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10 Tips for Photographing Your Garden

Professional advice for snapping artful pictures.


En español | Summer is winding down, and soon many gardeners will be putting their plots to bed until spring. But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep enjoying your plants and flowers, with a little help from your camera. In fact, nearly every phase in the year-round cycle of a garden landscape — flowers gone to seed, leaves changing to radiant colors before dropping to the ground, bare branches with sculptural forms — can make for interesting photos.

Photographs will preserve blooms longer than drying them would, and they’ll make more practical mementos, too. You might enlarge a couple of shots and frame them, or choose a few you’re proud of and print them on card stock to use as stationery or holiday cards.

Photographers Alison Parks-Whitfield and Susan Teare offer tips on how to create more than just another ho-hum shot:

1. Get a worm’s-eye view. Don't be afraid to get your knees a little dirty. You’ll find the undersides of flowers often have appealing textures. In addition, if you’re down really low, you can include the blue sky in your photograph, creating a stunning background (just keep an eye out for any power lines that you might not notice until later).

2. Keep an eye on the sun.
Rather than waiting until the sun is overhead, position the flower so the sun is behind it, shining through the petals. This will create a striking photograph with rich, deep colors. Or go out at dawn or at dusk, when both the light and the coloring of the flower will be fresh. Hold up a small white card or paper to act as a reflector and fill in the light, enhancing it further. As a rule, it’s better to avoid taking photographs at high noon because the light is so intense at that time that colors are often washed out.

3. Find something new. Sure, the row of sunflowers is lovely, and even Vincent van Gogh would appreciate your photo of it. But try going beyond the biggest and brightest plants and you may discover an even better shot. Look closely for dramatic textures and patterns, such as the cone of a purple coneflower, or try a tight shot of a cluster of hen and chicks.

4. Remember nontraditional subjects. Wheat, dandelions gone to seed, long grasses and even weeds are photo-worthy when you focus on them. As always, pay attention to the lighting and composition, and you’ll be rewarded with some unique shots.

5. Focus — or don’t.
In a wider shot, think about what's in focus and what is not. You might try reversing what should logically be clear (usually whatever is nearest the camera). Leave the row of black-eyed Susans in front blurred as you focus on the maple behind, or try focusing on only one small part of a flower, letting the rest go soft.

6. Add a creature.
Consider working with a “model”— whether an insect that alights on a bloom, a cocker spaniel or your grandson — to offer both interest and perspective. Want to show just how big your prized dinner-plate dahlia is? Pose a smiling child next to it and there will be no question.

7. See a flower as the sum of its parts. Every flower is a beautiful whole, but consider each element, as well — leaves, stem, pistil and stamen. Zoom in on a portion of a flower that looks interesting and  “crop” the flower using your camera. Try a couple of different angles, tilting your camera slightly from left to right. You may be surprised to see what a difference even a little tilt can make at such close range.

8. Just add water. Drops of water, whether from a recent rain shower or your watering can, add drama to a close-up of a petal. In addition, photos taken when the rain has just ended enjoy richer colors thanks to the resulting clear, even sunlight.

9. Record a day in the life. For an interesting study, take a photo of a flower or garden at sunrise. Take another at noon, a third at 4 or 5 p.m., and a final one at sunset. Display all four pictures in a multiple-opening frame.

10. Celebrate autumn. Don’t underestimate the beauty of bare branches or crisp brown leaves on the ground. There is plenty of interesting texture in and around the garden waiting for winter.

Whatever your subject, don’t hesitate to keep taking pictures. The beauty of digital is that you can risk a shot you’re not 100 percent sure about. Snap it anyway and look at it anew later — it just may turn out to be your best photo!

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