination, recreate the angle of a photograph you loved, etc. There are plenty of online gardens to look at, but I personally prefer actual real book!  Ken Druse has a line of large garden books are like garden photography crack…
  2. Know the rules so you can break them if you choose – rule of thirds, color wheel combinations, use of leading lines, framing, symmetry, etc…  I’m not going to explain all of these and suggest you find a good book on Treehouse Point-3295composition.  Good photography takes a long time to develop and learn… few people are really great right out the gate.
  3. Know the best time of day – what this is really saying is what’s the best light for garden photography. The usual rule is you want morning or evening light and overcast days.  Shooting with noon or early afternoon sun will often produce shadows, less detail, and blown out light which can look poor in photographs. Overcast days avoid high contrast and gives you softer light and better detail. This results in the ability to see a wide range of colors. Morning light, also called the golden hour, produces spectacular colors you simply can’t get any other time of day due to the length of the light rays. Colors appear richer and more saturated. The garden itself seems fresh in the morning. Plants are often at their peak, dew drops are on the plants, and flowers are opening in the 39016775_smorning.  But at the same time, if inspiration strikes you and you see something beautiful at 2pm… pull out that iPhone and take the picture.  Sometimes photos are records for your own use later and the quality of the photograph itself may be less important.
  4. Wind can be a problem. You can use a tri-pod but its best not to have wind at all.  Mornings tend to be less windy.  I will be honest, I don’t use a tripod as often as I should.  With vibration reduction, ISO changes, and taking multiple shots I can usually get a sharp photograph.  But when I go somewhere with the purpose of garden photography I will use my tripod to get the best images possible.   
  5. Get close in… and then get closer. Most new photographers fail to get close enough to their subject.  That being said, you can also crop later in post-production if your photograph has enough pixels.
  6. What camera? Use the one you have!  If all you have is a camera phone use it… because many cameras have high megapixels and can capture a lot of information.  Use an SLR with manual controls if you want to iphone hand photographyimprove your photography.  Real photography means learning the techniques only a SLR can provide.  That being said, the final result is what is important.  If you want to remember that color combination or the use of plants in a container, it doesn’t matter really what f-stop you have.
  7. Change your point of view.  Shoot low, do you tend to shoot only vertical… then switch to horizontal. Try diagonal. Look up and see what’s there. Zoom in. Don’t just shoot the flower, shoot the texture of the leaves, the bug crawling up the stem, the seed pods drying out, the fruit, the mosaic of mass plantings.
  8. Shoot in RAW and try to shoot at the lowest ISO possible… 100 for example. If your camera doesn’t shoot in RAW choose the highest jpeg setting available.  The idea here is that you want the most amount of information available to you later on in the form of high pixel count. This is why there has been the seemingly unending megapixel race. But this does allow you to edit your photos later which gives you the ability to crop and focus in on certain aspects of the picture.
  9. Framing is a good composition technique. This means finding a subject within some border. A bird within a Example of framing in garden photographynook in a bush, a tree framed by larger trees, a rock formation surrounding a scene beyond.
  10. Makes sure your background is pleasing or at least not distracting.  Simple is usually the goal as busy shots are distracting… they may look great to your eye while you are in the garden, but when bringing it down into a photograph it usually just looks busy. Look for the tree branch that sticks into your shot, the piece of trash, the human that takes away from the nature setting.  Many don’t want any human presence in their nature photography. I think in the right setting a child playing or a solitary person looking at a garden is inspirational.
  11. Try to understand depth of field.  Its essentially the use of f-stops on your camera to fodepth of field A black-eyed-susan cus in on your subject.  But you know what a shallow depth of field photograph is because its visually pleasing and often used in garden photos… its the ones where the subject is sharp but the background is blurry.  This is usually done by using a f-stop with a wide aperture/low number (f1.8 for example) and changing the distance your camera is from the subject.
  12. Tell the story of the garden if you feel there is one. How goes the garden organize itself… are there rooms? Is there a vista its overlooking? Is there a color that’s bringing it all together? Is there a plant focus… mainly grasses, conifers, bulbs, Japanese maples?
  13. Feel free to take lots of pictures… especially when you are first beginning you need to figure out what you’re doing so its okay to take lots of pictures. Just remember its also okay to delete the ones you’re not happy with. And when you are a beginner there will be a lot of those!
  14. Read your camera manual. I know… its long and boring. But you need to know how to manipulate your camera to get the shots you want. You need to understand how to get that blurred background, how to change ISO because its getting windy or its getting darker out, why a f8 might work better right now than a f1.8.
  15. Use the camera you have with you. If you have an iPhone use it… if something is inspirational try and record that feeling. Yes, SLR’s are great and you can get a better photograph, but we just don’t always expect to need out SLR and we have our phone camera. My phone camera is 8MP… my first digital camera which costs $400 was a 1.2MP.  That being said, this morning I tried to take  a picture of some spider webs with dew on them… they looked really cool. But with my iPhone I just couldn’t get it it focus on the almost clear web real well as it kept seeing through the web to the background.  If I backed up quite a bit I could get the general shot of the web, but it wasn’t as cool as a good close up would have been.grass sunlit
  16. Don’t use a flash if you can avoid it.  Natural light is best as flashed often seem to change the way the colors look in the photograph.  It often produces a fake look to a subject also.  That being said, sometimes you can fill in darker areas well with an on camera flash.  If you can, bring a small reflector to help fill in dark areas… they really do work well and you get small collapsible ones that are easy to store and carry.
  17. Understand how to do some post production.  You don’t need to master Photoshop.  But your final images will literally improve 10 fold if you do some post production improvement.  Lightroom is a Adobe product that is designed specifically for photography.  Its a content management system that also allows yocomputer handsu to make about 95% of the improvements you could make in Photoshop inside Lightroom.  Adobe Elements is what I initially used when I first stared and it too is great.  But find and use something because it will really help.  And its fun to play around with cropping, improving shadows and making the photo closer to what you really remember seeing.  because remember a camera is just a tool… its your eye that is making great photographs!
  18. Motion can be tricky to capture but it can be really cool if you can get it.  The most pleasing motion shots include a sharp portion with a blur that shows movement.  This can be done manually by moving your camera itself, or on a windy day you can try and let the plants move and use a slower shutter speed.
  19. Use water.  There is something pleasing about seeing water in a photograph.  Find water droplets and explore trying to see the reflection in the droplets.  Find the fountain or water feature and try to capture the motion.  Find a sitting body of water and look at it from an angle to see if you can capture the larger reflection… then try and shoot it using only a small portion of the puddles edge – this tricks the eye into thinking its seeing the water drops on leafreflection but then the edge of the puddle registers in the mind and makes for an interesting subject. 
  20. Showcase your photography.  Once you’ve gone through the process of finding great shots and processing, share them!  Find a free site or pay a small amount for sites with better options.  Share on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.  Do remember that people may take your pictures for their own use, but you can add copyright info into your metadata if you like.  But do be wary of including people in your online photo sharing.  Strangers may not want to be in an online photograph, and you may want to keep the images of your family private.

Additional resources:

A good article on composition

Fine Gardening Magazine on garden photography


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