Learn The Basics Of Taking
A Great Garden Picture

I love taking photos of my garden! But sometimes my "perfect garden picture" doesn't turn out so well ...

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My cousin Christophe Landry (who also loves gardening) has been impressing the rest of the family with his photography recently!

So I asked him to stop by and give us a few tips to make our photos better.

What makes a great garden picture?

For me, great garden photography needs a few things.

First, not too much light.

The best times to capture great garden photos with perfect natural light is in the early morning, while the sun is still rising, and in the late afternoon or early evening, when the sun is setting. Too much light or sun is destructive.

Kew Botanical Gardens, London

Second, a camera stand or tripod. This becomes especially useful and important for my next tip.

Third, some of the best shots a photographer gets are utilizing slow or low shutter speed. But a tripod of some kind is absolutely vital to avoid noise, as the human hand/body tends to shake. Slow shutter speeds capture either a panoramic view, or as close up as technology can get.

For microscopic type photos, that is, of a bee pollinating a flower, a macro lens is needed. They are expensive, but worth the investment, if extremely close range photography is what you like best. Use the tripod, though, and slow down your shutter speed.

Four, garden photography isn't photography if it is colorless and noisy. Capturing the broad range of colors and textures in a garden is what makes garden photography appealing for both hobbyists, consumers, and ordinary passersby.

If the gardener is skilled, the garden palette will already be set up in a way that makes it easy for a photographer to go in and simply snap, without photoshopping or filtering. That said, pick a garden that makes your job easiest.

Last, you want to capture dew, pollen, or whatever naturally exists on the plants or flowers. It adds a nice, natural touch to close-range shots.

What mistakes do beginners make when they take a garden picture?

When novice photographers (or just tourists with no real interest in photography) visit a garden and are enamored by it, there is a tendency to just take random shots of a single flower or vegetable, or of the entire patch of plants and flowers without thinking about depth of field.

The flower, fruit, veggie, or birdhouse may be pretty, but it is even prettier if we make them the subject of the frame, and blur the surroundings. This requires a little knowledge on aperture, shutter and ISO.

In general, all smaller cameras used by the everyday tourist have automatic functions that we rely on to do all the work, in terms of aperture, ISO and shutter, for us. But they don't always capture the subject or frame exactly as we would like. That's where homework and practice become important.

What are your best tips for taking a garden picture?

Take shots when the sun is rising and when the sun is setting.

Use a tripod so that slower shutter speeds can be used to have crisper photos. Longer shutter speeds will allow more light into the camera, which compensates for the glaring sun in garden photography.

Try to capture some insects and animals foraging in the garden, too. They play a key role in flower growth through pollination and fertilizing the plants. They tend to be characters, too, so it is likely that you'll get a bird dancing, squirrel posing or nibbling.

New photographers often feel overwhelmed by how many functions their camera has. I think I take an okay garden picture, but I don't even know most of them! Which ones do you feel are most important to learn?

Agreed, DSLR cameras, especially those without automatic functions, are overwhelming for newcomers to the hobby.

What I find most helpful is YouTube. There are hundreds of tutorials on the various functions of DSLR cameras. Of all of them, I would say that shutter, aperture and ISO are the most important. Those affect light entering the camera, depth of field, and, crucially, lighting.

I don't understand the difference between light entering the camera and "lighting". Can you explain?

They are basically the same, with a subtle difference. The light entering the camera determines the outcome of the picture (if no manual setting changes occur in the camera to achieve certain finished products).

Say that you're indoors, and have fluorescent lights on the ceiling, which gives off this yellowish color to everything. That's not naturally what the human eye would see; it's altered by the type of light bulbs.

You can manually change a setting in the camera (white balance) to remedy this.

But sometimes when indoors, there may be too much bright white light in the room. That too affects the picture.

You can remedy this by also changing settings in the camera, to "darken" the shot.

And, when we're outside, natural lighting has its consequences, too. Too much light produces that glare we often see. Too little light (night time) produces dark pictures. Flash at night can make the subject too bright, and so on.

Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, France

So these settings change the quality of the light entering the camera as well? Like a filter does?

Bingo. They are, in reality, filters.

I learned a lot today about taking a garden picture -- this makes me want to finally open up my manual and learn about what my camera does!

Thanks so much for your help!

My pleasure.

Christophe Landry is a native of New Iberia, Louisiana [US], where he learned to garden from his grandparents, who won city awards for their yard from the 50s to the 80s.

Christophe currently resides in Brighton, United Kingdom, where he is a doctoral candidate in American History.

If you want to see more of Christophe's photos, you can visit his website at http://www.christophevhl.tumblr.com

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