Whether you are a casual observer, a keen amateur or a professional snapper, gardens and outdoor spaces are popular subjects for photographers. Whatever your interest, gardens offer many and varied subject matter. It may be the wildlife or the colours or perhaps capturing a mood or a feeling or even a memory. You might simply want to record the changing seasons or use photographs to keep a record of how and when your garden performs during the year. Indeed, you don’t really need to be interested in gardens if you simply what to use them as a resource for developing your photographic technical skills. There are endless opportunities within even a window box for experimenting with macro, telephoto, wide or fisheye lenses as well as honing your use of light, depth of field, shutter speeds and f stops.
The single most important skill is the initial period of observation; looking at how the garden works as a whole with all its constituent parts involved. At first, a garden as a subject for photography can seem overwhelming but simply standing in one spot and observing the garden from beyond its boundaries through to its tiniest detail of colour or shape will give you the confidence to start telling whatever pictorial story you want to express. Going into the garden and observing it for a whole day without your camera will inform you of how the light changes the look of your garden throughout the day.
One of the most important elements in your skill set is the way you use the natural light, the availability of good light is often very short lived and usually is at its most interesting for the 20 minutes around dawn or dusk. Bright, midday light can give gardens very hard shadows and cold, harsh, unsympathetic colours. The first and last hours of daylight give warmer colours and golden light with softer shadows. Early morning light will emphasise a sense of anticipation and evening light will give a feeling of peace and quiet. Winter time offers good opportunities because you can shoot for most of the day as the sun never gets too high and the shadows are softer. Indeed, every month will have something interesting and different to say about a garden.
Other points to consider include:-
- Not being afraid to shoot into the Sun, the structure of a garden and the silhouettes of plants are often shown off much better when backlit.
- Look for the structure, shape and forms within the garden.
- Look for combinations of plants as well as single flowers, a shot of a flower with other flowers as a backdrop can be as interesting as a single plant portrait.
- Use unusual vantage points, get either really low or perch yourself high up.
- Look for silhouettes and strong contrasts of shape and tone that will make a stunning black and white image.
- Try shooting with and without a tripod and also use mid range shots as well as wide or macro views.
- Remember that not all shots need to be sharply focused throughout. Softness surrounding a very minimal point of focus can bring an engaging feel to a photograph.