You don’t need to go far to get fantastic images of nature; there are plenty of opportunities in public gardens around the country. Our friends at Image Seen have kindly compiled a few tips…
Best light and conditions
Use natural light and, ideally, shoot when it is overcast – soft, diffused light is perfect for revealing detail. Photographing in the early morning and late afternoon will give you softer light that is more complementary than the harsh sun of midday.
Early morning is a particularly special time with its stillness and particularly its quality of light. There is also a chance of dew on petals, which can look very effective. Don’t use flash – the light it produces is generally too hard.
On a bright sunny day, backlighting can be effective to show light shining through flowers and leaves. Wind can be a challenge and will necessitate a fast shutter speed such as 1/500 sec to avoid capturing movement. A wind speed below six miles per hour is preferable.
Familiarity will inevitably lead to greater success. As with landscape photography, the more you know a garden location, the better your chance of creating a good image. The appearance of a garden will be constantly changing throughout the year, as will the light, so look to capture it in all seasons.
- Camera body
- Lenses – for general garden views a wide-angle and a medium telephoto zoom (up to 200mm) are good choices (an all-encompassing 28-300mm or similar often doesn’t allow for close enough focusing and loses sharpness). For close-up work, opt for a macro of around 105mm or 200mm
- A tripod that allows low-level shooting – to keep the camera steady and aid with composition. It also slows you down!
- For close-up work, a reflector can be useful to fill in shadow areas on a sunny day – tin foil wrapped over some card will suffice! (A gold reflector is useful for warming up foliage if the light is too cold)
- A kneeling mat can be useful for lower shots. You may also want to consider a right angle viewfinder
- A remote/cable release
- Polariser (to take reflections off ponds and water features)
- Neutral density graduated filters to balance the exposure between sky and land
- Hot shoe spirit level (alternatively you can use your camera’s gridlines or virtual horizon functions)
- A loupe – this is useful in that it allows you to see the image on your LCD screen clearly in playback mode on a sunny day
- Spare batteries and memory cards
- Camera manual
- A notebook and pen – useful for making a note of locations or plant species
Top tips: Settings
- Shoot in RAW format for maximum information in the file and complete control over your images
- Where possible, use a low ISO setting for the best quality images. Keep an eye on your shutter speed, and if conditions are windy and you need to raise it, adjust the ISO to compensate
- Use AV (aperture priority) or manual modes to ensure you have greater control over your camera. Depth of field is the main consideration
Top tips: Composition
- Every garden is unique with its own feel and character. Try to capture the personality or essence of the garden in your images
- When choosing your composition, consider the light and how it illuminates your subject or scene before you
- Look for wide-angle views, which show an overview of the garden, and highlight its major themes. Zoom in for tighter shots, and also consider close-up plant portraits, or macro
- Minimise the sky – featureless skies tend not add to the image, and can also draw the viewer’s eye as they are often bright. Try eliminating the sky altogether
- A high viewpoint can help reveal the design and structure of a garden. With more close-up images, get down low to get on the same level as your subject and to give flowers some stature. Try shooting upwards to show flowers reaching for the sky
- Look for shapes, patterns, texture, and also colour combinations
- Don’t forget you can turn the camera around! Consider all angles and experiment with both horizontal and vertical images
- Try to only photograph really perfect flowers. Damaged petals and watermarks are things to avoid
- With the wider landscape images, look for lead-in lines such as paths or hedges to draw the viewer’s eye in. Archways can be used to the same effect, taking the viewer on a journey through the garden
- When taking a close-up shot, keep it simple. Adjusting your composition slightly, by moving just a fraction, can result in a completely different background, which may be less distracting/more complementary to your subject
- Remember that you don’t necessarily have to capture the entire flower
- Before pressing your shutter, check all around the edge of the viewfinder and ensure everything in the frame plays a part in the image
- Look for other features in the garden, such as fountains, statues etc., to add interest but, as with other elements in the composition, ensure they do not distract
- Consider including bees, butterflies and other insects
- Look for shapes, patterns, texture, and also colour combinations
Top tips: Colour
- Colour relationships are an important part of garden design. Look for contrasting colours (e.g. red and green, or yellow and blue) to create impact as well as those that harmonise and give a softer, more gentle result.
- Try filling the frame with a single colour for impact.
- When taking wider shots, ensure the background colours don’t distract from the foreground – remember that a bold colour will draw the viewer’s eye.
Working outdoors means the light is constantly changing – as such, ensure that you check your histogram after each shot. You may also find it useful to use the live histogram if you are using Live View to compose your image.
Ensure the highlight alert function is enabled on your camera so the playback display reveals any overexposed areas. Apply exposure compensation if necessary.
Manually focusing using Live View can be a good technique to apply when taking close-ups or macro images. If using autofocus, don’t forget to calculate your hyperfocal focusing distance – download a depth of field app such as DOFMaster which will help you with this. Make sure you check your images in playback mode afterwards to ensure they are sharp.
Experiment with depth of field
Try using a wide aperture to blur the background and concentrate the viewer’s eye on the subject. Also look to isolate a particular flower that catches your eye. A smaller aperture, e.g. f/11, will be more suitable for the wider landscape views to ensure that you get everything sharp.
When photographing with a macro lens, depth of field becomes critical; a smaller aperture is often necessary.
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